Compared to west coast the east coast of Harris is rugged and harsh, lacking the fertile machair found on the western coast of the islands. Even today with no white sandy beaches few tourists make the 6 mile detour along the windy hilly single track road. Gearraidh Lotalgear was an outying settlement of Rhenigidale, today a community of a handful of cottages. Prior to the clearances there were just a couple of shepherding families at Rhenigidale reached by a 3½ mile mountainous walk from Tarbet. The track can be seen snaking around the hillside. When the landowners cleared the western lands for more sheep some of the evicted settled in communities like Rhenigidale swelling its population to over a 100 by the 1880s. Others went further afield, emigrating to Nova Scotia. Those left supplemented what meagre produce the land could provide with by fishing for the herring.
A century later the population had shrunk to 10 and Rhenigidale was on the verge of total abandonment. There was still no road to the rest of the island. It was not until 1989 that a road was constructed, and Rhenigidale became the last community in Scotland to be connected to the road network. The population is now at around 20. Gearraidh is a Gaelic word meaning the outer pastures. Its handful of stone ruins and lazy beds, now home to sheep, provide an evocative glimpse into past lives.
On the west coast of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, a two kilometre stretch of golden sands with hardly a footprint on it. ‘S math sin.
‘S math sin is a Gaelic phrase that found its into English. ‘S math sin is pronounced smashing and that exactly what it means.
I spotted this on the map and I just had to visit it. Fhithich, as some of my regular readers will know is the domain name for this blog. It’s Gaelic for raven. Geodha means a chasm or ravine. So this is the ravine of the raven. I must admit I was a bit disappointed. I’ve seen geodha before which have much more vertical sides but the sea stacks in the bay across to the headland Àird Feinis were spectacular.
The site of a medieval fort on a small island the size of half a football pitch surrounded by steep crags off the coast just east of the Butt of Lewis overlooking the shipping routes of The Minch. The island probably supported a permanent community and is said to be the traditional stronghold of the Clan Morrison. Evidence has been found of houses, storage buildings, a defensive turf wall and, on the highest point, a keep, which could have been up to 4 metres high. On the mainland are the remains of lazy beds and other cultivation. Modern access is by a steel bridge over the steep ravine but the island would have originally been accessed either by climbing down and back up at low tide or by hauling boats up a sloping gorge on the seaward side. A pond on the top provided fresh water. Archaeological finds include coins dating from the reigns of James VI and Elizabeth I, musket balls and pistol shot as well as late medieval pottery.
Probably the first branch of Morrisons in the country.
An ascent of An Cliseam, at 799 metres the highest mountain on Harris and a Corbett to boot, a short ridge to the slightly lower Mulla Bho Dheas. Cloud base was at 600m so not much to see. Dropping out of the cloud on the descent down Mo Bruidhe ridge into brilliant sunshine, Bunavoneader on the shore of Loch Bun Abhainn Eadarra below. Bruidhe means yellow, not bright yellow but the muted tones of late in the season grasses.
Lazy beds or feannagan in Gaelic are an ancient method of cultivation. Similar to ridge and furrow except lazy beds were dug by hand usually on the steepest slopes. The peat sods were cut into blocks and piled up in ridges inter-layered with seaweed fertiliser. Potatoes were the staple crop until the potato blight of the mid 19th century after which lazy beds fell out of fashion. These beds are looking over Caolas Tharasaigh or the Sound of Taransay on Harris.
Fantastic rock strata on an un-named beach on the north coast of Berneray. Gneiss I understand, a metamorphic rock 542 to 4000 million years old. I thought geologists could be more precise than that.
Berneray, Gaelic Bheàrnaraigh, is said to come from the Norse bjarnar and ey meaning island of the bear. Whether bears survived here is hard to believe, it’s largely machair with no workable peat beds so blocks of peat for fuel had to be brought in by boat from Votersay and Stroma. Berneray no longer feels like an island due to its connection by a causeway to North Uist. In the 18th century, the 700 strong population was principally involved in the kelp trade, used to produce chemicals for the soap and glass industries. But following the Napoleonic wars the bottom dropped out the market, then poor harvests following by the potato famine caused families to abandoned the island. Many chose emigrated particularly to Nova Scotia. Its current population is around 120.
In the distance is Pabbay, or Pabaigh, which means the Priest’s Isle.