Sunday, 18 July 2010

Peat Fires and Standing Stones

Ancient history is part of the landscape in the Hebrides. Standing stones, stone circles, dry-stone buildings, they're made from pieces of the landscape and they stand or fall back into it.

Dun Carloway was impressively intact. Often you need some artist's impression to help you to imagine what looks like a pile of stones now may once have been. But here is a large intact section of a massive dry-stone, double-walled structure, beautifully built with the outward facing surfaces almost as smooth as if they had been built from purpose-made bricks. The stones have been so skilfully chosen and placed to have stayed put for over two thousand years, and arranged like an enormous three dimensional jigsaw puzzle.

The black houses which can be seen in good condition at Gearrannan and Arnol were possibly built in the same way for centuries and the village at Gearrannan was inhabited until 1974. These houses were built to withstand the lashing and pelting of the wind and rain. Gales in recent years apparently damaged modern houses while the old black houses stood their ground.

At the village of Arnol there is a preserved black house as well as remains of many more. The preserved black house is now a museum and they keep the peat fire burning at all times. This is not just for an authentic atmosphere, the smoke, which gives the thatched roof the blackened appearance, and hence the name 'black house', helps to keep it dry.

The Callanish Stones on the west side of Lewis is the most awesome arrangement of megalithic standing stones I have seen so far. There are lines of stones leading to a circle and a burial cairn. As usual there are various interpretations (ceremonial, astrological), and it is easy to imagine that the corridors have a kind of processional feel to them.

This monument is more than 4,000 years old and in that time it has probably been appropriated for all sorts of uses. In fact carbon dating has shown that the cairn is a later addition.

These days you may spot a hippy smoking a joint and enjoying the vibes. You will also find it difficult to get a photograph without another photographer in shot. Especially at sunset.

Perhaps the lack of solid facts on something this old is what allows speculation. The imagination can play. The atmosphere and prehistoric other-worldliness can be enjoyed.

By the way, those of you who crave factual detail can find it on Wiki or elsewhere. This is just me saying, I was there. And this was the view from the 'bedroom'.


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