Posted by: ramblinrobert | April 30, 2008

Harris Tweed, peat heat and remote white sand beaches

We ferried to Stornaway on Lewis then headed west across the windswept peat lands to Gearrannan Blackhouse Village. (Don’t ask me what “blackhouse” means. Our tour guide wasn’t sure where the name came from.) This area has been inhabited for thousands of years and this village, with its thatched-roof stone houses, was inhabited until 1974. The village is on the western edge of Scotland, with thousands of miles of Atlantic Ocean separating it from North America.

In its later years, that is the mid-20th century, the village was home to some of the many Harris Tweed weavers on the island and it was here that we were introduced to this cottage industry. We saw a demonstration of weaving on a Hattersly loom, probably one of the early ones built in the 1920s. These looms are fascinating, combining technical innovation with a “green” power system (human powered by foot treadles). Once the loom is set up the weaver simply pumps the foot treadles and the loom automatically selects from up to six shuttles of different colored weft threads and flicks them back and forth as the weaving progresses.

The peat was interesting in this area. As we drove we could see where people had cut peat and in places saw stacks of drying peat. We even say a few people out cutting peat. This is a primary source of energy and quite plentiful, given the sparse population. Burning peat has a distinctive odor, not bad, just different from wood smoke.

We travelled south, visiting more ancient standing stones at Callenish. Instead of being arranged in a large circle like the standing stones on Orkney, these were in a small circle with long arms projecting out like an X. It certainly makes one wonder what these stones signified.

As we traveled south, the landscape slowly changed to rolling hills, then rocky headlands with beautiful coastlines. Harris has some of the most beautiful white sand beaches you could hope to find, with brilliantly blue water in small bays. What you don’t find are sun bathers and swimmers. Temperatures here are probably 30-40 degrees lower than the Mediterranean or the Caribbean.

We arrived at the southern end of Harris to spend the night. This area is very remote and sparsely populated. In other areas, we’ve split our group into different lodgings a few doors away from each other. Here, we split our group into two groups in separate villages. My group stayed in Leverburgh and the other group stayed a mile or so away in Rodel.

Well, my hour in the library is about up and its time to go exploring in classic Scottish weather. Today is the first day of real rain I’ve had to deal with on foot. But, I’m dressed for it and enjoy exploring. More later….

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