|The Isle of LewisAs you may know, I’ve decided to break the account of my trip into instalments to make it more ‘readable’. Part 1 is here.
Moth & John Hit the Road
Friday 2 May 2003
It was finally time to leave Killin and head for the Hebrides, so after a quick breakfast we left the B&B for the final time. Although pleasant enough, I wouldn't choose it again. Keeping a straight face in front of mein host was just too difficult.
We had decided to call at Fort William for provisions (whisky) and lunch before heading up the banks of Loch Lochy and Loch Ness towards Inverness, stopping off at Corrimony Chambered Cairn, which John had not visited before.
The plan was to then 'cut the corner' avoiding Inverness itself, but joining the A835 to Ullapool near Dingwall. Friday night would be in Ullapool.
Who cairns about the rain?
After a leisurely stop in Fort William we took the picturesque (which road in this part of Scotland isn't) A82 towards Inverness. Just as we turned onto the A831 to divert to Corrimony, however, the rain started.
As we pulled up on the lane alongside the well-signposted cairn, the rain was at its worst. Spotting a standing stone on the map, further along the lane, we decided to go for a look. Perhaps by the time we wanted to get out of the car the rain would've stopped.
Or perhaps not. Reaching the Mony Stone at NH372301 we jumped out of the car, I snapped a shot and John squinted for a moment…and we jumped straight back in!
Back to Corrimony and I have to confess I stayed in the car and recalled a visit in more hospitable weather….
See Corrimony fieldnotes below.
Splashing our way back to the A831 we headed back towards Loch Ness, but turned north on the A833 just before Milton. The rain stopped.
Halting the car three quarters of a mile or so up this hill, we were pretty sure we could see the chambered cairn at NH495315 near Balnagrantach. It was on the other side of the sharply dipping valley, which seemed to have a pretty fast-moving stream or river in it. It would have taken too long to reach and was too far away to photograph.
The rest of the journey to Ullapool contained no more visits to stones (other than glancing at interesting-looking bits of rock as we crossed moorland). We did have a pleasant brief stop at the picturesque Falls of Measach next to the road not far from journey's end.
Checked into our pleasant but cheap B&B, then headed for the Ferry Boat Inn….
Saturday 3 May 2003
We caught the comfortably mid-morning ferry for an uneventful crossing to Stornoway. We resisted the temptation to zip straight off to 'that place' and instead made ourselves known at our B&B on the edge of Stornoway.
Luckily, with John's basic knowledge of Stornoway this didn't waste long (pleasant enough B&B) and we were soon flashing along the A858 towards 'that place'….
I'm sure I read something where the writer described the landscape of a lot of Lewis as like a 'moonscape' or something like that (don't THINK it was Julian).
Even as someone reasonably well-travelled in the more remote parts of Britain, it IS difficult to deny that there is something particularly desolate and maybe even alien about much of the lower-lying land in particular.
As you travel from Stornoway to Calanais, there are small lochs and networks of channels & inlets everywhere you look. Not sure about the moon thing though. It'd have to be a very wet, green and peat-boggy moon with some reasonably big hills….
By now I was lost inside my own head as the miles fell away and I finally approached 'that place'. John pointed out Achmore where there was a circle he hadn't yet seen, but I barely heard. I think he also pointed out 'Sleeping Beauty' for the first time. I'm genuinely not sure.
I was aware that approaching from this direction we'd actually pass Cnoc Fhillibhir Bheag and Cnoc Ceann a' Ghàrraidh. I was still contemplating whether driving straight past them was the right approach and was starting to feel that a logical geographical progression might be better. But suddenly it was too late.
There, more or less right in front of me on the horizon were the distant Callanish stones. We'd not passed the others yet, but any choice I'd had was removed. We went straight to Callanish.
The wrong (?) approach
I can't remember whether I read before the visit or not that it is supposedly better not to approach from the visitors' centre, but to use the old lane from the east that bends round the northern side of the stones.
It'd be the sort of thing I'd usually take to heart, but I was so off-kilter with expectation that all I was able to do was follow John's instruction and drive into the car park at the visitors' centre. Still don't know if it made a difference.
See Callanish fieldnotes below.
Philippa Veg & Keane an' Gary – nice neighbours
Having taken our fill for the moment, we jumped in the car for the short journey to park near Cnoc Fhillibhir Bheag for my first visit and John's first of this trip. From there we'd also make the short walk to Cnoc Ceann a' Ghàrraidh. We could do the whole walk from Callanish itself tomorrow. (Shamefully we never did….)
See Cnoc Fhillibhir Bheag and Cnoc Ceann a' Ghàrraidh fieldnotes below.
Deep in the peat
After an hour or so we were back in the car heading for Ceann Thulabhaig just another couple of miles away to the south, next to the B8011.
On the east side of the road I think there is plenty of room to park, right opposite the path to the west giving access to the peat in which the circle stands.
See Ceann Thulabhaig fieldnotes below.
Back at the car we noted the various other points of interest nearby for the future, including Cnoc Dubh (possible circle), Airigh nam Bidearan (standing stones) and Druim nam Bideraan.
So, on to the final site of our first half day in the Hebrides – which involved crossing the 'Atlantic' (by bridge over a tiny channel thereof!) to the small island of Great Bernera, and the standing stones of Cleitir or Bernera Bridge Circle.
See Cleitir fieldnotes below.
Back over the bridge and dropping the car off at the B&B, we walked the mile or so into Stornoway for a pint or 2 and a curry, followed by a pint or 2. Back at the B&B we agreed on Sunday's agenda and treated ourselves to a wee dram (or 2). A good end to the first day on Lewis.
Part 5 (the final instalment) will follow soon.
Friday 2 May 2003
A clava cairn in a beautiful and peaceful setting next to a small stream (or was that just the rain?) not far from a small river.
If you've seen Clava Cairns
, this is another one – on it's own. If you haven't, it's a chambered cairn with a stone circle round it (11 stones?).
The top of the cairn including the capstone(s) is missing, but most of the chamber sides and rubble construction is in place.
(Nearby is the Mony Stone standing stone at NH372301.)
Saturday 3 May 2003
Well, where do I start? Probably like many people, with my expectations.
There is an element almost of confession
here. This is one reason it has taken me nearly 2 months to write this. It's now getting on for 4 months since I was actually there.
If you've reached here via my weblogs
, you'll know that this was a very special trip for me. Not only had I been longing to see the place for many years, but turmoil in my personal life had added an extra, emotional 'charge' that is unusual for me when visiting a site. And it lived up to every expectation. Eventually.
Right up until I turned the corner on the path from the visitors' centre and saw the stones from anything other than a distance, everything was fine and my expectations were undented.
So, I turned the corner, and… I really can't say whether it was the view approaching from that direction, or whether it was sheer weight of expectation, but I knew straight away… To my total astonishment, I just didn't 'get' it
All those years. All those miles… and I was just looking at some more rocks. A lot of rocks
. A lot
rocks. But still 'just' a lot of rocks.
I was quietly mortified. I couldn't even blame crowds – we saw maybe 3 people in the hour or so we spent there before I was happy (almost relieved) to go to Cnoc Fillibhir Bheag and Cnoc Ceann a' Ghàrraidh.
Of course the setting is beautiful. Of course the place is spectacular. Of course the sheer number and sizes of the stones are massively impressive. Of course the stones are intriguing shapes and colours and textures.
But there was no feeling of inspiration or even reverence that I have felt at a few very special sites. No feeling of 'homecoming' or perhaps 'belonging' that I have felt at some sites. No real connection
, no real understanding
Sunday 4 May 2003
On my second visit, the following day, it began to dawn on me however – expectation
were the whole problem for me. Before visiting most sites I read a little bit about them in fairly 'analytical' Burl (usually) type terms – maybe read a few comments on this website or in the big papery TMA.
With this limited preparation I don't expect
to understand them or connect with them. It's just not normally an issue. If I do – great. If I don't – I'll have enjoyed seeing them anyway.
With Callanish though, there was a whole lot more – an entire chapter in Julian's book. Various telly progs including Julian's. And more recently, a couple of other books. I approached the place thinking (subconsciously) that I understood – that I knew what to expect. So when I didn't
I was confused, disappointed and bewildered.
This feeling of realisation increased steadily and luckily it was convenient to revisit regularly over the 3 days and I was able to discover Callanish as I actually see it – not as I expected to see it.
Seeing it with too many expectations was, for me like photos of the complete Callanish I from ground level. They never
quite really show
it. I've seen great pictures of it – there are some good ones on this site and I took some that I'm pleased with, but they still never quite
It's one of those places where I cannot see how a photographer can capture the full picture. The complexity and sheer number of stones makes it seem confusing in photos, yet makes perfect sense as you walk it on the ground.
Monday 5 May 2003
By my fourth and final visit (for now) I was happy. Right now at 11pm on Monday 18 August 2003, I could happily stand between the northern rows facing the circle and laugh and shout for joy. It's awesome. Not a word I normally use. Ever.
Saturday 3 May 2003
Easily visible from the A858 on the left approaching Calanais from Stornoway – just before a cattlegrid. Soon dubbed 'Philippa'(!) for convenience I'm afraid.
What a place. I first visited before I got my feelings for Callanish itself sorted out. This was no bad thing, as it allowed complete appreciation of this stunning circle and its 'special features' – see a23's fieldnotes
for superbly expressed details!
To me, as well as the fascinating 'phallus & triple goddess' and 'Sleeping Beauty'
phenomena, the most striking thing was how beautifully proportioned the circle, its stones and its setting in the landscape are. To me it also felt particularly 'open' and welcoming.
Julian comments in the big papery TMA that Callanish itself can easily overshadow the nearby sites. (I don't like calling them 'satellite' sites or any term that could belittle these wonderful places.) And he's probably right. But that's just a crying shame.
Yet to me, at Cnoc Fillibhir Bheag, Callanish does not truly dominate. It's higher up, bigger and 'more fancy', true, but 'Philippa' is also raised well above the land between herself and Callanish, with the remains of Cnoc Ceann a' Ghàrraidh lurking significantly more or less between the 2, on the low-lying moorland that separates them.
For me, the relationship between the 3 is intriguing.
Noteable is that like the other main 'Callanish' sites, there is a nearby 'low-key' equivalent of Callanish
's Cnoc an Tursa. There is also a very significant looking 'v'-shaped gap in the hills looking south (in the centre of this picture
Visited briefly again on Sunday 4 May
, mainly to take more photos. Still in love with the place.
Saturday 3 May 2003
Known by us as 'Gary'(!!) I'm afraid. Easily visible between Callanish and Cnoc Fillibhear Bheag ('Philippa'). Best approached from 'Philippa' (Cnoc Fillibhear Bheag
) or via a lane from the main road at NB222330.
Another stunner! It's something I know all us 'stones' people think from time-to-time, but I'm going to say it here – please forgive me: "I'd love to have seen this circle when it was complete".
Rarely have I felt it so strongly, almost desperately. This must have been an incredible
place, lying between 2 other incredible places (Callanish
itself and Cnoc Fillibhear Bheag).
Nowadays the remains of the circle are reduced, for more casual viewers at least, to a 'side attraction' and are undeniably overshadowed by both these other sites. Yet much more than a trace of majesty remains in these strikingly-shaped stones that still stand, and my feeling is that it was once not so easily dominated.
Nearby is a small outcrop, in common with the other 'main' Callanish sites, echoing the Cnoc an Tursa at Callanish
Saturday 3 May 2003
This is a short drive from Calanais, along the B8011. The circle is visible to the west of the road after about a mile. Plenty of room to park on the verge on the opposite side of the road I think.
The stones stand out uphill from the road and can now be reached by a well looked-after path, newly refurbished when we visited.
Despite being uphill from the road, Ceann Thulabhaig still manages to nestle below the actual hilltop, but commands a wonderful view towards an inlet that lies directly between it and Callanish
The hilltop once more features a 'low-key' equivalent of Cnoc an Tursa.
The stones are real big bouncing beauties, and it is interesting to see much more clearly than at the other 'big' sites where the peat has been cut away to expose more of the stones.
Another quite welcoming circle, to me, but I suspect it would change to be quite, wild, dramatic and even forbidding in bad weather (whereas, for example Cnoc Fillibhear Bheag
would 'just' be inhospitable in bad weather – if you see what I mean).
And it is certainly an excellent place to have a breather in peace and to take stock of your day, week, month, year, life!
Saturday 3 May 2003
The stones are on the left as you arrive on the Bernera side of the bridge from Lewis.
Well, if Margaret and Ron Curtis reckon it's a circle then I guess it is, but it didn't feel like one to me!
I suppose it's because a substantial part of the circle has fallen to the sea and, even more importantly for visualisation of the original site, any embankment has fallen too.
But who cares when it's in such a beautiful spot and features such beautiful and imposng stones anyway. Well, me actually – it'd be mind-boggling!
I didn't have a go on the birthing stone….