Wednesday, 21 December 2005


<![CDATA[ Rather than continue to boringly number my essays (or ramblings, whichever way you want), I think I'll just revert to names. At least you know what it's going to be about. In this case, the small village just outside Carloway on the West Side of Lewis.

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village from the south
Gearrannan Blackhouse Village
Blackhouse Museum
Box beds
Dressers in the living room
Living room
Hattersley Loom
Coastal scenery just east of Gearrannan, looking out towards Old Hill

First of all, it used to be in a different place - just to the south of the current black house village.
The blackhouses were inhabited until the mid 1970s, after which they fell into decay. The inhabitants moved into the modern council houses, just up the road. Blackhouses weren't all they are sometimes cranked up to be. I've already devoted an entry to conditions on St Kilda, and I'd think people were only too glad to move to more comfortable surroundings. The blackhouses you see in the picture were reconstructed in the 1990s, and apart from one, bear no resemblance internally to the original edifices. Several of them are actually holiday cottages with all mod cons; one is in use as a budget hostel under the auspices of the SYHA; one is a restaurant and the one at the entrance is the visitor centre. The museum is a blackhouse as it would have looked at the time of the calendar on the wall, 1955. The pictures in the gallery above show what the interior looks like. I would imagine readers like Calumannabel would be able to comment further. Another house has an exhibition about aspects of life in a blackhouse. It revolved around the cycle of the year, whether it be with crops, fishing or animal husbandry.
One of the pictures shows a slightly blurred image of a Hattersley Loom. This piece of machinery was in widespread use across the island until fairly recently. No longer so. There used to be nearly a dozen Harris Tweed mills [factories] in Lewis, mainly concentrated in the Newton area of Stornoway, but also at Sandwick, Shawbost and Carloway / Gearrannan. Information from within the industry has told me that a good exercise of squeezing out competition, bad banking and shortsightedness on the part of various authorities reduced the number of mills in Lewis to 4; the one at Carloway appears to be on the verge of going out of business. Net result is, that there is nowhere near the amount of work for the crofters to do on their looms. The majority of them have thrown them out (as I have noticed in Dalmore) and cursed their decision to invest in buildings and machinery. Or cursed those involved in the decline in the industry. It was the perfect industry for Lewis. Wool would be processed at the mills and yarn brought to the crofters to be woven into tweed. Once that was done, the lorry from the mill would pick up the raw tweed and take it back for processing into a final product. There is a standard for tweed to meet in order for it to be called Harris Tweed: it's the Orb.
copyright Harris Tweed Authority The Harris Tweed Authority () keeps a close eye on anything that is being marketed as Harris Tweed. As I stated above, the industry shrank about 10 years ago and nowhere near the volume of tweed is produced in Lewis as was before. Nowadays, the tweed produced is used by Nike to put into trainers and caps. Or purchased by private producers to make garments themselves. It's just as well I don't have the Gaelic, because I would have heard a few choice words in that loomshed last May, I'm sure.
From Gearrannan it is possible to walk round the coast to Carloway, via the lighthouse at Lamishader. Be careful around the cliffs, particularly near the lighthouse. In the other direction, you can walk all the way to Bragar, via Dalmore, Dalbeg, Shawbost and Labost. In 2005, it was impossible to proceed to Arnol along the coast, as the outflow of the Arnol River was too deep and fast to cross. It is actually a very scenic walk, but please, please take care along those cliffs, particularly in wet and/or windy conditions. Earlier this year, a Frenchman lost his life after losing his footing on the tops of the cliffs at Gearrannan, possibly at the location where I took the last picture in the gallery, at the start of this entry. ]]>

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