Today was a day I was really excited about. I was going to see some of the best archaeology that the islands have to offer in two of the most famous sites - firstly the Carloway Broch and then the stone circles at Calanish. I was up early - not through excitement sadly, but hard rain and wind on the tent. It was grim, but I couldn't hang about, so I got on with it. My wet weather gear is pretty good, but I still felt pretty miserable and cold after only a few miles. The wind was unbearable and made even the first short leg very tough going indeed. I rolled into Gaerrannan BlackHouse Village feeling a bit dejected - but the site of that village really perked me up. The Blackhouse Village is a real leap back in time - though not as far as you might expect. Blackhouses are the traditional house of the Hebrides and are generally long, narrow buildings with a thatched roof. The walls were dry-stone and very thick. They had no chimney and a peat fire would burn most of the time - many people believe that Blackhouse is a name that arises from the smoke from the fire. This is, apparently, not true - in the late 19th Century a new style of house appeared and these became known as whitehouses - so, blackhouse was just a way of differentiating the old and the new.
Gaerrannan is something special as it is an entire settlement that has been fully restored. The village's blackhouses were occupied all the way up until the 1970s though! Now, the restored blackhouses are used for a variety of purposes:
The museum, which has excellent information on life in the blackhouses A hostel - run by the Gatliff Trust - they have 4 fabulous hostels throughout the Hebrides (I was due to stay at 3 of them and was slightly annoyed to have not stopped here last night and collected the whole set!) Self-catering cottages - you can rent an entire blackhouse - must be great. They have modernised them somewhat though, so you have running water and electricity etc.
BUT, at this point of time, I was more interested in hot food and liquids! Awesome little cafe where I feasted myself on a great bacon and egg buttie along with a pot of tea AND a cup of coffee. I savoured the moment and warmed up before looking around the village. It really was quite incredible to see all the houses together and it really gave you a good idea of how it must have been to live there. I really enjoyed it - even though the rain started up again just as I was leaving.
Leaving the village, I peddled on for only a few minutes before reaching Carloway Broch. I was prepared for this to be big as I had seen many photos, but it truly is breath-takingly huge. I have seen broches in the Orknies, but nothing as substantial (height-wise) as this. The skill of the builders was evident everywhere - it was incredible. It must have been such a statement when it was built - it could have been up to 13 metres in height. Ultimately it was their height and need for large amounts of timber for flooring that ended the building of broches (and the wheelhouse became more common). But Carloway really makes it easy to imagine what they were like to live in - you can walk up the stairs to the gallery between the inner and outer walls. A truly amazing example of building in the last century BC. But, it was rather windy up there as well - made it hard to take photos!
Heading off into one of the toughest headwinds I have ever ridden in, I pushed on down to Calanish. There is a large visitor's centre and restaurant there, really highlighting that this is the tourist epicentre of Lewis. The stones are second only to Stonehenge in importance and it is important to realise there are actually several circles in the landscape. Outside the restaurant was a very funky fully suspended tandem mountain bike. After gawping at that for a bit, I went inside - I don't recommend the restaurant though. Greasy, fried food ahoy.
After the aforementioned greasy, fried food, I walked up to the stones (pleasingly, there was also signs the skies were clearing) - they really are very fascinating with a lot to see. The main circle is known as Calanais I - it is believed to have been started around 5000 years ago. In the middle, there is a lot of interesting stuff going on. Unusually, there is evidence of a cairn in the centre, where many people were buried - there then seems to be clearance of these remains, before recommencing the burials several hundred years later. There even appears to have been a lot of farming going in the circle at various ancient times.
After this, I popped over to Calanais II, but did not walk up to Calanais III - but it was awesome to see Calanais I and it's prominent position on the hill. All very interesting.
I then headed on, turning off onto the Uig road. I had thought about doing a loop up onto Great Bernera, particularly to see the Iron Age village at Bosta. It would have added another 10 miles or so to the day and I felt guilty not doing it, but the headwinds had already worn me down, so I carried on down the B8011 -this amazing road felt like the road to nowhere. It ran through remote moors and was unbelievably scenic. The headwinds weren't dying down and the day was proving to be one of the toughest days I have ever done on a bike. At least the rain had cleared away. The road takes you through some of the most amazing scenery alongside Loch Rog Beag and has next to no traffic. That's no traffic until you hit a massive road building scheme - I had noticed this already, but here it really was evident but here in Lewis they don't widen a road by using the original road - they simply build a new road at the side of the existing one! This really was a massive scheme with blasting going on.
I knew that there was a shop at Timsgarry (Timsgearraidh) and I assumed it would close at 4 (as many shops seem to here), it had become clear that I wasn't going to make it - the headwinds had really slowed me down and taken it out of me. I was't going to starve and had enough for dinner - but it would be nice to reach a shop and treat myself to sweet things! I then saw a sign for the shop (it's the Uig Community Shop) and it said it closed at 5 - great! So I pushed on with all the speed I could manage. The climb up to Timsgarry seemed never ending and time was running out fast. I made it to the shop with about 10 minutes to spare. It was a great shop and I treated myself to chocolate etc.
I sat outside (in what was now sunny conditions) and ate some treats. A family in a white VW camper turned up and I felt sorry for them having missed out on the store by a couple of minutes.
With the wind dying down, and the sun out, and now full of sugar, I decided to carry on the road rather than turning back to go to the campsite at Kneep. The beach here was simply enormous - sand as far as the eye could see. There was also a carved wooden King from the Lewis Chessmen - they were found on this beach. Just at the edge of the beach was a small camping area. This was run by the local community, and you needed to pay at the nearby house. The facilities were rather basic - a public toilet with a fresh water tap on the outside. The cost was a rather expensive £1! I knew my following day was going to be a long and tough day (I'd predicted it at 52 miles and knew it had some tough climbing), so I decided with a heavy heart to leave this amazing site and head a few miles back up the road to the site at Kneep (Cnip). This site was again run by the local community, but was much larger and had more facilities (showers etc.). The ride there was wonderful with another great beach at Valtos.
The site at Kneep is something special - right on the beach and you can camp right in the dunes. The facilities are basic, but clean and very acceptable. It's a pretty big site with plenty of space for everyone. The views are staggering and it was great to be right by the sea. Sadly, the wind had dropped enough to tempt the famous Scottish midges out. It was a very midgy evening indeed, and once I had eaten, I hid in the tent and read. It was not too much of a sacrifice though as the view was magnificent.
Overall, the day had been incredible. I felt on top of the world. I had seen some of the most incredible sights and overcome some really tough conditions. The day had really taken it out of me, and I slept the sleep of the dead.
Read about day 5 here!