Given the importance of many archaeological sites on the various islands of the Outer Hebrides chain, we took Friday off to travel up to Harris and Lewis to see some of them firsthand. The trip involved leaving at 5:15AM, which was not a popular choice for the students, to be sure. We drove up to the uppermost section of North Uist and caught the ferry to Harris. Once there, we drove over to Lewis and out to Callanish to see the famous standing stones.
There are actually multiple stone circles at Callanish and Niall had us stop at Callanish III to talk about the cultural and historical importance of these groupings before we ventured a little bit farther along to the main stone circle at Callanish.
The main group of stone at Callanish is very impressive. Unlike Stonehenge where visitors are kept at a distance to protect the stones, at Callanish you can walk amongst the stones and get a much better sense of the entire grouping. I kept imagining what the rituals must have felt like for the Neolithic people who made and used them as part of the social, political, and religious life of their communities.
After Callanish we drove a short distance up to Dun Carloway Broch, one of the best preserved brochs in all of Scotland. It has been somewhat robbed of stones on one face, but it is in amazing shape. The students had a great time climbing all over the broch while Niall explained to them the importance of brochs as part of social display among the ancient Iron Age inhabitants of Scotland. These are truly amazing structures, originally standing more than three stories tall, with the most exceptional examples standing 10-15 meters in height.
After seeing Dun Carloway we drove to Stornaway for a late lunch/early dinner. It is the largest city in the Outer Hebrides and we were able to find a great hotel restaurant with incredible reasonable prices for some exceptional food.
They even had a chip shop that caught our attention!
Our final stop of the tour before returning home was St. Clement’s Church, an amazing little chapel and burial ground for the McLeods and MacDonalds. It included two impressive burials within the sanctuary and the graveyard had a monument to a local resident who was said to have fought at the Battle of Falkirk and “defeated a dragon in hand to hand combat.” How is that for an epitaph?