Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Tom Ni Bharabhais

I am intrigued by the beehive cells of the Hebrides, and whenever I'm in the islands I make a point of seeking them out. Most of the cells that are near roads have been pillaged for stone, but walk a ways off the road and dozens (if not a hundred) intact, and nearly intact cells, are lying out there waiting to be found.

A few weeks ago I made two excursions in the Lewis hinterlands in search of beehive cells. One of those started at Tom Ni Bharabhais, the knoll of the Barvas Cattle, which lies just 300 yards off the B8022 road to Uig (Lewis), a mile before it crosses the Morsgail River.

Cairn on Tom Ni Bharabhais
If you drive this road to Uig you can't miss Tom Ni Bharabhais, for atop it stands a tall, slender cairn, easily seen from the road; a cairn made of stones robbed from two beehive cells that once crowned the hill. Here is the history of the cairn, as recounted by Alasdair Alpin Macgregor, in The Haunted Isles (chapter 2, The Road to Uig):

The cairn marks the spot upon which was decided the last encounter in the feud that for centuries distracted the MacAuleys of Uig and the Morrisons of Ness from peaceful pursuits. Two or three hundred years ago the Morrisons, in an attempt to recover a herd of cattle that the men of Uig had driven off from Barvas, set out from Ness for the territory of the MacAuleys, and overtook the cattle-rievers in the vicinity of this hillock. There, according to tradition current in Uig, the Morrisons suffered severe defeat at the hands of the MacAuleys.'

Tom Ni Bharabhais - beehive ruin behind to the right
These days they would not destroy beehive cells to create a cairn, but attitudes were different two hundred years ago. In the photo above you can just make out the meager remnants of one of the cells behind, and to the right, of the cairn.

Although these two beehive ruins are totally unremarkable, the country to the southeast of Tom Ni Bharabhais is full of cells, some completely intact. And so from Tom Ni Bharabhais I made a long circular walk to the south and east around Loch a' Sguair, visiting a half-dozen shieling sites with beehive cells. Here are two examples of what I found.

Beehive at Airigh a' Sguir - 1

Beehive at Airigh a' Sguir - 2
If these ancient dwelling fascinate, then put on a pair of good boots, get yourself to Uig, and head for the hills and lochs. I can almost guarantee you won't see another soul. Your mobile phone may not get a signal, so before setting out be sure someone knows your plans. Also be sure to wear gaiters, for there are hungry ticks out there waiting for a savory snack to pass by.

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