Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Flannan Isles Memorial

During our stay on Lewis we paid a visit to the memorial to the Flannan Island lightkeepers. Built by Seamus Crawford of Uig, it was dedicated on December 15, 2017.

The memorial is in Breasclete, a few hundred metres east of the pier used by the lightkeepers, and an equal distance west of their shore station. The memorial depicts a looming bronze wave sweeping towards a granite boulder topped by a sandstone lighthouse. An event in December of 1900 that killed all three lightkeepers.

I believe the Gaelic wording on the plaque reads something like:

We leave
To the protecting light
To stay the darkness of the night

Pslam 89.9: You rule over the surging sea
When its waves rise you still them

Thursday, August 23, 2018

Uamha Gil Bhialaradail

My wife and I are just back from a visit to the Western Isles. We had 15 days of rain, and one of sun. Even so, we had a great time. I managed to do four day hikes, and a three-day trek in the Morsgail moors to search for beehive cells. All in all I visited 10 settlement sites, finding, in the process, 10 intact beehive cells, and 30 ruinous ones.

I'll be describing these walks over the coming weeks. But to start I'd like to describe my shortest hike, one that was very rewarding: a visit to a fortified underground chamber known as Uamha Gil Bhialaradail. I only learned of it a month ago when I got Michel Robson's posthumously published book Someone Else's Story. Anyone interested in Scottish islands should read this book, which was discovered on Michael Robson's computer after he died in 2017. Here is the description from the book's Amazon page

In this book, the historian Michael Robson has in his own words shared with the reader a tiny fraction of the mass of incidental, intriguing interest offered by the people, the landscape and the seas of the Outer Hebrides. He has drawn on a deep personal knowledge and a rich written archive to compile Someone Else's Story. These stories are drawn from communities across the islands from South Uist to Uig in Lewis and as far as distant Rona. All are accompanied by the author's meticulous notes and references resulting in a book which the reader can chose to enjoy simply for the pleasure of a good story, or as a source book for island heritage

Although I could find no mention of Uamha Gil Bhialaradail in the book, there is an intriguing photo of it on the cover. Once I saw the photo I knew this was something that I had to see firsthand.

But where was it? There were no clues in the book, and a search on the CANMORE website of historic sites in Scotland showed nothing. But an internet search did find something: a description of Uamha Gil Bhialaradail on the 1852 Ordnance Survey Book of Names. It described a subterranean chamber, 30 feet long, reinforced with substantial stonework. (You can read the entry here.) As for its location, it said: 140 chains south by east of Forsnabhal.

Fortunately I knew where Forsnabhal was, a hill in Uig (Lewis), and coincidentally only two miles from where my wife and I were staying in Valtos. The next question was: How far is 140 chains? As it turns out, a chain is 22 yards, 140 of them is 9,240 feet: just under three kilomteres. 

So I returned to the CANMORE website and looked in the area three km southeast of Forsnabhal. There was indeed a cave marked on the map, a half km east of the Uig road across from Uig Lodge. CANMORE listed it as Cave - Cnoc an Aoil, and the description matched what I'd read in the OS Book of Names. Although there was no mention of the name Uamha Gil Bhialaradail in the CANMORE listing, a look on the 1854 map at the same location confirmed that this was Uamha Gil Bhialaradail (NB 0649 3309). Now it was time to go find it.

From the Uig road near Uig Lodge, I climbed east up the grassy hillside. After fifteen minutes I came to the bottom of a narrow gully.

At the head of the gully I came to an amazing sight. A dark, narrow, and low orifice, topped by heavy lintel stones.

Flashlight in hand, I slid down into the hole. After a few feet I was able to stand. I really did not need the flashlight as it was not very dark due to several small openings - gaps in the massive boulders that make up the roof.

It was an amazing hidey-hole. A natural chamber below huge boulders that someone shored up with stonework, making it nearly invisible. Near the opening lay several large stones that could be used to block up the entrance, such that anyone walking by would not know there was anything here. The stonework around the entrance, seen from the inside, was most impressive (next two photos).

I crawled back out of the cave, where there was a view down the gully to Uig Bay.

If you are looking for a short walk on Lewis to see something amazing, you'll be hard pressed to find one as good as the short stroll, following in the footsteps of Michael Robson, to Uamha Gil Bhialaradail.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Bo'h Hunting

I will be offline for a few weeks Bo'h hunting on Lewis. My weapon, not a bow, but a camera; my quarry, the Bo'h - shortened form of Bothan - the beautiful Hebridean beehive cells found from Islay to North Rona. Many of these hard to find cells lie scattered in various locations within the vast, and mostly uninhabited, interior of Lewis. So wish me luck in my search for some of the more elusive Bothans.