Thursday, April 25, 2019

A View to Scarp - and Others

Sometimes you stumble upon something special, something you've never heard of. This happened to me in the August of 2017, when I was driving to the road end in Mealasta, on the southwest coast of Lewis. As I neared the end of the road my attention was drawn to the amazing view south to Mealasta Island and Scarp. But even so, I did notice something unusual set between the road and the sea. It looked like a stone circle.

I parked the car, then made my way down the hillside to see what it was. It turned out to be a very unique view-indicator. The circle was comprised of eleven boulders, each with an embedded metal plaque that listed the place the boulder pointed to, and the distance to it. There are four island-stones, the south-most pointing the way to Scarp, just 5 miles to away. So close - yet so hard to get to.

The Scarp Stone

The four other island-stones point the way to Geisgeir, the Monachs, St Kilda, and the Flannans.

There are also three hill-stones that point to the nearby summits of Mealasbhal, Griomabhal, and Tamanasbhal. The final three stones point to some very far-off places: Nova Scotia, New Zealand, and the North Pole. If you ever make the drive to road's end at Mealasta, be sure to pay a visit to this impressive view indicator. It is a great place to go and dream of visiting the special places marked by the stones. I have been to about half of them, and someday I hope to get to the others - well, maybe not the North Pole.

New Zealand - 11,288 miles

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Beehive Butts

Regular readers of this blog will be aware I am fascinated by the old beehive dwellings. I am always on the lookout for these cells, and on two occasions became very excited when I saw what, from a distance, appeared to be beehives. But on closer examination they turned out to be something completely different. Here is the first one, which I came across on a cruise through the Orkneys in 2014.

This thing sure looked like a beehive cell. And there was not just one, but three identical cells like this in a row. They were set above a narrow bit of land between the shore and a small pond on the west side of Copinsay.

I would later learn that these little cells were wildfowl shooting butts. The backside of the cells overlooked the fresh-water pond, and there were openings to shoot through. Many unsuspecting ducks came to an untimely end here, ambushed from these beehive butts.  

The second time I was fooled was in the moorland above Hamnavay, on the island of Lewis. I was hiking in to Fidigidh, which has one of the largest collection of beehive cells in the Hebrides. As I traversed the terrain north of the Hamnavay River I spotted, from a distance, what looked like several beehives in a spot I'd not heard had cells. Thinking I'd made quite a discovery, I excitedly made my way to them.

But as I got to the cells it was apparent they were not beehives. There were several similar structures, all with rounded ends and lots of open interior space. Based on the photos, what do you think they are?

As it turns out, they were grouse-butts. A place to lay in wait and ambush unsuspecting grouse. I have never had grouse, so I've no idea what it tastes like. Here is one description I came across:

The breast is beautifully tender, rich and scented with the most delicate of gamey tangs. There's a whisper of depth, sure, and in the legs a more pronounced kick, but nothing to frighten even the most timid of palates.

My palate has never been too appreciative of gamey tangs, no matter how delicate. But it would probably be splendid washed down with a dram of Famous Grouse.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

An Island Dun

Sometimes when you're out for an island hike you encounter a surprise. A few years ago I made a circular walk on North Uist to see the souterrain of Taigh Talamhant (see the May 21, 2015 post). On the way back to the road I came across this amazing island fort in Loch na Caigainn, reached by a causeway. 

It was exciting to step across the causeway and enter the dun. It was a well defended in its day, with two flanking wings (walls) protecting the entry to the fort. Erskine Beveridge wrote about the fort in his epic book North Uist (1911). In it he mentions there was a Clach Ghlagain (rattle stone) in the causeway, that clanked loudly when stepped on to warn the dun-dwellers that someone was approaching. It was hard to tell which stone it was, because pretty much every stone clanked when I stepped on it.

Looking back to the mainland