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Campsite

It’s disappointing that we’ve made it to (almost) the end of July and only managed two camping trips so far this year. Too much DIY and work are to blame. However on Saturday we did finally get away again for a few days and headed down to visit Mr Stoatie’s Nana in Royston.

We were looking forward to having a couple of dry days, as it’s been raining cats and dogs here in the Northwest for a few months now. Sure enough as soon as we crossed the Pennines the weather improved and it was lovely to sit outside the van, drinking something alcoholic, barefoot and in a t shirt! The site was one we hadn’t been to before – it was small, just ten pitches and was quite full. We had to stop on the camping field the first night and make do without power which was fine although the weather was getting hotter by the hour and I was rather worried about the milk spoiling, I need a regular supply of hot milky tea!

oats

The site was level grass pitches on the top of a chalky hill, set beside a field of oats. Most of the countryside around is arable, barely any livestock at all. The hill is the highest point in Cambridgeshire at over 450 feet. The view was fantastic, almost a full 180 degrees from the Southwest to the Northeast.  I was hoping that the skies would be dark enough to star gaze but unfortunately as well as having an almost full moon there was a lot of light pollution on the horizon, so no sight of the Milky Way for me!

One of Great Chishill’s claim to fame is an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. On 10 September 1983 Ben Palmer, a local farmer, and Owen North, the local baker, produced loaves from wheat in the field to bread on the board in 40 minutes 44 seconds. It seems fitting to mention it now that Lughanasdh is just round the corner!

The next day we had a few hours with Nana – not too long as she is in her mid nineties and easily tired – did a little food shopping, then retired to the site. Gosh it was hot! Fortunately our next pitch had EHU (electric hook up) so there were cold drinks. It also had a little more shade which made the heat a bit more bearable.

poppy

On one of my trips to the loo I noticed a large hawk like bird on top of one of the farm buildings. I went back to the van to grab the camera and take a few pictures, fortunately I managed to find a post to balance it on so I could use the zoom. When we got back we were able to identify it as a juvenile Peregrine falcon. If you look closely you can see it has been ringed and also fitted with a radio transmitter. It is the first Peregrine I have been able to definitely identify so I was really happy. Such a beautiful bird.

Juvenile peregrine falcon

The following day I became a cycling widow, as Mr Stoatie took off on a training ride. He’s doing the Prudential 100 again this year, which is in two weeks time. It was ridiculously hot and humid, the dogs and I chased the shade round the van all day while he was gone. He was out for over eight hours in thirty degree heat -  rather him than me! I entertained myself reading books and consulting the tarot.

The morning we left I noticed three blobs appear in the wheat on the hill in the distance. I grabbed the binoculars and three deer came into view so I was happy again. We just don’t have wild deer here in our part of the Northwest, unless one gets out of the local National Trust estate, so it’s a treat to see them.

After having fried all the time we were away, we were quite happy to head back north and were looking forward to grey skies and cooler air. We scanned the horizon looking for clouds but instead were baked all the way back. I got sunburnt through the van window and all of us were fit for nothing when we finally staggered into the house, which was of course, hot and stuffy having been shut up for a few days. Tilly disappeared to the bottom of the garden and stayed there until it was time for bed!

 

medalThis year Mr Stoatie is riding the Prudential 100 to raise money for Kidney Research, which is a cause close to our hearts, as he was the recipient of a live donor transplant from his Dad nine years ago this month. I normally don’t post a lot of personal stuff, but if you would like to make a small donation we’d be very grateful, his just giving page is here.

Another way to help if you’re short of funds, would be to consider joining the Organ Donor Register

Blackhouses 1

Our last full day on Lewis started off at The Blackhouse Village at Gearrannan. These were the last group of blackhouses to be inhabited in the Western Isles. They’re actually only about 150 years old, but represent a style of house used for centuries. Until 1952, when electricity arrived, most of the lighting was by oil lamp, piped water wasn’t installed until the 1960s. In the early 1970s many villagers moved into a group of council houses built a few hundred yards further up the road, and then in 1974 the last few people remaining moved out. Local people set up a trust in 1989 in order to restore the old houses.

Four of the nine houses are used as self catering cottages. One has been adapted to display pictures and video telling the history of the village and another has been preserved as a home circa 1955. There is also a cafe (scrummy black pudding baps) and a gift shop. The museum housed a loom used to weave the famous Harris tweed and explained a little of it’s history. I would have loved to have bought one of the beautiful bags we saw on our travels – especially the ones made from the modern pink and purple tweeds, but they were eye wateringly expensive. I could have picked up little tweed fridge magnet/bookmark thingamajig but I’d rather have something useful so I didn’t bother – maybe one day!

Blackhouses 2

When we arrived there was a coach party going round the houses. As at Calanais we were firmly on the tourist trail!

Blackhouses 3

The houses sit above a perfect little bay with just the right pebble to sand ratio for a rock lover like myself!

Blackhouses 4

I’m not sure how easy it would be to sail out of the bay, there was an interesting whirlpool of sorts churning away on one side.

Blackhouses 5

Looking back up to the houses from the beach.

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There were eagle whirling over the village, I heard one of the coach party call them buzzards, I didn’t feel brave enough to put them right! But what a shame they missed them!

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Replacing the thatch.

Blackhouses 13

One of those places that I would love to have lived, maybe not back in the past though, it would have been a tough life.

Broch 1

Just a little further along the coast is Dun Carloway, which is the remains of a broch thought to have been built between 100BC – 200AD. It was inhabited (in worsening states of disrepair) until the 1860s, losing a lot of it’s stones which were robbed out and reused in local buildings. In 1882 it became one of the first officially protected monuments in Scotland.

Broch 4

Brochs were built more as a status symbol than a defensible stronghold  – although they were used for this occasionally. It could house an extended family, and their animals. We had to crawl into the broch under a stone lintel. I’m not sure whether this was due to the floor having been raised over time or whether it was part of the original design. The walls are double skinned with a passage way and stairs running all round them. I managed to smack my head on the bottom of one of the steps, which was rather painful after doing the same the day before.

Broch 2

The broch would have had quite a few different floor levels, accessed though these doorways from the passage in the walls. It would have been capped by a conical roof.

Broch 3Broch 5

Views over Loch Roag.

Broch 6

Local legend says that cattle raiders holed up in the broch in the 1500s after having stolen stock from Uig. One of the pursuers climbed up the outside of the broch using two daggers, and set a fire with heather to drive them out.

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The following day it was time to leave the Islands, we took the ferry back to Ullapool from Stornoway, with the intention of making a leisurely journey south over the next couple of days. We waved to the folks in a bright orange converted German VW ambulance as we both queued up to board the ship, we kept bumping into each other on our travels.

Stornoway 1

We had slightly misjudged our timings and didn’t quite have enough time left to visit all of Lewis which was a shame, but at least it means we have a good reason to return!

Stornoway 2Stornoway 3Stornoway 4Stornoway 5Stornoway 6

Last camp 1

We made a stop at a campsite on the Black Water.

last camp 3

One of the guys on the site was fishing in the evening and caught a huge pike. His wife ran across to take a photo and then it was released back into the river. Unfortunately he didn’t fancy putting his fingers near it’s mouth and it went back in with the hook still attached.

pike

That’s the end of the holiday snaps. The next day we did our usual volte face and decided to go straight home instead of dawdling back and prolonging the agony. It was a fantastic trip and I would go back tomorrow if I could!

Bernera 4

A single track road heads north west off the B road between Uig and Garynahine and leads to the island of Bernera. The island is separated from Lewis by a stretch of water with very strong currents. In 1953 following protests by the Islanders, the government built a bridge to link the two islands, using a newly developed form of pre stressed concrete. This used less steel reinforcing which was great given the post war difficulties.  Above is the view looking back across to Lewis.

Bostadh 2

We’d headed across to visit Bostadh Iron Age House, which is situated at the end of a valley on a small bay at the other end of the island . In 1993 storms exposed the sand dunes on the south side of the beach and revealed the remains of a rectangular Norse house, which had been built on top of an Iron Age village. Excavations of five of the houses revealed that they were of a type found in the Late Iron Age – the Pictish period – 400-800AD. The houses had double walls and were built into the earth, with entrances in the south. Each had a main circular room with a central stone lined hearth, and other small chambers leading off it.

After the excavation, the site was backfilled with sand to preserve it, but a replica house was built further to the North.

Bostadh 1

Apparently the style is known as ‘jelly baby’ house. Because there was no archaeological  evidence of how the roof was built, there was a certain amount of experimentation. In the end it was dictated by the shape and strength of the outer walls – the dividing wall between the two main chambers was found to be too weak to support any weight. It turned out to be a transition between the round houses of the Early Iron Age and the Blackhouses.

Bostadh 3

There was a charge to enter, which I balked at a bit, but it turned out to be money well spent. You had to stand at the threshold for a while until your eyes got used to the dark and you had to remember to duck as you entered (I didn’t and smacked my head!) There was a fabulous lady inside to answer your questions and show you around. It was originally thatched with straw but has now been turfed. There’s been a bit of a discussion about whether there would have been enough straw or heather to have used thatch.

During the excavations several quern stones were discovered – thought to have been used to grind barley, along with fish bones, limpet, oyster, mussel and scallop shells; and the bones of cattle, sheep and red deer. The presence of red deer indicates that the area was wooded at one time

Bostadh 4

Dunes over the backfilled houses, looking back up the valley. There was the remains of a blackhouse further up the valley by the stream.

Bostadh 5

A couple of views of the beach, absolutely glorious. In fact the whole area was magical. I would have loved to have lived there!

Bostadh 6

Just before the beach was another of those fantastic island graveyards enclosed in a stone wall overlooking the sea.

image

On the way back we stopped off in the layby just before the bridge and headed up the hill to a group of standing stones. These are known locally as Tursachan, or Calanais VIII. They have a commanding position at the top of a cliff which is pretty unusual.

Bernera 9

These were a wonderful group of stones and have a great atmosphere. Before the bridge was built they must have been pretty remote. I loved the location looking up and down the straight and over to Lewis.

Bernera 5

Bernera 2

The hairy lichen growth on the stones shows how clean the air is on the Isles.

Bernera 1

Bernera 3

While we were sat amongst the stones we became aware of bird cries. Looking up we counted nine golden eagles soaring in the air. It really was a most amazing experience.

image

They seemed to spiral lower and lower and eventually Mr Stoatie managed to get one decent shot with the zoom. If you look closely you can see that the bird is wearing a radio transmitter and that there’s another bird in the distance. It was absolutely fantastic, what a gift.

Bernera 6Bernera 7

A couple of the stones reminded me of people wrapped in cloaks looking out to the horizon. I wonder if that was deliberate?

Bernera 8

Ceann Hulavig 5

This circle is Ceann Hulavig, also known as Calanais IV, which is located at Garynahine. It’s about two miles southeast of the main circle, from which it’s separated by an inlet of the sea . This was my favourite circle of the complex, a little out of the way, which meant it was quiet, perfect views all around, good conditions underfoot and a lovely atmosphere. After the hustle and bustle at Calanais itself it was good to find a site where you could sense the liminal so strongly. There was a wonderful sense of being out of time.

Ceann Hulavig 1

There are five stones still standing, it’s thought that there may have been thirteen originally, which would have formed an oval 13.3 by 9.5 metres. It’s been suggested that the 13 stones here and at Calanais itself may represent the thirteen lunar months of the year.

Ceann Hulavig 3

The stones are between 2 to 2.7 metres high.

Ceann Hulavig 4Ceann Hulavig 6

Another one of those stones with a pointy bit!

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In the centre of the circle is the remains of a small cairn

Ceann Hulavig 2Ceann Hulavig 10

A view across to the South, there’s another cairn and circle in this direction.

Calanais photo

From our recent trip to Glastonbury we go back .. back … (imagine harp music and rolling mist) …  back …to our journey to the Hebrides last year. I’ve promised Mr Stoatie to finish off recording the trip and I reckon there will be just a couple more posts after this. If I leave it any longer we’ll be celebrating the first anniversary!

The wonderful image above I borrowed from here. Our photos were taken mid morning and aren’t quite so atmospheric! Calanais sits on a ridge of land which means that not only is it visible from all around but you get fantastic uninterrupted views to most of the horizon from the monument too.

There were several phases of development. In 3500BC the land was under cultivation by early farmers, then between 2900BC and 2600BC the central ring of thirteen gneiss stones was erected around the huge central monolith (4.8m high!). About 2600BC a small burial chamber was placed in the centre, it’s possible the stone rows were added in this period too. Around 2000BC a cairn was raised over the chamber and cremated bones and pottery buried in it. From 1500BC – 1000BC this chamber was emptied and the land was ploughed once again. From 800BC  peat began to form – by 1857, when it was removed, it had reached 1.5m up the stones.

The site was excavated by archaeologists in 1980-81, and one fallen stone re-erected. At the southern end of the monument there is a rock outcrop from which you can get a good view of the entire monument, which resembles a Celtic cross with the four avenues  of stones meeting at the edge of the central ring. These avenues are aligned with the four cardinal directions.

To illustrate I’ve borrowed an aerial photo from this article by Philip Graham of the RCAHMS, which was published for the Day of Archaeology project. (Pop over to his page, it has an interesting drawing of the stones made in 1866 which shows exactly how far up the stones the peat went, you can tell by the staining!)

There are various theories why Calanais was built, the site certainly has many astronomical alignments which would have been the centre of ceremonies and/or celebrations. The southern line of stones, and the large monolith are on a bearing of 180.1 degrees, true north-south. This means the pole star is framed by the avenue to the north and the avenue to the south marked the point the sun and moon reach their highest in the sky.  The eastern and western avenues point to the sunrise and sunset on the equinoxes.

To the south you can see a range of hills on Harris, which are known as ‘the old woman of the moors’ – they form the outline of a woman lying on her back. Every 18.6 years when the moon reaches it’s southernmost point it is seen to both rise and set behind these hills.

The stones have been tentatively identified by Aubrey Burl as the Temple of the Hyperboreans, which was mentioned by the Greek philosopher Diodorus Siculus, writing in the 1st century BC. He remarked that the God Apollo was said to visit the Hyperboreans – a race living on a faraway northern island, about the size of Sicily – once very nineteen years. He also mentioned that the moon was said to skim very close to the earth there too.

It takes 19 years (or 6939 days) for the Moon to return to the same spot in the sky at same phase, this is very significant for us Druids of course, as nineteen years is said to be the length of time the ancient druids spent in training. This Metonic Cycle is the basis of many ancient calendars.

Calanais 1Calanais 2

Looking southwards up the avenue.

Calanais 3

There were pointy bits on several of these stones (and on stones at the smaller circles) Were they pointing something out perhaps? Or maybe you could lash something like a flag or stick to them? Who knows!

Calanais 4

Flowers and feathers at the central stone.

Calanais 9

Calanais 5Calanais 6Calanais 7Calanais 8Calanais 10

The central circle.

Calanais 11Calanais 12Calanais 13

I thought Mr Stoatie did a marvellous job with the photos, it almost looks as if we were alone. Actually the stones were very busy! The visitor centre is a short walk away and we had to wait a little to get a parking spot. There were also several coach parties which came as a shock, as we’d been used to far fewer people on the other Islands and certainly no buses!

The picture below shows what is was like really. It did take an edge off the experience having so many other folk around (this was taken after one bus had left) but how wonderful for everyone, including someone with a disability walker, to be able to get up close and personal with these amazing stones.

image

Barry Eisteddfod

Just a few photos from the Summer Gathering Eisteddfod, some of which are a bit over exposed (sorry!) I’m pretty sure that they’re not in the right order but never mind!

First up are a few shots of Barry Patterson who was performing poems from his new collection Freed from Distance which is available from his website Red Sandstone Hill Absolutely fantastic as always and I can really recommend both Barry’s poetry books and especially his book, The Art of Conversation with the Genius Loci.

Barry Eisteddfod 2

The instrument below is a guitar zither that a friend of Barry’s found in his Mum’s attic. I think you’re supposed to pluck the strings but using a drum beater  produced an interesting effect!

Barry Eisteddfod 3

Followed by a shot of Ritchie who managed a great performance despite his nerves – it was his first Eisteddfod!

Ritchie

Blanche sang a beautiful set a cappella.

Eisteddfod

I can’t remember this guy’s name (I think it may be Steve?) but I’m pretty sure the lady was called Marietta and they sang some wonderful songs.

Eisteddfod 2

The welcome return of Paul Mitchell. Hurrah!

Paul Mitchell

James J Turner got everybody up and dancing.

Eisteddfod 3

There were also wonderful performances from ZZ Birmingham and Damh but we were too busy dancing for Mr Stoatie to take photos! Apologies to anyone we missed – there were two very good (lady) poets in the first half whose names I didn’t catch and whose photos were too poor to publish!

If anyone wants to help me out with the names, leave a comment and I’ll edit the post!

sheep

Last weekend it was the OBOD Summer Gathering, as usual Mr Stoatie was out and about taking photos of the ceremony on the Tor. We’re happy for you to share the images – if you do, please remember to credit the blog!

Not a lot of descriptions, I’m in a hurry to post the photos up for everyone, but I’ll be back with a full write up later. It was a fantastic weekend and lovely to meet up with friends old and new. The weather was warm and slightly muggy, probably due to the cloud cover and for once there wasn’t too much of a breeze. Practically perfect!

sheep 2

Marcello

Paolo 2

Penny & Arthur

 

Gateway GuardiansGateway Guardians 2Gateway Guardians 3

The Gateway Guardians this year were from QOBOD, thanks guys!xx

altar construction

altar

I was surprised how quickly the insects found these flowers. We were just about to place the lantern, when a bee landed exactly in centre of the circle! The photo shows just how badly the top of the Tor has eroded again.

Adrian

Adrian 2

 

North

Form a Circle

Tower - Circle

Dord 2

Dord 3Dord

Herald

Peace

CirclePhilip

West 2

Barry 2Barry

Liz

Daniel

Steve

Steve 2Eimera 2

Lindsey 2

CraigCraig 2Anne

Paul & Christine

Bards 2

Ovates

 

Bards

Druids

BadgerEimear

South 3

Gail

West

Eimear & Daisy

Brendan 2

South 2

 

South

East 2

Vicky

East

Philip 3

Tower - Circle  2

Druids 2

Lindsey

Italians & AdrianJanJohn P 2Julie & Caryl

Philip Julie Caryl 2Philip Julie CarylSetantii 2Setantii 3

 

SetantiiPhilip & MarcelloLorraineStuart Caryl & JulieThe ItaliansSusan & MattTower

Druids 3

Clare 2Daniel 2ClareCaryl & Badger

Brendan

Druid & Djembe

Barry 3

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