Thursday 12 June 2008

Great Bernera and the Iron Age House

Wednesday 11th June 2008
David took me out for the day on a run over to the West side of Lewis. Going over the Garynahine road it was obvious that the dry weather has really impacted on the rivers. Many of them were running almost dry.

This is the Bridge over the Atlantic. Great Bernera was the first of the small islands to be connected to Lewis by bridge. Made of pre-stressed concrete, it was built in 1953 after the crofters on the island had threatened to blast the rocks and create a causeway themselves. As we approached it we had a few drops of rain but by the time we came back across onto Lewis the weather was glorious.

According to Pat, the weather in Point today was not very good - mostly cloudy and the odd shower - but for the rest of the day Dave and I were really fortunate with the weather. In 1874 tere was a riot on Bernera when the local sheriff's officer, Donald Munro, tried to serve writs of eviction on 56 householders. He was pelted with sods and stones. Three crofters were arrested but found not guilty at their trial. Munro, however, was found guilty of assaulting one of them while in handcuffs and he was sacked from his several public offices. This cairn, North of Breaclete, celebrates these events.

There seem to be more cows over on the West side of the island and when I commented upon that to Dave he said that there appeared to be more cows on the island generally in recent times. At one time, of course, every crofter would have had at least one cow - no going to the Co-op for milk in times gone by.

As we arrived at Bosta on Great Bernera a huge super-tanker was passing the island. It's always worrying to me to see oil tankers offshore, knowing the environmental impact if they end up onshore! From Bosta beach one can see part of Little Benera - over to the right - and the isle of Floday.

The beautiful sand of Bosta beach.

This is a Common Tortoiseshell Limpet (Tectura tessulata).

And half of the bivalve Smooth Artemis (Dosinia lupinus).

In 1992, winter storms at Bosta exposed a number of structures which, upon excavation, proved to be from Iron Age to Norse times. Three of the houses dated from the 6th to 8th centuries and had a figure of eight layout.

A replica house has been built nearby, based on one of the excavated structures. While it is not known what the roof would have looked like the reconstruction gives a vivid impression of the amount of space available in such a house. Once inside you realise it is able to accommodate far more than one would imagine from the outside. The houses had a large main room about 6m in diameter with a smaller room - probably a store room - on the North side. The entrance is south-facing. The houses were built into the sand with double-skinned dry-stone walls. The circular shape would have resisted the pressure of the sand and has resulted in good long-term preservation.

Excavation of post-holes showed that the interior had two wooden platforms on posts which effectively almost doubled the available 'floor' space.

Various items reproducing the life of the period are scattered around the interior of the house such as peats, baskets, drying meats, and a rope making kit.

The peat fire was in the centre of the house and a hole in the middle of the roof allowed the smoke out as well as admitting light.

A few little windows also admitted light but it must have been pretty dark in there on a cloudy day with the door closed.

You have to make sure you duck on your way in and out - it's a very low doorway and the walls are thick. So if you brought you head up too soon you'd soon have a headache.

Even in the Iron Age this must have been thought a prime location.

This plaque to commemorate Prince Charles's visit to the site is very much in keeping with its surroundings.

The little stream by the house was nearly dried up, leaving the tadpoles and sticklebacks marooned in a small pool.

Back at Barraglom, approaching the Bridge over the Atlantic to return to the main island, the machair was covered in Thrift.


  1. Found your blog when googling Great Bernera, our holiday destination for this year. Your posts and photos are fabulous and have whetted our appetite for the Hebrides. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Thanks Kay, Im sure you'll enjoy it and hope the weather is good for you.


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