With hundreds of island, Scotland‘s fringes are both rugged and full of history. The Outer Hebrides contains some of the largest islands, including the isles of Lewis and Harris. It is on the Isle of Lewis in which you find one of Scotland’s most impressive stone circles, the Callanish Stones, which are famous the world over. Comprising of nearly 50 standing stones each weighing dozens of tonnes each, the stones were erected thousands years ago at the height of the Neolithic era, likely between 2,900 and 2,600 BC. The reasons the islanders went through such effort to quarry, lug and arrange so many stones is still a mystery today, though likely it was for ritualistic purposes – with their importance continuing onwards into the Bronze Age. The inner stones form a circle while the outer stones are in a cruciform shape, and at some point after its construction, a chambered tomb was added to the centre. It is not alone; there are nearby cairns and even other stone circles (for example, Callanish II is less complete but clearly larger in size). Perhaps it is the preserved nature of the stones that rank it high among Scottish Neolithic monuments, but regardless it is one of the most interesting places of all the Scottish isles. For those interested in learning more, there is also an interpretive centre on site, and the stones are a short walk from the centre. It is also popular with the so-called new pagans and druids, spotted here.
Pro tip: Nearby, jump slightly forward in Scotland’s ancient history to the Iron Age at the amazing Dun Carloway Broch.
Dun Carloway is a broch. A broch, you might ask? A broch is a Scottish style Iron Age fort, structures that and found unanimously in Scotland. These are double-walled forts with narrow stairs following the contour of the fort in between the two layers of walls. The entranceway is low and narrow – in order to go force the invading enemy to get down and crawl into the fort, while the defenders pick them off one by one. Brochs date from roughly 100 BC to 100 AD, with Dun Carloway dating to about 1st century AD. Compared to other brochs, Dun Carloway is actually well-preserved. Located on the west coast of the windswept Isle of Lewis, Dun Carolway’s near-inhospitable setting is hauntingly beautiful and beautifully lonely. Amazingly, this Iron Age structure was in use through the 1600s – it wasn’t until the late 1800s that we know the building had become a ruin. That means Dun Carloway had 1,600 years of use! Not many buildings can claim a century, let alone more than a millennium! By 1882, Dun Carloway had become one of the first protected Scottish monuments. Today, it is a very cool site to visit while on the Isle of Lewis.
Pro tip: Nearby, you can also visit the amazing Callanish Standing Stones. If you’re into hiking, we recommend the lovely walk from Dalmore to Garenin (home to an interesting Blackhouse village reconstruction) – roughly 5km but over uneven ground, hiking boots recommended.
Get this. The windiest place in the UK…is called The Butt (cue endless jokes about the Butt being very windy…)! The Butt of Lewis (confusingly located at the northernmost point of the Isle of Lewis in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides) is a lonely andwindswept headland home to a solitary lighthouse. Constructed in the 1860s, this unusual red-brick lighthouse was inhabited by a lighthouse keeper until 1998 when it was automated. Lighthouse keeping was a lonely existence. Being stationed on the comparatively large and civilised Isle of Lewis wouldn’t have been too bad – nearby villages such as Ness, Borve and Barvas kept keepers provided with fresh supplies and news. However, lighthouse keepers on small, uninhabited islands lived a desolate and difficult existence. The most famous case was that of the Flannan Isles Lighthouse, located on a rock pinnacle off the coast of Lewis. In December of 1900, 3 lighthouse keepers were prevented from returning to land after their long shift. When a boat finally arrived, incomers found a desolate and deserted island, wreaked by a violent storm. One coat still hung on its peg, iron railings and railroad tracks were mangled and uprooted, and a crate of equipment ruined… with no one to be seen. The logbooks – not updated for a week – note that the men had been acting strange (hardworn mariners noted as struck silent dumb, crying, and praying) during a terrible storm that supposedly raged for 3 days. The strangest part? The island could be seen from Lewis and ships had sailed the Hebrides waters…but no storm had been recorded. (Goosebumps, anyone?) Even after years of searching for them and the truth of what happened Dec. 15th, 1900, nothing has been uncovered. Conspiracy theorists will say anything from madness to pirates to aliens, though a rogue wave is probably the most likely answer (two men swept off when securing the equipment, the third as he attempted to help or warn the others). But we’ll probably never know – and now that the forlorn lighthouses such as the Butt of Lewis and Flannan Isle are automated, the saga of lonely lighthouse keepers is at an end, keeping their secrets with them.
Pro tip: Take great care when visiting the Butt of Lewis – it is VERY windy. Secure anything at risk of being blown away (hats, scarves, glasses) before approaching. For those who wish, there is a 3-4km coastal walk from Eoropie Beach to the Butt of Lewis. Flannan Isle is hard to get to – if it’s a must-see for you, try with Seatrek.