“One day where every hour could be a joy to me. And live a life the way it's meant to be..” One Small Day by Ultravox. music video filmed at Callanish standing stones.
I began the day in a Stornoway supermarket cafe. Customers were talking about the weather and had cheery voices. One local character was greeted with, “yes your highness” when he ordered his coffee. This was certainly how I pictured idyllic island life. Smiles and friendly banter. Then I heard the staff at the counter discussing a colleague, “I hate her. She is such a bitch!”
The 15 mile cycle to Callanish standing stones passed quickly. I kept my head down and the speed up, wanting to get there as early as possible to try to guarantee having the place to myself. Who was I trying to kid? I should have guessed that such an iconic place could not possibly be empty. There is a car park, visitor centre and a cafe serving a tea called “mango madness”.
The stones themselves are in their natural situation with not a fence in sight. I could walk right up to them and examine them in detail. I loved that each stone is different. Some are tall, some are short, some narrow, some thick and chunky. Some have sharp edges pointing skywards. Some have rounded tops. Some have almost flat tops. Each stone has different patterns, like fingerprints with swirls and lines. I ran my palms over them and discovered that each had its own feel, a unique combination of rough and smooth.
Callanish has a long stone avenue ending at a central stone circle. In the middle of that circle is the tallest and heaviest at 4m and 5 tonnes. Nothing less than superhuman strength could arrange such stones so precisely, so why do it?
There is no definitive answer, but there is general agreement that the stones form a lunar calendar system. I prefer the local legend about giants who once lived on Lewis and refused to be converted to Christianity. Their punishment was to be turned into stone!
My thoughts were interrupted by a man who decided that this was the ideal location to speak loudly on his phone. “Yah, we were quite literally the last car on the ferry. We literally made it by the skin of our teeth. Yah. My friend bought a kite buggy. My question is- do we need a harness?”
I did not want this to be my lasting memory of this place. I had to escape! It turned out to be easy to be alone with the stones, just different stones. Nearby is Callanish 2 and Callanish 3. These standing stone sites are not as extensive as Callanish 1, but there is unlikely to be someone talking about kite buggies.
“A sunset casts a glow from the Uig hills. Shimmering lights shine over the magical Standing Stones of Callanish.” Description of “Light of Callanish”, one of the products sold at Callanish Candles
Just like the standing stones the handmade Callanish Candles come in a variety of shapes, sizes and colours. They are inspired by the landscapes, colours and nature of the island. I browsed the small shop and was impressed by the passion behind the products. In some parts of Scotland it can be a struggle finding gifts that are produced locally and say something about the place you have visited. Not here.
The Hebridean Soap Company is equally impressive and worth the short detour on my route. It is located in a converted stone barn with grazing sheep as neighbours. The central display cabinet is like a soap pick n’ mix with enticing scents like lavender, mint and raspberry. Linda showed me the backroom where she makes the soap in a process that uses no additives. “I look forward to work every morning. I never moan.”
Brochs and Blackhouses
This route was excellent for the large number of things to see along the way. Carloway Broch caused me to gasp because it suddenly appeared from nowhere as I cycled towards it. Clinging to a hillside the stone ruin dominates the surroundings. It is 30 feet tall and gives the impression that it might have been a castle tower, but brochs were family homes of a type only to be found in Scotland.
Each stone in the broch is a different size and I could clearly see how they had been expertly slotted together, like a jigsaw, so that there are no gaps. There is no masonry to bind the stones and I was amazed that such a construction survived 2000 years worth of Atlantic gales.
Another historic dwelling is the blackhouse, once common on Lewis up until the 1970s. Nine of them are preserved in the village of Gearrannan. I walked among them taking a closer look at the stones tied to ropes that are used to weigh down the thatched roof. A path twists through the cottages to a pebble beach.
Smoke curled out the chimney of one cottage. The door was open and inside I found a kitchen with fireplace, antique furniture, utensils, ornaments and washing line. It felt like a family had recently vacated the room, perhaps to fetch some more firewood. Only the donations box on the table revealed that this is a museum.
An island railway
I took the Pentland Road to return to Stornoway. This road was dug as a track bed in the 1920s for a railway from Carloway to Stornoway to transport fish. Merchants opposed the construction and the tracks were never laid. It was not until the 1980s that it was turned into a road.
This is dream cycling- quiet, flat and nothing to see. Yes, I was happy with bog, lochs and light rain. I got my fill of historic sites, so a 20km cycle with no stops was most welcome.
Last night I dreamt of seeing the Callanish stones. What could I think of before drifting to sleep tonight? That was easy. Tomorrow I would be cycling to the very end of the island, as far as the road goes, where land ends and sea begins and a lighthouse stands guard.