Our two-week trip, ending in the Hebridean Island of Lewis, was coming to an end. The following morning, we would be on a ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool, then a fast route directly to Inverness, where we could pick up the main A9 to Perth, stopping in a travel motel, before setting off early for Cumbria and home.

(Above: the location of the Island of Bernera)

We decided to spend our last day in the Western Isles (we had adopted the native name for this beautiful place) exploring the island of Bernera. Two of the party had a specific interest in the story of the Picts, a tribe of skilled and artistic people who settled across northern Scotland in the period 200-800 AD. We were intrigued to find that a Pictish settlement had been uncovered and excavated on Bernera.

We hadn’t taken the title ‘Isle of ‘Bernera’ too seriously, but, arriving at the long stretch of ocean in our path, the dramatic presence of two bridges, one built in 1953, the other recently, brought home to us the changes made to life by such structures…

(Above: how life used to be, pre-1953: even lorries had to cross the waters by local boats)

The two bridges literally cross the Atlantic- a part of it – and say so on their notice boards!

Having ‘crossed over the Atlantic’ we now stood on Great Bernera, looking back at the ‘mainland’.

(Above: the two bridges across the Atlantic! The new bridge, just finished (left) and the ‘old one’ bult in 1953 (right))
(Upper left is the village of Bosta)

The welcome board gave a helpful greeting:

‘Having crossed over the Atlantic you are now standing on the beautiful island of Great Bernera. There is much to see and explore on this small island, starting with the unique semi-circular standing stones just above Bernera Bridge here at the southern end, and ending with the Iron Age House and village site at Bosta Beach in the north.

Along the way there are marked walks to Dun Bharabhat (a well-preserved small broch), the renovated Norse Mill and the west coast circular walk starting at the Community Centre and going via Bosta.

The scenery is amazing with moorland, lochs, coves, hills and cliffs to find and watch out for some truly wonderful wildlife including Otters, Seals, Dolphins, Golden and Whitetailed Eagles and many bird species.

The Community Centre, café and museum are centrally located and are open during the summer season. There you will find more detailed information on places to visit on the island.’

Once on the island of Bernera, we headed for the small village of Bosta, (see map, above) on the north coast and opposite the smaller island of Little Bernera. Beyond here is only the Atlantic Ocean.

We were here to see the ancient Pictish village, but the first thing we noticed was the quality of the many beaches; even better than those at Uig!

(A small village, filled with wonderful scenery)

The Labrador and the Collie loved the beaches. Getting the ‘Lab’ out of the clear blue sea was a challenge. Tess the Collie is more of a paddler…

Then it was time to make our way along the path to the Pictish village we had come to see…

(Above: the path to the Pictish village)

The Pictish house that can be visited is a reconstruction based upon what is known about the tribe, plus artefacts found at the site.

The guide explained that the Picts’ closeness to nature is helping archeologists understand that style of living, which may prove useful to mankind’s future!

(Above; the interior of the house)

The reconstructed house is made in such a way that you can see how it was built. Certain sections are left bare to emphasise this. The house is a reconstruction of one of the late Iron Age ‘jelly baby’ houses excavated nearby. It was built using the techniques that were available in Pictish times. The excavation site is not yet open to visitors.

(The interior was actually quite dark, making photography difficult without flash – which was prohibited)

No physical evidence of the design of the original roof survives. The style of the roof was dictated by the shape and strength of the walls. For this reason they were built high, so the roof could be kept simple. Also, high walls, surrounded and banked by earth, would keep the interior warmer in the winter.

The dividing walls between the two ‘cells’ of the interior would have been too weak to support a superstructure. The ridged roof found in Pictish houses of later periods is a major departure from the circular roofs of the wheelhouses and brochs of the earlier Iron Age, and a precursor of the traditional ‘roof’ was we know it.

(Above: the stone-lined entrance to the Pictish dwelling is a masterpiece of early engineering – being curved to ‘foil’ the winds, and sloping downwards to protect the interior)

The entrance passage was curved to break the strength of high winds and sloped from ground level to the interior floor level. The purpose of the small secondary chamber is unknown. The main living space may have been subdivided into living and sleeping areas. The small space may have been used by the women for their work.

The central hearth is aligned north to south. This may have been for practical or ritual purposes. It is not known if there was any form of lighting. The summer nights are very long, the winter darkness can be total. This was – and is – a place of beautiful extremes… Parts of the roof may simply have been lifted – or not – to suit each day.

The ridged roof is a major departure from the circular roofs of the wheelhouses and brochs of the earlier Iron Age, and a precursor of the traditional blackhouse roof.

(Above: a single bone comb survived as a relic of their social life)
(Soon, it was time to go…)

Soon it was time to go. We had spent half our time on the wonderful beaches, and the dogs were delighted and sleepy. Tomorrow would see the start of our long journey home.

©Stephen Tanham 2022

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

Part One: https://suningemini.blog/2022/05/24/a-poolewe-diary-1/

Part Two, https://suningemini.blog/2022/05/31/a-poolewe-diary-2/

Part Three, https://suningemini.blog/2022/06/06/a-poolewe-diary-3-the-loch-on-the-back-of-the-oats-box/

Part Four, https://suningemini.blog/2022/06/14/a-poolewe-diary-4-once-upon-a-time-in-the-far-north-west/

Part Five: https://suningemini.blog/2022/06/21/a-poolewe-diary-5-over-the-minch-to-lewis/

Continuation onto the Hebridean Island of Lewis:

A Hebridean Diary: Part One – Impressions of Lewis

A Hebridean Diary: Part Two – Long Road to Uig

A Hebridean Diary: Part Three – Of Coats and Kings

A Hebridean Diary: Part Four – The Drowned Lands

A Hebridean Diary Part Five – When power is unchecked

This is Part Six the final post in the series.


©Stephen Tanham 2022

Stephen Tanham is a Director of the Silent Eye, a journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.

http://www.thesilenteye.co.uk and http://www.suningemini.blog

7 Comments on “A Hebridean Diary (6-end) Great Bernera

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