Standing stones 3 – Calanais
I push on to Ullapool but stop for a forest walk in Rosehall where I see my first ever Sika Deer. Introduced from Japan over a hundred years ago, three female descendants cross my path, but soon blend in to their surroundings. We have three native species of deer in Scotland: Red Deer, Roe Deer and Fallow Deer, unlike the Sika deer they established themselves in Scotland 10,000 years ago after the ice age. A great spotted woodpecker flies past, swooping up and down until it lands on the trunk of a birch tree a few yards away. There is so much going on if we just take the time to wait and watch.
The ferry to Ullapool has a massive viewing gallery at the front of the boat. The bow is the proper name for the front of a boat and the stern is the name for the back of a boat. Port is the left side when facing forward and starboard is the right.
I reach Stornoway around 8’oclock and settle into another campsite in Laxdale, only a few hundred meters away from my first school.
It’s great to have some time to explore Lewis and Harris. Two of my favourite Scottish islands, they are part of the Outer Hebrides. I visit Port Ness in Lewis and remember that I’ve been to the Primary school there in the past. The children told me all about hunting and eating Gugas, gannets to you and me. Now, this may sound a bit strange but people have been eating gannets for hundreds of years in Lewis. Apparently they are quite salty, taste of fish, and are particularly nice with boiled potatoes. Each to their own…
I watch some artic terns feeding off the harbour wall and then return home via a fairly unknown stone circle called Steinacleit. They think it’s probably the remains of a prehistoric settlement, with an outer ring to keep animals. There’s certainly still sheep and lambs here today. An on the small loch there’s more evidence of habitation from long ago.
The next day I make a bit of a pilgrimage to one of my favourite beaches – Huishnish Bay. Now, a few years back I wrote a book called Windscape which features this very place. I call my beach Hushwish Bay, and tell the tale of a girl called Jenny MacLeod. Living alone with her father people turn up to protest about a wind farm but Jenny’s father collapses with a heart attack and she has to stay with another family. All is not as it seems and she is soon on a perilous adventure to save her father and their farm. The whole story was inspired by Harris and its wonderfully rugged landscape. The book examines wind farms, the pros and cons using an adventure story.
I walk another mile north and end up opposite Scarp, a deserted island. The beach I end up is even more stunning than Huishnish – and its here that I see a flock of golden plovers and dunlins and get an amazing view of a golden eagle. More about that later.
Soon it’s time to visit my first school, Laxdale Primary School. I help launch the school’s reading focus week and speak to a packed assembly of P1-P7. The children are totally engaged but there is a frightening moment where I’m almost turned into stone. The whole school tries out a spell from my book Talisman – Wwwstonewwwrightwwww!
I get to learn much more about the stone circle at Callanish. Here is the circle’s name in Gaelic, the first language of the school.
There are also a few legends and ideas surrounding the stones. Here are some of the children.
After the school I visit Callanish and stand in wonder at this amazing special. Thousands of people travel from all over the world to see this site.
Then I visit Braesclete School. The school is only yards away from the stones at Callanish and the children have produced some amazing poems inspired by the stones. We use these in a lesson at Kilmartin a few days later.
We begin a story as a class and I leave them to finish this off as I make my mad dash for the ferry to Uig. A good way to progress a story is to ask yourself some open ended questions. Questions that you can’t simply answer with a yes or no. e.g. Questions beginning with How, Why, What, Where, When and Who.
Features and Creatures
Today’s feature has to be the stones at Callanish themselves.
The stones at Callinish are some of the oldest in the whole world. The rock they are made of is known as Lewisian gneiss (pronounced ‘nice’) they were laid down as the Earth’s crust was cooling about 3000 million years ago. There are legends that a great king came to set up the stones. Helped by dark-skinned men, the king was always accompanied by a flock of wrens.
Here is another amazing story, by Sandy Widdup. A P4 student at Braescliete Primary.
What a great story. Here are a few other theories about Callanish from the children of Braescliete.
Today’s creature is the golden eagle.
The golden eagle is one of the most majestic birds I have ever seen. The female is almost twice as big as the male and can weigh as much as 6.35 kg. I once held one on my right arm at a falconry display and it took all my power to keep my arm straight. They have a wingspan of almost 8ft and have a hunting territory of 200 square kilometres. In some countries they are used to hunt grey wolves. They can carry off animals twice their own body weight.
Here are today’s challenge questions…