Tag Archives: history

Part 3 – Calanais (Callanish)

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…

Part 2 – The Ring of Brodgar

Standing stones 2 – The Ring of Brodgar
I stick to the smaller roads heading north, via Inverness and Bonor Bridge. Thick banks of gorse line the single track roads, a profusion of mustard yellow. Gorse, often known as whin in Scotland was crushed and used as a winter feed for cattle. Highly flammable it was used in bread ovens to raise the baking temperature. Gorse looks very similar to broom, but broom lacks the unforgiving thorns and tend to flower a little later.

I know I am touring round some of the oldest stone circles in Scotland but I visit an old cemetery and find a very sad reminder of a more recent times. Often know as the Great War, the first world war which took place between 1914 and 1918, reaped a grim harvest of young men from Scotland. Whole families and sometimes whole villages were decimated.

Pushing on I spy a bit of a folly in Lairg. Everyone dreams of having their own house on an island; well, someone has just that in Lairg. Said to belong to the Broons, it might just be a bit on the small side for me.

I’d never driven the wonderful road between Lairg and Bettyshill before, but what a magical find. I spot a black throated diver, a kind of diving bird known as a loon in Canada, due to its haunting cry. I also come across another blot in our history. While the Great War took its toll a hundred years ago, a hundred years before that, around 1816, the Highland Clearances were well on their way. People were forced off the land to make room for sheep. I spoke to a class this week who were looking at the good and bad aspects. I presumed there were only bad implications, but the children decided that some people who left, although sad to leave their homeland, gained many more opportunities abroad than they would have done here.

The Ring of Brodgar is situated in the Orkney Isles. Which means a ferry trip over one of the roughest pieces of water around the British Isles. However, today it is almost flat calm and I get to see all kinds of wildlife on the 1.5hr trip. Puffins scuttle across the front of the ship and there are razorbills, guillemots, giant skuas, fulmars and gannets everywhere. I even get a glimpse of a Minkie Whale.
A crowd gathers as we pass the Old Man of Hoy. A giant stack of red sandstone that today, stands proud of the mist like some monster of the deep that’s risen from its lair. It looks like something out of a King Kong movie.

Once safely into the port of Stromness, I grab my bags and walk to the Primary school. Again, I want to see if I can spark the children’s imagination and harvest some legends. The school is just three years old and Neil MacIntosh, the head teacher, shows me round. The building is amazing and the classes have an uninterrupted view of the sea and the ferry port.

Unsurprisingly, the children are fantastic and the P 6 and 7’s are really engaged, drawing their new creatures and telling me some of the local legends that surround Brodgar. Here are three crackers from the children of Stromness Primary School. Listen out for Aiden’s ‘Witchcraft – Stone’ story. He had the class in fits of laughter.

After the school, I grab a bite to eat and then catch the bus to Brodgar. I pass the ring of Stennes on the way down the peninsula and stand beside a stone that must be almost 20 feet high. One of the stones has graffiti on there from the 1800’s.
I pass a newly excavated Neolithic palace and reach the Ring of Brodgar. This is a ring of stones with a diameter of 104 meters. Only 27 out of the original 60 stones remain in place, but it is still a very awe inspiring and magical place. The ring of stones sits in the epicentre of a huge basin, the hills of Orkney forming their own outer ring in the distance.

Features and Creatures

Today’s feature has to be The Old Man of Hoy.
Almost 500 feet high, this tower of stone sits off the coast of the island of Hoy. It was only created, by erosion, about 260 years ago and may, in fact, fall into the sea at any moment. It was first climbed in 1966 by Chris Bonnington, Rusty Baille and Tom Patey. Sir Chris Bonnington became the Old Man of Hoy when he climbed that stack again in 2014. He was 80 years old.

Today’s creature is the Minke Whale. I spotted one on the ferry over to Orkney but the last time I did the trip, which was many years ago, I spotted a Killer Whale. Killer Whales sometimes hunt Minke whales, so I hope this one will stay safe. Our second smallest whale, the Minke grows to about 8 meters in length and they can live for as much as 60 years, assuming they avoid predators and whalers.

Just a reminder that Strident Publishing will be sponsoring a children’s book pack which will be delivered to the school that produces the best story. The story must use a ring of stones as it’s starting point and be about a page long. Any school that has taken part in my trip or that has tuned into this video diary can take part. Good luck.