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July 8th 1998

Net Hallo everybody. We are back to Skye island after five days in the Outer Hebrides: Lewis and Harris (two different names for the same island) and North Uist. As we did five days ago, we are sending this new page of our diary from SkyeDat, a helpful telematics centre in Portree. They have been so nice in allowing us to connect to the Net: as we've had serious problems with our cellular phone, in our touring around we are always desperately looking for a phone plug for our laptop computer. Thanks again friendly Fiona and Maggie and all the boys of SkyeDat for your patience with these two new Roman invaders!

Callanish Well, back to our megaliths... Last Friday we sailed to Outer Hebrides, drove in a thick fog through Harris & Lewis and arrived in Callanish (Calanais in Gaelic). By the way, in the Outer Hebrides all signposts are only in Gaelic, so if you don't want to get lost you can either buy a bilingual map or follow the assonances between English and Gaelic (sometimes an easy play as for Charlabhaigh -> Carloway, sometimes an impossible task as for An t-Ob -> Leverburgh!).
In Calanais/Callanish we chose a comfortable B&B, guess where... just a few meters from the great complex of standing stones, probably the second most famous in the world after Stonehenge. We had already been in Callanish eight years ago, during our summer holidays: now there is a visitor centre with a small exhibition. In our opinion the centre is very well located (the building doesn't intrude with the site at all and it is completely invisible from the stones) and useful (lots of visitors need facilities, a gift shop, and so on), but the annexed exhibition isn't worth the £ 1.50 entry fee. Yes, there are some very interesting sections on geology and astronomy, some beautiful mock-ups and the text is available in various languages, but we think that the video is too "New Age-ish" both in the drawings and in the commentary: some more info on the megalithic monuments nearby would be useful. Anyway, the stones themselves are of course the best part of the site: this magnificent monument is certainly one of the most spectacular megalithic sites of the world. Now you may even enjoy (provided you have QuickTime 3 software installed in your computer) a 360 degrees panoramic view of Callanish, thanks to Apple QTVR technology and our faithful Olympus digital camera.

Callanish II The next day, in an atrocious weather, we visited Steinacleit, an enigmatic site half a roundhouse and half a chambered cairn; Clach an Trushal, a 6 meters tall pillar nearby and Dun Bragar, one of the many brochs situated on an islet in a loch and linked to mainland by a stone causeway.
On Sunday morning we decided to go to some of the many megalithic "satellite sites" of Callanish (from Callanish I, the main monument, they are numbered up to Callanish XIX). So we visited the standing stones of Callanish VIII, beautifully situated on a steep rocky slope ending in a cliff, and the single boulder of Callanish VIIIA. But the weather was getting worse, so we sheltered in our warm B&B. After a couple of hours, surprise! There was some sunshine! So we ran outside and walked to Callanish. And so Diego was able to shoot some sunny photos of the site. In the afternoon we succeeded in visiting also the lesser known but beautiful stone circles of Callanish II (Cnoc Ceann a' Ghàrraidh), Callanish III (Cnoc Fillibhir Beagh) and Callanish IV (Ceann Hulavig), the aligned standing stones of Callanish V (Airigh Nam Bidearan), the single stone of Callanish XII (sited in the modern housing estate of Stonefield) and the splendid Dun Carloway, the best preserved broch in the Western Isles.

Callanish II On Monday we made a quick visit to the ruined chambered cairn of Cnoc a Phrionnsa, to the recently discovered Achmore stone circle (only one stone stands, the other lying in the peat) and to the little Sideabhal stone circle by Loch Seaforth, partly incorporated into a later building. Then it was time to drive to South Harris, where at 19:45 we had to take the ferry to North Uist. After a quick photo to Coire Na Feinne, a Neolithic chambered burial cairn covered by colourful flowers in a private garden, we walked along one of the beautiful sandy beaches of the island and reached an impressive standing stone called Clach Mhic Leoid. Another short stop to the smaller Borvemore (Buirgh Mohr) standing stone and then we drove to the ferry.

In North Uist we had only one day, that's yesterday, to go around and visit the various sites, because today at 11:50 a.m. we had to catch another ferry to sail back to Skye. So, yesterday was a busy and tiring day, because lots of the sites are situated in very remote places, far away from roads and tracks and we had to walk in open moorland for miles to reach some of them (detailed maps are essential!). We began with the easily reachable Clettraval (Cleitreabhal) Neolithic chambered cairn and Iron Age wheelhouse (a circular drystone structure with stone piers radiating from a central hearth area; these piers once supported a wood and turf roof).Skull Many of the stones from the cairn have been used for shielings nearby. Shielings (or airidh) are small huts built for the use in the summertime by groups of people, especially younger members of the family, who brought their cattle to the hills to graze. About one of these buildings in Benbecula island, we found a gruesome but fascinating legend (warning: it is not for impressionable readers!).

Unival In the late morning we walked in open moorland and through very boggy soil for 2.8 km (1.7 miles) to reach the similar but much less ruined structures of Unival (Uneabhal). Next stops were two of the best preserved archaelogical sites in North Uist: Pobull Fhinn stone circle and Barpa Langais chambered cairn. Then we drove to the northern tip of the island to go to Dun an Sticir, a broch situated in the middle of a lake, and linked to mainland by three causeways. This fort is traditionally associated with Hugh MacDonald, who in 1601-2 laid claim to part of North Uist, but was beaten by the chief of Clan Sleat, who owned the island, and sought refuge in Dun an Sticir. Betrayed by his stepmother, Hugh was imprisoned in Dunvegan castle in Skye. Some versions of the story say he broke out of prison using the beef bones from his dinner, others that he went mad after being immured in the dungeon with a plate of salt beef and an empty jug.
Our last stop of the day was Na Fir Bhreige, three small aligned standing stones that are said to represent three Skye men who deserted their wifes and were turned into stone by a witch. According to another legend they mark the graves of three spies buried alive there.


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