Trowel Tales: The AIA Blog

AIA Tours: Hiking Scotland's Inner & Outer Hebrides
August 23, 2018 | by Roderick McCullagh, AIA lecturer/host

Calanais (Callanish) stone cicle

In Scotland, we have monuments and/or archaeological remains from at least 10,000 years ago and, although we have a great deal of evidence, there are a lot of uncertainties and knowledge gaps. How to present this archaeology as a coherent and credible narrative is quite a challenge. So my first highlight of this AIA Tour comes from our first day, when we stood amongst the Glengorm Standing Stones. Damp under foot, with some drizzle and midges, the tour group very patiently listened, and then almost everyone asked perceptive and challenging questions. I felt the tour gelled from that point.

The boat voyage to Iona was another high point. I had not previously travelled to Iona by boat and it was a real joy; we passed close to nesting sea eagles, passed through the Treshnish Isles, out of the dark cloud and around Staffa. Iona was sun lit as it is so often. Thereafter, our raincoats were almost never needed; each day set before us beautiful scenery and I think the group even got excited by vistas of ancient field bank and cultivation “rigs” (on Oransay, Harris and Lewis).

It is hard to select individual sites for special mention but our visits to the Arnol Blackhouse and the mysterious Steinacleit (both on north Lewis), two additional sites that the tour managers and I decided to include en route, created special memories. For Americans, Canadians, and Scots, Arnol speaks of a shared history, often the experiences of not-too-distant relatives (perhaps great-grandparents) but of lives radically different from our own. The mute stones at Steinacleit hold their mystery and, at present, defy a believable archaeological explanation and so they speak of what is as yet unknown and possibly of what is still reachable through excavation. The fine clear weather was an added bonus and made Lewis shine.

Our last day’s walk, around the Butt of Lewis, was one of the best walks I have ever had. Brilliant sunshine, a turquoise sea, and awesome cliffs and sea stacks provided a truly memorable venue for lunch, and the “craic” was great! I was so distracted, I failed to heed the advice from the tour and got a wee bit sunburnt! No great mischief for Scotland!

Dun Eistein

Dun Eistein

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