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Issue 36 - The blackhouse village

Scotland Magazine Issue 36
December 2007

 

This article is 9 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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The blackhouse village

Richard Ford samples some very unique accommodation on Lewis

You wouldn’t be mistaken for thinking Gearrannan to be the name of an Elven stronghold of Middle Earth... nestled perhaps between Rhovanion and Eriador. Instead, Gearrannan is the name of a restored crofting village offering unique accommodation on the Isle of Lewis, in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides.

Gearrannan village comprises a cluster of traditional Hebridean ‘Blackhouses’ (or cottages), a handful of which have been carefully refurbished to varying degrees of comfort to gain between one and four of the VisitScotland’s coveted stars.

With their thick stone walls and golden thatch, they may look like Viking longhouses from the outside, but on the inside the houses tell a different story. All of Gearrannan’s selfcatering cottages come with fully fitted modern kitchenettes, shower rooms and solid fuel stoves, and if you’re still not feeling toasty, three out of four of these come with under-floor heating, offering the perfect contrast to the chilly island winds outside and the best way to bring your toes back to body temperature.

If the description thus far hasn’t got you reaching for the red wine and the corkscrew, then imagine watching the sun go down over the Atlantic Ocean, only a few yards from your front door, or picture the silhouette of the Calanais Standing Stones (just down the road from Gearrannan) against the dusk hued Hebridean sky.

Gearrannan offers four self-catering cottages and there’s also a youth hostel on site run by the Gatliff Hebridean Hostels Trust (www.gatliff.co.uk). Each of the four cottages in the village bears the name of one of the many former villagers, bringing you even closer to the village’s previous inhabitants during your stay, the last of whom left in 1974, after which the Blackhouses fell into disrepair. Thankfully though, a local trust named Urras nan Gerrannan was established which understood the importance of preserving this special place for you and I.

You might choose to stay in the three star Taigh Thormoid ‘an ‘ic Iain, situated in the oldest part of the village, offering a sea view, or Taigh Glass, with room for five people.

Alternatively, the one star Taigh Làta offers bunkhouse accommodation, ideal for large groups. Lastly, there is Taigh ‘an t-Seòladair.

Whichever house you choose though, you can be assured of a cosy night’s sleep in one of Scotland’s most atmospheric locations.

If you do manage to make it outside of your snug little sanctuary, then the locality abounds with things to see and do, the immediate area surrounding Gearrannan providing both a natural and a cultural feeding ground. Local sites include the beaches at Dalmore and Dalbeg, the Dun Carloway Broch, and there are numerous walking routes to try. Closer to home, the village itself offers a small museum showing what life was in like in the village in 1955, shortly after it received its first electricity supply. There is also a café on site, an interpretation area and, of course, bracing sea views.

If you wish to experience the charm of Gearrannan for yourself, booking in advance is recommended as the cottages have their fair share of ‘regulars’ in addition to firsttimers.

The visitors’ book speaks volumes – a quick flick through established that two parties of recent guests were on their fifth visit! A further read illustrated just how passionate people feel about the place – two couples had become engaged at Gearrannan, and the village had hosted one wedding, and several birthdays. Comments like: “A peaceful haven in a wild and magnificent setting,” and “a magical place-wonderfully romantic...” speak for themselves.

Although Gearrannan is no less enchanting than many of the places featured in The Lord Of The Rings, it is far more accessible (and no doubt a good deal safer) than Middle Earth. Why not make your own epic journey to Gearrannan and see what all the fuss is about.