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Aug 22 2014

Blackhouses aren’t Black!

Those of you who have been following my trip around the islands and highlands of Scotland on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram, will be aware that I am currently on the Isle of Lewis.  One of the points of interest on Lewis is the Gearrannan Blackhouse Village.

Not having checked into this in advance, I was expecting houses with black or charcoal stone, hence the name blackhouse.  The thing is, they aren’t black at all!  For that reason, I decided they should be this week’s Foto Friday and here they are…

Gearrannan Blackhouses

So, why are they called blackhouses?  Well, there seems to be some debate.  But, having asked the woman at reception, she said, in the late 19th century, new houses were referred to as white houses because they had more windows, which brought in more light.  That means, by default I suppose, the older houses became known as blackhouses because they were so dark due to the lack of windows.

Whatever the reason, these houses are really cute and the village has an interesting history.  The blackhouse village dates back to the late 17th century but, apparently, there has been a settlement there for at least 2000 years.  The blackhouse village used to be a self-sufficient community.  The villagers grew their own food, reared sheep and cattle, and made use of their close proximity to the sea by fishing.

Over time, things changed, but not for the better.  With villagers serving in the forces during the war and others looking for employment or to study elsewhere, the number of young people decreased and it became a village with an ageing population.  In addition, with improved access to products and services, due to mobile shops and a daily milk-run, for example, there was less need for villagers to be self-sufficient.

As the village continued to decline, the last residents were moved into new houses in 1974 and the abandoned houses quickly deteriorated.  In 1989, the Gearrannan Trust was formed and the buildings were restored.  One is now a shop and cafe; one is a museum where you can see how the interior of the house would have looked; and another is a resource centre, which tells you more about the village, the houses, and the Harris Tweed that used to be weaved in the village.  The others are holiday accommodation of which one is a hostel.

There is a £3 admission fee, if you want to take a look around the village.  That gives you access to the museum and resource centre.  The day I was there, live traditional Scottish music, in the museum, added to the atmosphere.  I just happened to be there on the right day, at the right time for that.

If the weather is good, you could take one of two coastal walks.  Unfortunately, it was far too boggy when I was there and it started pouring with rain, so I didn’t get very far.  I ended up retreating to the cafe for coffee and cake where it was warm and dry.

Location 

I have located Stornoway and Gerrannan village on the map.  It might look like a long way, but it isn’t.  It only takes about an hour by bus and less if you’re driving.

If you don’t have a car, you can take the W2 from Stornoway Bus Station to Gearrannan Blackhouse Village.  You may have to change to a minibus at Carloway Bridge, but the bus driver will tell you.  I had to change to a minibus going, but a large bus to Stornoway picked us up in the village for the return journey.  Grab a bus timetable for yourself at the bus station and check with the driver to make sure you know what time the bus returns, so you don’t miss your ride back.

Useful Information

It’s worth pointing out that the village is only open Monday to Saturday from April to September.

Have your say

Have you been to this village or have you seen blackhouses anywhere else?  Maybe you’ve stayed in a blackhouse.  If you have, what was it like?

About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

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