In his book ‘Behold the Hebrides’, Alastair Alpin MacGregor (1925) explains how the people of the Hebrides are surrounded by the sea and it though the sea is part of them and they are part of the sea. He says it was known as well as though it were a member of their own family and that to them the sea spoke in Gaelic. He says they listened to what it said and from this they prophesied good and bad fortune, at home and abroad, and how by its sounds and moods they could tell what weather was coming. There was the ‘laughing of the waves’ – ‘gair nann tonn / gair na mara’ and sometimes this laughter would be mocking and derisive when a storm had risked life and feeble humans had struggled to survive it. He also describes the laughing of waves across a great stretch of sand on Lewis in calm and frosty weather as being “weird and eerie”.
In the Hebrides there are many descriptions of the sounds and moods of the sea. Here are a few of them.
Nualan na mara – sounds like the lowing of cattle
Buaireas na mara – restless sea
Gearan na mara – complaining or fretting sea
Mire na mara – joy and cheerfulness of sea
Osnadh – sighing of sea, like the breeze through pine and larch at nightfall
Caoidh na mara – lament of the sea.
He says that sometimes the sea is totally still and silent as though it sleeps, and the people nearby are lulled into sleep also; and he says that people who live by the sea derive their vision from it.
Martin Martin, writing of the Western Isles in 1695 says of the inhabitants of one of the small, then inhabited, islands round Lewis, that they took their surname from the colour of the sky, the rainbow and the clouds.
This paper reviews progress in Atlantic Scottish Iron Age studies over the past twenty years, with particular reference to a long-term programme of fieldwork in west Lewis undertaken by the University of Edinburgh. It deprecates the survival and revival of older conventional models for defining and dating the major field monuments of the period and region in the face of accumulating evidence for the origins of Atlantic roundhouses in the mid-first millennium BC, and discusses important new evidence for the first-millennium AD sequence of occupation and material culture. The material assemblages of the Hebridean Iron Age are contrasted with the impoverished and relatively aceramic material culture of lowland Scotland and northern England, and the importance of the western seaways in later prehistoric and early historic times as a distinctive cultural region is emphasised.
I definitely agree with Gladman that Julian's fieldnote in TMA doesn't give a true sense of the effort required to reach this splendid site but then I think the route Julian took is shorter than Gladman's suggestion albeit, as I discovered, the advantage gained in terms of distance is offset by having to negotiate a fence. Sitting in the nice cafe at Cladach Chirceboist Uneval (the hill) is prominently visible directly in front of you in a north-easterly direction. It looks a darn sight nearer than it does from the starting-point suggested by Gladman which I originally drove up to. Even though it was a fine sunny day and hadn't (I believe) rained for over a week I still didn't fancy trekking across such a wide expanse of boggy terrain so wondered if I could get to it from the main road (the A865) instead. Driving back down towards the cafe I spotted an open gate on the left, about 150 yards before the cafe, and what appeared to be an abandoned single-track road leading to nowhere. Deciding against driving up this (basically it's just loose gravel, rocks and ruts and pits with nowhere to turn which might be very awkward if it's wet) I parked up and set off walking. Re-reading TMA on my return I see Julian says 'the road soon disappears' so assume he must have gone this way and indeed after about three-quarters of a mile or so it ends in a mass of rubble. At this point Uneval is at about two o'clock so off I traipsed over the bog until I came up to Loch Fada and saw that along the top of it, cutting off the route to Uneval, ran a fence, not a particularly forbidding one but still topped with a couple of strands of barbed wire. Getting over it wasn't a huge deal; I'm a month shy of 60 and still reasonably agile so it shouldn't pose most people any great problem. From then on it was steadily uphill through the bog and gorse, still something of a slog but much less so than if you'd come all the way from Gladman's starting-point. Either way it's well worth the trip, as much for the monument itself as for the stupendous views, all the better for being seen in such piercingly clear light. The people that built this really had an eye for its positioning in the landscape.
I was lucky; in less favourable conditions, both underfoot and overhead, this wouldn't have been half so enjoyable but don't be put off treating yourself to what Julian aptly describes as 'the megalithic chaos' of this wonderful place. Walking back to the car I felt extremely pleased with myself, equivalent to when I made the long hike to White Moor on Dartmoor a couple of years ago. I'd reckon on about 45mins/an hour each way but be warned, there is a lot of bog and a couple of small streams around Loch Fada. I went in up to my calves a couple of times but then I walk too fast and perhaps take less care than I should. The road is shown on the OS map; I think it's the one that goes to the left of Loch Fhaing Bhuidhe though once I'd set off walking I couldn't get it out to check because the wind was too strong so I just kept my eyes glued on Uneval and headed in that direction.