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Adventures in Design: The Scottish Highlands Part 4

As I've shared with you in my previous Scottish Highlands posts about Amhuinnsuidhe Castle, salmon fishing and Harris Tweed, the land and the people here are like no other.

The treeless "moonscape" moors, the wide, rugged beaches, gushing rivers and stone-faced mountains exemplify the fierce beauty of nature.

The people are equally as fierce, beautiful and spiritual and the way they've adapted their homes to the landscape shows their love and respect for this awesome place.

The home above is a traditional Black House. Made of field stone it features a thatched roof with a special woven, net-like cover that keeps the thatch from blowing away in the Gulfstream gusts!

The one below is a Georgian home. The Georgian style of architecture is generally considered English; however, a large number of 18th century Scotish architects (including Colen Campbell) spent the better part of their careers in England and had a major influence on the style.

This is a modern home. It's built into the side of the hill and uses the same traditional materials as the Black Houses but they've added expansive windows to take advantage of the views and a grass roof for "green" insulation.

When I looked at the map if the Outer Hebrides before our trip I thought we were going to the top of the world. It's so far north that they have really long days during the summer with no real darkness, only a "gloaming." In the castle the bedrooms have black out curtains. I wonder how these home owners manage all that light.

This modern stone home looks like it just rose out of the soil!

This one is also built into the side of the hill and features huge stone pillars. These islands were scoured by glaciers and there are large stones all over, called "erratics", that remained after the ice melted. Can you imagine trying to clear the land for building - or farming? No wonder they raise sheep!

Speaking of farming, as we drove across the island, I couldn't help but notice the corduroy-looking fields dotted here and there, so I asked our ghillie what they were.

He said they are called "lazy beds" and were created using spades and foot ploughs, as regular ploughs just can't handle the rocky soil. The furrows are much deeper than a normal field, creating more plantable area that's also naturally irrigated. They were originally for potatoes. As he said they are "very keen people who make do with what they have." Ingenious survivors!

All over the island we saw these peat stacks! Peat is decomposed vegetation - mainly sphagnum moss - held in the land where the amount of water going in exceeds that coming out. So waterlogged land. Scientists believe the deposits were formed 2,800 to 4,000 years ago.

Peat was the islands' main source of fuel for hundreds of years, only recently being replaced by electricity, gas and oil. However there are still many people who use peat. The local government determines the area each family can harvest - and working someone else's peat allotment is unthinkable! The peat is excavated in May and June, left in the field to dry over the summer, then stacked in the fall for use in the winter.

I do have to confess that our ghillie grabbed one of the dried peat bricks for the stove in the bothy at lunch one day. What a wonderful peat aroma!

Below you can see the marks in the ditch where someone has been cutting the peat with a special tool called a peat iron or tairsgear. This is a very labor intensive process so usually a group of families bands together to harvest the blocks of peat.

Water is a great natural resource on the islands, as witnessed by the innumerable lochs, rivers and streams. And though we were there in the early fall, plenty of colorful flowers still abounded. Several types of lovely purple heather covered the banks and fields. It's so delicate looking yet obviously it has to be rugged to survive in these conditions.

These bright orange flowers were all ove the place and are called Montbretia.

And can you believe Hydrangea (planted, not native) thrives in this cold and windy place? The miracle of the Gulfstream strikes again! Note how the high alkaline soil here creates pink blossoms (vs blue with acidic soils).

The beaches are rugged and huge, and not surprisingly mostly empty. Plus it's dangerous - the tide rises up 14 feet or more twice a day! This photo shows low tide.

Now the tide is rising.

And here is high tide. Such a dramatic change.

Part of the movie "Local Hero" was shot on the island in the distance. If you haven't seen it, go to Netflix right now and get it!

The natural beauty of the Outter Hebrides is boundless and the spirit of the people who live there is welcoming and strong. In my last post about this amazing Scottish adventure we'll visit the small town of Rodel and the ancient St. Clements Chapel, built by a leader of the island's original Macleod clan.

Until then, stay warm!




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Cindy's Blog

I'm Cindy Galvin, owner of MAZE Home Store and Bardes Interiors. In my blog I hope to inform, inspire and entertain you with lessons I’ve learned, insights on the beautiful things all around us, and stories from my adventures in design. I hope you'll join me on my journey through the world of design!

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