Scottish Islands: Great Bernera - An Island from an Island
The rugged road leads down towards the bridge, the track becoming narrow and uneven, an adventure just asking to be had. The Isle of Lewis was remote, but still there was boundaries that needed to be pushed. Passing the bright red phone box on the roadside, a rare sight in the UK these days, the bridge to the island came in to sight.
The bridge from the Isle of Lewis to the even smaller island of Great Bernera is relatively new. An ancient island with reminders of the past at every turn. The bridge was built in 1953 and before this the only way to reach the island located in Loch Roag was by boat. The bridge was built in response to local threats to blast the nearby hillside to create a causeway and enable access in all weathers.
From the bridge the standing stones known as Callanish VII (Tursachan locally) are visible, believed to be an extension of the nearby Callanish Standing Stones. Just a short but steep walk up from the road are the stones - over a metre wide and 2 metres high. They sit in a semi-circle overlooking the bridge. Covered in patterns of lichen they have the same magical feeling as the standing stones at Callanish. The lichen covered stones feel old and the history buried around them is immense.
Sheep and Roads
Heading away from the standing stones the road winds through the middle of the island getting narrow and reminiscent of the original tracks that would have crisscrossed the island in the past. A few cars passed us as we meandered down to Bosta Beach on the far end of the island, but the local sheep were more numerous than the cars. With little road sense they stood and looked, not a care in the world and the knowledge that they were in control of the situation.
Finally the goal we had been heading towards came into sight. The hidden and remote beach at Bosta sparkles in the sunlight as the glorious sun reflected off the shell sand. The beach over looks the outer fringes of Loch Roag towards Little Berneray, Flodday, Campay, Bearsay and the Old Hill. After a quick visit to the spotless toilets (a pleasant surprise in such a remote spot) we headed down the steep path to the beach discovering the remains of sheep and rabbits along the way. The beach is scattered with large pebbles made of the beautiful local Lewisian Gneiss, one of the oldest rocks on the planet, formed 3 billion years ago. Tucked behind one of the rocks is the Tide and Time Bell , part of a nationwide installation of bells that ring at high tide as the waves knock the bell.
The draw of Bosta beyond the beach was the Iron Age settlement, discovered after a storm in 1992, now covered again for protection. There is however a beautiful reconstruction of the building constructed using similar techniques to those that would have been used between 400-800AD. We timed our visit completely wrong as the building was still shut for the winter although we still managed a good bit of exploring.
Heading away from Bosta and back towards the bridge, by chance we found the small harbour at Kirkibost Pier, a deep water mooring with a strange little wood carvers. There were beautiful views across Loch Roag and the lobster pots lined up on the side of the harbour wall gave an insight into the type of fishing taking place. it felt strange, as if it had been forgotten. Quiet and empty. It was hard to imagine the harbour busy.
Throughout the island there are abandoned houses, reminders of the Highland Clearances that took place in the 1870's. The islanders resisted the clearances resulting in the Bernera Riot and there is now a cairn near the centre of the island to act as a reminder of the farmers who resisted the removal of their cattle to Lewis. There are also the remains of buildings, slowly decaying in the exposed landscape of the island.
Heading back to the bridge, the lonely post box marked the end of the route around the island, just before the bridge it is lonely and isolated, but a vital link to the everyday.
Photography on Great Bernera
Photography on this small island presents itself at every turn. Each location above has safe parking and is only a short walk from car to location. At Bosta Beach there is a longer walk through the sand dunes to the beach and then on to the reconstructed Iron Age settlement. There are stops along the way and the path is just a gentle slope.
Visiting Great Bernera
This island can be visited at any time of the tide and in most weather conditions although care should be taken in poor conditions. From the main A858 at Garrynahine on the Isle of Lewis take the the B8011 towards Uig. After a few miles the B8059 to Great Bernera will be seen on the right. This is a twisting road through beautiful scenery that eventually takes you to the bridge.
Make sure you bring supplies for the day. There is a community centre and museum in Breacleit with a cafe but we weren't sure of opening times so a picnic meant we had freedom for the day to stop when needed.
Once on the island, the main road takes you all the way to Bosta. There are little roads to be explored as well depending on time, weather and what you want to see. A loop is possible to explore Kirkibost without having to return on the same road.
Parking grid reference NB 16471 34272
Parking Lat/Long 58.205733, -6.8284880
Parking postcode HS2 9LP
Map OS Explorer Map 458 (1:25000) West Lewis