Unlockthepast 5th Genealogy Cruise- British Isles, 2014-Day 5, Stornoway, Outer Hebrides

Day 5, 23 July 2014

We arrived early off Stornoway, on Lewis next morning, but we had to wait for the tender boats to take us ashore. This was the first time we had used the tenders, but the weather was perfect, so we could get away to our respective tours on time.

We took another morning bus tour, firstly to the Callanais Standing Stones, rated as the most important in Britain after Stonhenge.  When you stood on this hill-top you could also see other groups of standing stones in the landscape. All very mysterious.

A Tourist Centre was tucked in under the hill and could not be seen, until you walked over the hill and were upon it. Tea-rooms, toilets and gift shop, all a part of the system so these wonders can be visited by the ‘tourist’.

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Then there was a short bus ride to the Carloway Broch, a 2,000 year old circular dry-stone, fortified tower.There was evidence of an internal staircase and rooms, but all without an ounce of mortar to hold it together.

Again a small Tourist Centre to tell the story of the broch, as well as offer handmade gifts, made locally, for sale. This enables people to remain farming in  the area, rather than a completely deserted landscape. This area is also popular as the backdrop of some  television series.

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Then there was a longer leisurely bus ride across the island to the Arnol Blackhouse Museum. There the low stone houses were built in the old tradition, with stone-weighted, thatched roofs . A peat fire burned in the centre of the cobbled floor, and there was no chimney. No windows so light was by fire and ‘rush light’ arrangements. The animals occupied a ‘room’ at the end of the house, and there was also a ‘workroom’ where the men and women could undertake other activities such as weaving, when they couldn’t work outside.The very thick, low stone walls made the houses warm, dry and quiet when the Arctic Winter gales howled outside.  In some area these houses were occupied even after World War II. That is in living memory, for those family historians who know their ancestors came from Lewis or Harris.

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[I believe in this photo there is a vent placed in the roof, so the tourist don’t choke when the peat fire gets smokey. I think those living in these as homes, would have been able to regulate the peat fire, so it wasn’t smokey all the time. The grassed, soil-topped ledge allowed repairs to the roof when necessary.]

Some cruise passengers went on a tour to Harris in the south, where they saw how the famous tweed cloth is made.

As we had taken a morning tour, in the afternoon before lectures, I was able to have a leisurely look at many of the Unlockthepast publications in ‘book form’ in the bookshop, which I planned to buy as e-books when we returned home.

Again as there were concurrent lectures in the evening, we had to make the choice between Helen Smith’s presentation on “Document analysis” and Jackie Depelle’s “Ideas,hints and tips for family historians in using digital photography”.

This was the first time that Helen had presented on this tour, although she had been very busy in the Research Help Zone every day. Helen is from Queensland and has extensive knowledge on many fields of family history. She is the author of several blogs and a number of publications and has been a team member on all the Unlockthepast cruises, other conferences and roadshows. I went to her talk, which centred on the analysis of documents, a very vital part of research for success in family history.

Although I wasn’t able to attend Jackie’s talk, I heard great reports of her ideas about digital photography. Just a pity I couldn’t be in two places at once. This was the first time Jackie had presented on the cruise too. Jackie Depelle is from England and works full-time in the family history field, much of it in adult education and is a special events co-ordinator. Her presentations ranged from digital photography to reading original and deciphering old documents.

Then it was a choice between Marie Dougan on ‘Scottish records at the National Archives of Scotland’, and Lesley Silvester on the ‘Lesser known London Records.’      I choose the one on London records as I’m doing extensive research in the London area at the moment, and I was able to make lots of notes to help move my research along. I heard those with Scottish ancestors were very keen to delve further into the National Archives of Scotland, after Marie’s presentation too.

After dinner, we sat on the deck and watched the islands disappear from sight as we sailed toward the Isle of Mull.

Before I went to bed I down loaded onto my computer the hundreds of photos we had taken in the first few days on the cruise. That is the great thing about digital photography. It doesn’t matter how many you take, as you can always cull them when you get home and have time to really look at them all. However, we were aware we needed to save them in more than one place, so if there was a ‘hicup’  we would not loose them completely.

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