Great Bernera

Great Bernera, often known just as Bernera, is an island in the Outer Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. With an area of just over 21 km2 (8.1 sq mi), it is the thirty-fourth largest Scottish island.

Great Bernera lies in Loch Roag on the north-west coast of Lewis and is linked to it by a road bridge. Built in 1953, the bridge was the first pre-stressed concrete bridge in Europe. It was constructed after islanders threatened to dynamite the hillside to create a causeway of their own making.

Prior to 1953 the only way of travelling off and onto the island was by boat. There were no roads, other than cart tracks and on many a day the weather made crossing to the other side impossible. Today a large majority of the population travel the 50 mile round trip to the main town of Stornoway to work. It is hard, even for those living on Bernera to envisage life with these constraints. 

Bridge from Great Bernera to the Isle of Lewis.

The main settlement on the island is Breaclete. Breaclete is home to a small museum, mini-mart & off licence, school, a post office, church, community centre with café, petrol station, fire station, doctor's surgery and new childrens playpark.

Wildlife is part of day to day life here. It is common to encounter a Golden Eagle soaring overhead, a salmon leaping, or a magnificent stag by the side of the road.  If you are lucky enough to take a trip round the surrounding islands on a boat you will see a vast array of sea life. Common seals are often off shore visitors.

 

Bosta Beach, Iron Age House and Time & Tide Bell

Bernera is also known for its Iron Age (or possibly Pictish) settlement at Bostadh, discovered in 1992 and now covered by sand to preserve it. A replica Iron Age house matching those now buried is sited nearby.

Bosta Beach is made from sparkling white shell sand. This popular beach has good views of the cliff bounds islands of Outer Loch Roag, notably Little Bernera, Flodday, Bearsay, the Old Hill and Campay. Campay is pierced by a natural tunnel about 120 meters long. 

In 1992 a severe storm dramatically altered the beach profile and an ancient village began to re-emerge from the sand. A series of rescue excavations in 1996 revealed a remarkable complex of houses surviving beneath the sand.

Due to the exposed position of the site and mobility of the sand it was impossible to leave the structures as excavated, and they were backfilled with sand. The tops of the original walls of two of the houses can be seen.

The houses belong to a distinctive group that is found around the North and West of Scotland in the Late Iron Age or Pictish period, approximately 400 - 800AD.

A reconstruction has been built of one of the houses at Bosta. This "jelly baby" house was built using the techniques that were available at that time. The house is open for visitors throughout the summer months.

Iron Age House at Bosta Beach (The Old Hill in the background).

 

The Time & Time Bell

Marcus Vergette is a sculptor, film-maker, composer and working musician playing double bass. His main involvement at present is with his Time & Tide project, a permanent installation of 12 bells around Britain. It apparently "expresses an idea of ideas of community and individuality, with resonance both symbolical and acoustic".

The 2nd of those bells was installed into the sea at Bosta at the beginning of June 2010. 

Time & Tide bell to the forfront.

 

Standing Stone Arrangement

Callanish VII is a unique standing stone arrangement near the bridge between Lewis and Bernera, set out in a semicircle. It is known locally as Tursachan, which means merely "Standing Stones". The ruins of Dun Barraglom broch are nearby Bostadh

 

Little Bernera 

Little Bernera lies between the sea lochs of West and East Loch Roag, immediately to the north of Great Bernera.

A few centuries ago, the island was the place where people of Carloway were buried, before a cemetery was built in that village. Today, gravestones can still be seen on the island, but are beginning to disappear into the ground.

At Traigh an Teampaill, there is a ruined chapel and small graveyard.

To get to little Bernera you need a boat, so it is very special place. Hiding on the other side of little Bernera is a blue lagoon, shallow and turquoise against a long white beach.

 

 

The Bernera Riot

The island was the location of the Bernera Riot, where crofters resisted the Highland clearances.

The Bernera Riot took place in 1872, and occurred as a reaction to heavy-handed evictions and treatment by the factor of Sir James Matheson, Donald Munro. The islanders refused to send their livestock over to Lewis, and were in turn threatened with a military visit. This did not occur, but even more eviction notices were handed out, and the visitors were pelted with clods of earth.

A cairn was situated in the centre of Bernera in 1992 to commemorate the Bernera Riot of 1874.

 

The Norse Mill

Just behind "The Ard" an extremely good example of a Norse mill can be found. Today in Lewis there are upwards of some two hundred sites of these small corn mills. They provided communities over the centuries with a source of efficient water power, operated by any small stream.

The present site had been used for centuries. Earlier mill dams can be seen at the loch above the mill when the water level is low. Parts of earlier mill-stones found at this site are now lying to the left of the mill door.

 

Surrounding Islands

There are many islands in Loch Roag. To the west, from north to south are Pabaigh Mor, Vacsay (Bhacsaigh), Bhuaigh Mor (Vuia Mòr), and Bhuaigh Beag (Vuia Beg). To the north, the island of Bearnaraigh Beag (Little Bernera), and a number of islets. To the east, there are not so many islands, but there is Eilean Chearstaidh (Eilean Kerstay) to the south east.

 

Sea Life

Sea life is especially rich where there is tidal run between the Caolas Bhalasaigh (English: "Valasay Straits/Kyles") and the inner sea-loch of Tòb Bhalasaigh. There are numerous molluscs, sponges, brittlestars, and sea stars, the latter growing noticeably larger in size than normal. Cup Coral, Snakelocks Anemone and Dead Man's Fingers coral, may also be found here. Common fish include Shanny and Butterfish and Atlantic and Common Seals are regular off-shore visitors.

Great Bernera hosts numerous sea bird species, including gulls, waders and ducks such as Goldeneye. More unusually, a Jack Snipe was observed on the island in 2007.

 

Notable residents and visitors

  • The former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Alistair Darling owns a converted blackhouse at Breaclete, and his mother's family were from the island
  • Callum Macdonald, arguably the most important publisher of Scottish poetry of the 20th century, who was born on the island.

 

Information taken from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Bernera