Tuesday, April 21, 2009


When I started visiting Lewis years ago, one of the first sights I came across, which intrigued me, was this 19 foot high whalebone arch stood outside of a house in Bragar, on the Westside. The arch has an interesting history, which I've only discovered more recently. It's from an 80 foot Blue Whale, which was washed up on a nearby beach in 1920. At the time it was discovered, the poor creature still had the harpoon which killed it embedded in its back. The whale lay rotting and falling apart on the beach for many months until the local Postmaster decided to remove the lower jaw bones and take them to his home as a permanent memento.
Some time in the Autumn of 1921, the men and boys of the village manhandled the two halves of the jawbone onto a sledge pulled by two horses and the procession wound its way to the Postmaster's house, where it was eventually proudly erected. The harpoon, which forms the centrepiece of the arch, was taken to a garage, where it was being cleaned and painted, when the harpoon head exploded and drove a huge hole into the garage wall. Mercifully and amazingly, no one was injured.
The arch has remained in the same place ever since and is now on the circuit of tourist attractions which the coach parties come to photograph.
By 2000 though, the arch had deteriorated to the point where restoration was required and consent to repair was given by the Western Isles Council and Historic Scotland. The arch was dismantled and taken to Stornoway, where a local company filled the cracks and other weather damage with Isopon car filler and then encased it in 12mm of fibreglass. From a distance, the arch looks ok, but this was a deeply unsympathetic travesty of a restoration and at close quarters it looks like a cheap plastic replica. It might have been better left to decay at its own pace, like the whale it came from.

Spent the last week with family in the South and had a lovely time, but am always pleased to be back in my own home. One of the things that struck me while I was away was how early the flowers were down there, compared to here. Other than a few daffodils, I've no cultivated or wild flowers in bloom yet, but Sussex is covered in Rhododendrons, Bluebells, Wood Anemones and Primroses just now.
The most absurd sighting during my trip , pointed out by my eagle eyed sister, were mobile telephone masts, disguised as trees, complete with artificial branches and a little aerial sticking out of the top. They look ridiculous but I suppose they're better than having ugly metal masts everywhere.

I have a tendency to be a lazy slob during the week after getting home from work, but tonight has been different for some reason. I've made a clootie dumpling to take to work for colleagues tomorrow and the breadmaker has just produced a freshly baked loaf. Plants have been potted on and I've had a wander round the village looking at lambs and taking in a gloriously warm, light and clear evening. I can feel an attack of smug self satisfaction coming on, which I'm going to try hard to suppress.

Did my second stretch serving coffee and cakes at the gallery on Saturday. There's something very satisfying about dispensing espressos and lemon drizzle cake to the public for a few hours, but not sure if I would want to do it all day, every day, for a living. Still it will keep me off the streets for a few months.


Hyde DP said...

Talk of fresh baked bread makes me hungry - the whalebone reminds me of Whitby.

j9bythesea said...

I have added your blog to my favorites list and enjoy your musings and pictures. Also glad to see "people of a certain age" doing this.I live in the States and hope to return to the Isles again soon.