A cluster of structures atop a hillside on the Outer Hebrides islands of Scotland, the small village of Gearrannan lies in picturesque solitude. The houses still remaining here were built in the 1800s and are known as blackhouses -- a common feature of Hebridean days gone by.
The Highlanders of Scotland kept their livestock here on the Isle of Lewis while living in these one-room crofts that were made with earthen floors, thatched roofs, and drystone walls. A central hearth kept the room warm, and dividers separated humans from the animals that bunched in the other side of the building, seeking refuge from the often-unforgiving weather of the far-flung islands in the Atlantic.
Between 1945 and 1965, the blackhouses and crofts on the island received modern conveniences such as electricity and indoor plumbing. But these houses slowly lost their occupants to more modern buildings that didn’t require as much hard work to maintain. The blackhouses had gone through multiple generations by the 1970s, and the last few elderly residents moved out early on in the decade, seeking homes that they could more easily manage. At this stage, the houses were abandoned and fell into disrepair.
Nearly two decades later, in 1989, Uras nan Gearrannan, a local trust, was able to get Gearrannan -- and the houses -- declared a conservation area. The unique opportunity to rebuild and restore the houses with still-living family members familiar with the way people once lived in them has resulted in incredibly authentic restorations. The double drystone walls and low-profile roofs of insulating thatch make the houses suitable for withstanding the intense Hebridean weather while also being eco-friendly since all the materials used to build and maintain them are local and natural.
Now, though, these historically unique homes are no longer family residences. Instead, they serve as accommodations for visitors looking for a serene, nature-rich setting for a few nights. Families and friends can rent individual cottages -- each of which is named for the family that lived in it for generations -- or individual travelers may stay in the Gearrannan Hostel.
Gearrannan Blackhouse Village’s coastal paths make for splendid vantage points and incredibly beautiful hikes, while the village itself offers a look into the way of life of the island’s past generations. You can watch artisans weave Harris Tweed -- a nationally protected textile made only in this region of the Hebrides -- pop into the cafe, or explore the area’s rich historical sites, which include Carloway Broch, the ruins of an Iron Age defense structure.
Getting To And Around The Isle Of Lewis
The Isle of Lewis has an airport in Stornoway. A few airlines -- including Loganair and British Airways -- fly in from Inverness, Glasgow, and Edinburgh. Or, if you’ve got a little time, you can take a Caledonian MacBrayne ferry from Ullapool or the Isle of Skye.
Once you arrive on the island, you can rent a car or take a bus. The bus service covers the island comprehensively, making it an easy and cost-effective option.
Things to Know Before You Go
While Gearrannan isn’t the most well-known tourist destination, the accommodations are somewhat limited and may fill up before you arrive. It’s best to book in advance via their website. This is especially true for the hostel accommodations since the prices are so inexpensive and the island visit so unique.
It’s also good to note that the signage in the area is in Gaelic, so you’ll likely have to ask for directions or learn what the various names and words mean while you’re there. The locals do speak English but generally only do so with tourists.
Finally, be sure to check the weather before you head out. Most likely, you’ll need a light to heavy jacket and raincoat. There are sunny days, of course, but the temperatures usually hover between the 40s and 60s.
Fascinated by the isles? Read up on how to visit Hirta, the remote Scottish ghost island that’s less than 80 miles west of the Isle of Lewis.