Visiting the Arnol Blackhouse

We had the most fascinating visit to the Arnol Blackhouse today. It really was such an interesting visit and I am now in awe of those who lived here without all the modern amenities to which we are all accustomed.

We'll begin in the Living Room. This fire in the centre of the house is what makes this house so unique, and is what made Historic Scotland take the house over around 50 years ago. There are many other thatched houses preserved, but they have their fire in a fireplace and have a chimney.

This one - as you can see - has the fire on the slab in the middle of the floor, with the smoke rising to fill the house. 

And we'll begin with the smoke. When I went in the main door, the smell of the peat fire was the first thing that hit me. By the way, if you've never smelt a peat fire, you really are missing out on life. Big style.  I have to say that my own first thought was how bad this smoke must have been for those living in the black houses, but the smoke isn't all bad ...

If you look at the photo, you can see how blackened the rafters are. The soot actually helped preserve this wood. Even more fascinating, though, is that this same smoke which filtered out through the roof thatch killed bacteria which would have rotted the thatch. With the fire in the middle of the floor, the wood and thatch was protected and the lifespan of both was extended. 

In the photo you can see the partition between the living area and the bedroom. Notice that it doesn't reach the ceiling: that is so that the smoke is able to spread through the whole area of the house, and the benefits of the smoke reaches the whole roof area.

These dried plant stalks were used as hooks at times, but at other times, the folks hooked salted fish on them. They were hung from the ceiling and ... yes, you guessed it - they were smoked! 

Back to the first photo ...

The curtains surround the box-bed. The actual bedroom is through the doorway, but the blackhouse also has a box-bed in the living area. This bed was for anyone who was ill or elderly. In this particular house, this was the granny's bed. Having the granny or an ill person here meant they were close to the fire and were kept warm, but - most importantly - they were part of the family throughout the day.

This dresser was in the original house too, and all the dishes are exactly as the last occupants of the house had them. What is really interesting about the dresser is that it is made from driftwood. If you have never been in Lewis, you will not appreciate how tree-less the island is. There were simply no easy ways of finding wood for rafters, for box-beds or for furniture. And so driftwood was sought, and utilised. In fact, when a young couple were getting married, some driftwood was one of the best wedding gifts they could be given. 

If you look carefully at this wood (again, this is all exactly as the house was when it was being lived in) in one of the box-beds in the bedroom, you will see deep grooves in them. These grooves were made by sea worms and experts who have examined them have confirmed that the worms which made these grooves are found in the South Atlantic. This driftwood was swept from the South Atlantic to the shores on the west coast of Lewis. I guess that's the Gulf Stream for you!

The bedroom, with two box-beds, a table and two clothes chests.

Our fascinating and informative guide, here keeping the fire alive

At the other end of the living area from the bedroom was the byre. The two stalls here kept the cows, while the straw-filled boxes at the end were for the chickens. The opening above these is where the chickens  sauntered in and out at their leisure. 

Evidence has been found of similar houses to this in Norway and in other Scandinavian countries. They are also to be found in all the areas in which the Vikings ruled: Iceland, Scottish islands such as Shetland, Orkney and Lewis, and as far away as Newfoundland in Canada. The Vikings were in the north-east of North America long before Columbus discovered the continent. 

We had such a good time visiting this blackhouse today. A huge thank you to our guide, and a definite recommendation to anyone who hasn't visited and is able to.

Go visit! 

And ask for a 'live' tour guide. As we found out on the London buses - there just aint nothin' like it.


  1. Fascinating- I didn't realise that similar houses have been found in North America. Would love to visit someday.

  2. Thanks for the tour. Amazing!

  3. I found this really interesting. I cannot imagine living there with the fire in the middle of the room.

  4. That was incredibly facinating! Thanks so much for taking us there via the web! I would absolutely love to see that in person!

  5. As someone with asthma, I cannot imagine living with all the smoke! It must have been an interesting place to visit though.

  6. fascinating!!! It was great to see the pictures and have the benefit of a live-blogger-tour-guide! ;)


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