Bays Blackhouse - the ruin as we found it 2014

Looking around our village it is fascinating to see how the early settlers chose the locations for their homes. Many came to Leac a Li after being forcibly removed during the clearances of 1837 when families were evicted from their homes on the west side of the island to make way for more profitable sheep farming. Under the Crofters Holdings (Scotland) Act of 1886 croft tenancies were created and the villagers received parcels of land to live on with their animals. The croft histories indicate that one of the original tenants of Croft 4 was the Morrison family. In the early 1900's the croft was left to two brothers on the death of their father and was split in half to give them both some land. The brother who inherited Croft 4B married into a family living on a croft in another part of the village so he went to live there with his wife. With his move from the blackhouse this was probably the last time anyone lived on the croft until 2017 when we completed our new croft house followed by the Bays Blackhouse project which was finished in late 2020.

So what brought us to Harris and Croft 4B? During the holiday to celebrate Paul’s 50th birthday we toured the whole Outer Hebrides from The Butt of Lewis to Barra. Harris made a particular impression on us and we quickly returned to look at options to move to the Island. By chance the Croft Tenancy was being marketed and having viewed the ruin of the croft house we fell in love with the location and the history contained in the walls of the house. At the time the blackhouse contained nothing more than the remnants of an old wooden chicken coop and quite a lot of sheep droppings. A few of our neighbours in the village remember playing in the ruin as children and have close family connections to the house. They were naturally concerned when they saw the digger starting to create the driveway, worried that our plan was to flatten the ruin and build something completely new. We are delighted to have been able to use the walls of the original house as the basis of the new Bays Blackhouse. Features such as the original fireplace are visible between the walls and the house on the eastern end of the property. The stone walls are visible from the glass frontage all along the house with the old windows and entrance door in alignment with the eleven floor-to-ceiling windows at the front of the new house.

Bays Blackhouse has been developed from a design concept by architect Mary Arnold-Forster and skilfully realised by principal contractor DJ Macaulay of DJ Macaulay Construction Ltd http://www.djm-constructionltd.co.uk of Tong, Isle of Lewis. His expertise in concrete ensured a beautiful external finish including complex pours to create the structure around the front windows and the textured effect on the fireplace surround. We are enormously grateful to DJ for his support throughout the project as he took on many roles in the build process including woodworking and tiling.

The project was expertly overseen throughout by John M Maciver MRICS of Maciver Associates, Newmarket, Isle of Lewis. The build is a tribute to the skills of many specialist local Island based contractors. Special mention must be made of Kenny MacLennan and Cally MacKenzie of Isle of Harris Plant Hire for creating the excellent groundworks and driveway utilising their vast experience of dealing with Harris rock, Stuart MacLeod and his team of craftsmen at Opus Carpentry Ltd of Stornoway for installing the beautiful maple panelling and to Calum and Donnie Macsween of Calum’s Stone Walls, Isle of Scalpay, for their sensitive work repairing and renovating parts of the original croft house walls.

Our guests come to visit Harris for its scenery and people and we think Bays Blackhouse will provide an excellent base for their visit combining history and modern comforts.