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Whalebone Arch (Bragar)

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A landmark located on the northern tip of the island of Lewis, Scotland.

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      08.08.2009 11:49
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      Dating from the 1920's this was found on a local beach

      The Isles of Lewis and Harris in the Outer Hebrides are amongst the remotest of all British outposts and subsequently do not receive the vast number of tourists that they would undoubtedly do if they were more accessible. These islands not only boast the most magnificent beaches in the whole of Northern Europe they are also packed full of hundreds of little curiosities, some of which could be easily missed but turn out to be real little gems.

      The Whale Bone Arch at Bragar was marked as a tourist attraction on my map and since it was just down the road from where I was staying I decided to check it out. I was however somewhat surprised therefore to discover that this attraction is actually in someone's back garden.

      The house where the Whale Bone Arch is located is on the A857, the main road that runs along the north coast of the Isle of Lewis. If you are approaching as I did from the west or south then it is on the on the left, obviously if you approach from the north or the east then it will be on your right.

      There is no denying that the sheer size of this whale bone makes for a magnificent sight. It is much bigger than the other Whale Bone Arch that I am familiar with in Whitby, in North East England so I certainly figured that it was worthy of a photograph. As I took my camera out of my bag a woman appeared from the house (to my slight embarrassment) and asked me if I wanted a closer look. She explained that they get quite a few visitors, including the odd coach party and she is always happy for them to have a look.

      The lady had a wealth of information about the whale bone, telling me that it was her grandfather that had found the dead whale on the beach in the September of 1920. It was a huge Blue Whale that had been washed ashore following several days of storms and although the animal was dead it still had a harpoon in its back. Presumably it had been harpooned at sea but got away only to later die and be washed ashore at the nearby beach between Shawbost and Bragar. I know that it is rather sad to think about whaling these days but we must remember that for these communities it was a way of life right up to the late 1950's. Apparently it took two horses and about a dozen men to drag the dead whale back to her grandfather's house and after it had been stripped of its oils and blubber the jawbones were kept as a souvenir. What nobody realised at the time however was that the head of the harpoon in the whale had failed to explode and when it did explode a few days later it blew his shed to a million pieces, fortunately no one was injured.

      The two jawbones were mounted in fibreglass in 2000 to help preserve them and the Whale Bone Arch was officially declared as a monument later that year. The original harpoon hangs from the top of the arch where the two jawbones meet. Each jawbone stands over 8 metres tall and weighs about 4 tonnes which gives you some idea of the size of this beast.

      It is not that uncommon for whales to be washed ashore in the Hebrides but the sheer size of this 30 metre long Blue Whale made it unusual. The name of the woman's grandfather was Murdo Morrisson, he was the local postmaster and following this find he became a local hero. The spot where the whale was found is known locally as Geodha Nam Muc, which derives from the Gaelic word for a whale Muc-mhara.

      The location of the Whale Bone Arch on the island's only coastal road in the north makes it easily accessible. Should you find yourself in the area then I would certainly suggest that you stop off for a few minutes to have a look.

      Whale Bone Arch
      Lakefield House
      Bragar
      Isle of Lewis

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