For their first out-door event of the season, the Islands Book Trust have arranged a spectacular walk on Saturday 3rd May from Lemreway to the long deserted settlement of Cuiriseal, near the rugged cliffs south of Kebock Head. The walk gives magnificent views of the Shiants, and passes the remains of some beautifully located beehive shielings at Airigh Lochan. It takes just over an hour and is open to anyone who is reasonably fit. So why not come along and explore a rarely visited part of Lewis?
Angus Macleod records that, according to local tradition, there were once at least five families living at Cuiriseal during the 18th century. They are principally remembered because of their boatbuilding activities which were carried out by successive generations of the Smith family, the last to do so being Alastair Smith (1831-1922) of Leurbost. It is said many boats were built at Cuiriseal, with a naturally sloping rock known as Leac mhic Mhurchaidh Churiseal, named after one of the Smiths, being used to launch them. It is said that the keels of the boats wore a groove in this rock.
The most famous boat to be built at Cuiriseal was reputed to be the ‘Brig mhic Neill nan Eilean’. It was built for Donald McNeill who lived on Eilean Chaluim Chille, and ‘McNeill’s Brig’ once held the record for the fastest crossing of the Atlantic – from Quebec to Loch Shell with a following wind! Donald McNeill held the tack of Park until about 1773, so it would seem the traditions of boatbuilding at Cuiriseal go back the best part of 250 years.
What is to be seen at Cuiriseal today? Although Angus Macleod refers to the settlement as being on the sea-shore, the only visible signs now of buildings used by the previous community are well set back from the sea above a steep cliff. The most substantial are the ruins of a rectangular stone building within an enclosure at the place marked on modern maps as Sidhean Chuiriseal, sheltered below a rocky outcrop several hundred yards from the sea. There is evidence of another three ruins of circular structures nearby and possibly a further small hut. There are also very extensive remains of cultivation beds on the plateau area above the cliffs either side of Mol Stiogh a’Chragain. The large area covered by these beds gives credence to the tradition that at least five families once lived there.
The walk will start from Lemreway at 11.00am on Saturday 3rd May and will be preceded by a short talk about the history of Cuiriseal by John Randall. Stout footwear and waterproof clothing is essential. There is no charge although donations to the Book Trust are welcome. For further information, and to book, please contact the Book Trust on 01851 880737 or 880365.