Shawbost – Siabost – is an old, old place, where people have lived just about as long as there have been people. You can still visit the ruined standing stones by the shores of Loch Raoineabhat; the local graveyard (in Bragar) is on the site of a Bronze Age ‘midden’, with discarded sea-shells and bits of ancient pottery regularly unearthed; a tumbled broch can be seen on Loch an Duine, in nearby Bragar; and the ‘Norse Mill’ – a popular attraction, restored by local schoolchildren around 1970 – is a surviving example of Viking technology.
Even in the 1970s, one or two families in our village still lived in traditional thatched ‘black houses’ – one has been immaculately preserved, a few minutes away, in Arnol; and a whole street of them can be visited at Garenin, Carloway.
This is still a busy crofting township where cattle graze, cockerels crow in the morning and you’re likely to see a lot of traditional activity – tractors trundling home with new-cut peats from the moor, men and dogs out rounding up sheep and, by August, the cutting of local hay.
Harris Tweed has long been at the centre of the local economy and the famed island cloth has been long defined – and protected – by act of Parliament: Harris Tweed is only Harris Tweed if woven from pure virgin Scottish wool (carded, dyed, spun, dyed and finished in the Outer Hebrides) and woven at the weaver’s own home.
You’re quite likely to hear the cheery clatter of a local loom, and Harris Tweed Hebrides now operates the long-established mill in the village, where yarn is prepared and issued to the local weavers and where the cloth is finally finished. Visitors are welcome and Harris Tweed Hebrides also have a stylish little shop in Stornoway.
Even by island standards, Shawbost is an exceptionally pretty village. The rugged, encircling local hills and the curving glen of the Shawbost River give it character and our local beach is one of the bonniest – and safest – on the island, backed by a dramatic (and natural) shingle causeway, the ‘Faolainn’, and on the other side the sparkling Loch a Bhaile, ‘Loch of the Township.’
Sturdy peat-roads cut in from various points of the village through the moorland and out to the local hills; the base of the biggest, A’ Bheinn Mhor (called Ben Bragar on the map) is readily reached by an old waterworks road and affords an easy climb to the stunning views from its summit. Golden eagles nest in its crags and you may well startle the elusive blue hare or glimpse grazing deer.
The modern local school, just beside us, was completed in 1993; its playing-field is open to the public, as is its swimming pool most evenings. In 2005, the old school was refurbished and opened as the Seann-Sgoil Community Centre. The Free Church, built in 1883, remains at the heart of our community: visitors are most welcome at services – at 12 noon and 6pm – and Sunday is still a quiet and special day for Shawbost people.