Cuishader Shielings, Isle of Lewis

Cuishader, ness, shieling, red door


I was hoping for a break in the weather during last month’s full moon (Feb 2011), so I could travel north to Ness again following the previous month’s visit. The plan was to find the shielings at Cuishader. I’d seen several daytime shots of these great little buildings and was keen to give them my night photo treatment. Thursday 17th, the night before the full moon looked the safest bet for the week. The forecast was for clear skies through to 3am. It didn’t quite work out that way……..

I was in Stornoway that afternoon helping setup the ‘Muscle: Anatomy of a Racing Engine‘ exhibition at An Lanntair, so I was already over halfway there from my home in Harris. Following a fish supper c/o Church Street chippy, it’s a trek across across Barvas Moor and then north through Balantrushal, Shader, Borve, Galson, Dell, Swainbost and Habost before turning right at Lionel, past Adabrock and on to Skigersta. Road Trip!

wild camping, caravan, middle of nowhere, moonlight

Eventually I reached a  cattle grid, beyond which lies a rough track. Driveable but only with extreme caution! About a mile later I could see the caravan I’d photographed the previous month.

Another mile further on and I came across the first shieling of the night – right beside the road on the left hand side. But over to the right is where the main batch of shielings lie. It was just after 9pm. Potentially I had well over 6 hours of shooting time available. Surely more than enough to capture a decent number of these weird little buildings?

Close to the road there are a number of ramshackle constructions. An old coach has been turned into makeshift accommodation. Not very pretty so I gave it a miss and walked further out into the peat bog. As soon as I set up the tripod for the first shot of the night, cloud moved in and obscured the moon. I waited around 15 minutes for it to clear to get the shot.

Shieling at Cuishader, Ness, Isle of Lewis

Each time I found a building I wanted to shoot, I could see the outline of another in the distance. Walking further and further away from the road and into what seemed like deeper and deeper swamp land, it suddenly occurred to me this was not the best place to get into trouble…. miles from anywhere, often up to my knees in the middle of a peat bog, in the middle of the night!

Around 11pm the clouds rolled in thick and fast with absolutely no sign of it clearing up. Time to head back. I’d walked further than I thought. Navigating back to the track was tricky now the bright moonlight that showed me the way out had largely subsided. Handheld GPS might be a wise purchase for future visits!

Here’s my favourite of the night. The door was unlocked so I was able to light the interior with a yellow gel placed over my LED torch. Almost keeled over backwards when my right foot went through the wooden pallet doorstep!

Cuishader Yellow, Ness, Isle of Lewis

I got a couple more before cloud stopped play…

Cuishader Green, ness, isle of lewis

New build shieling, Cuishader, Isle of Lewis


4 thoughts on “Cuishader Shielings, Isle of Lewis”

  1. I am looking at the second-to-bottom print, propped up above my printer, awaiting framing (it’s been 4 months now – sorry). I look at it daily tho, and on a whim last week, bought a set of flash gels and a cable release from ebay. I figured with a 2 year old baby keeping me in the house during most golden hours, night photography was my last chance motel…

    Thanks for the inspiration is all. I strangely prefer your sensibility to that of Troy P’s work – I am not sure what it is, maybe the home turf thing. Saving up for more prints…

  2. Thanks for the comments David and a big thank-you for purchasing the print!
    I loved that night out in Cuishader. I reckon I’ll be back up there again this coming winter.

    It’s a real compliment to hear my photos might have inspired you to get into night photography! If you venture into the unlit wilderness in the middle of the night, be careful out there… you’ve got more than yourself to look after 😉

    I have Troy Paiva to thank for inspiring me to take up night photography in the first place. Not sure if it’s been a conscious decision on my part to light my photos in a different style to Troy. He’s a definite (and obvious) influence but there’s little point trying to be a TP clone – he’ll win every time! I’ve veered to using fewer coloured gels and rely more on white light.

    Take the Cuishader photos in this thread for instance… where I’ve used coloured light I’ve limited it to one colour per image, confining it to interiors. All other additional light is white and used externally.

    Good luck with your night photo exploits. It’s a good time of year to start now we have the longer nights rolling in. The sooner you start, the sooner you’ll develop your own technique and lighting style. Please call back here and post a link when you’ve got some work you want to show off.

    All the best.

  3. Hi John, Lovely photographs. I have been living on the West Side for 3 years. I wondered whether you knew how shielings change hands, and what kind of tenure they are subject to, either on the Pentland Road or past Skigersta on the Skigersta to North Tolsta path. I don’t think I have ever come across one advertised for sale. It would be lovely to have or restore one! Harriet

    • Thanks Harriet, to the best of my knowledge shielings tend to stay in the same family. I doubt you’ll ever see one advertised for sale – things don’t work that way in shieling land! You might be interested in a project called ‘Airigh’ – a modern take on the shieling. Checkout their facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/airighproject?fref=ts

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