Cinematic Scotland’s Brave Tour: Arnol and Gearrannan Blackhouses

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

Gearrannan Blackhouse Village

As Disney Pixar’s Brave comes to cinemas around the world, we take a trip to some of the Scottish locations that inspired the filmmakers.

Following my visit to just one of the Scottish castles that offered inspiration to the creators of Brave, Urquhart Castle near Loch Ness, I next caught a lift in Inverness with a small group of tourists heading to the Outer Hebrides on a five day trip with Edinburgh-based tour operator, Rabbie’s.

Guided by Doug, my travelling companions had come to Scotland from around the globe to get a feel for the country and its heritage, getting a chance to spend time in places such as the Isles of Lewis, Harris and Skye. I sat back to enjoy the trip from the Highland capital over to Ullapool on the West Coast, where we’d get the ferry the next morning across to the Isle of Lewis, prime Brave country.

Rabbies tour guide, Doug, in action

Rabbies tour guide, Doug, in action

On the way to Ullapool we stopped by Corrieshalloch Gorge, 12 miles outside the town. This box canyon is around 200ft deep and the river plunges 150ft over the Falls of Measach. We each navigated our way down towards the newly built suspension bridge to see the Falls, but it wasn’t for those of a nervous disposition.

Corrieshalloch Gorge

Corrieshalloch Gorge

Falls of Measach

Falls of Measach

One of the most impressive aspects of Brave is the animators’ ability to capture the lush greens of Scotland’s countryside, something that Corrieshalloch Gorge has in abundance. Brave features a sequence where Merida clambers up a rock near a mighty waterfall and it’s tempting to think that Measach could have been one of those seen by the film’s creators on their Scottish tours.

Designed by Thomas Telford as a fishing port in the 1770’s, Ullapool is a small town with around 1300 residents. Arriving in the early evening meant there was time for dinner near the Harbour followed by a drink in the local pub.

Dinner in Ullapool

Dinner in Ullapool

There was also time to grab a photo of Ullapool Harbour in the evening, just as the midges started to bite.

Ullapool Harbour

Ullapool Harbour

The next morning, after a look around the local bookshop and a stop off at Boots the chemist for some midge repellant, we set sail for Stornoway, the largest town on the Isle of Lewis. The Caledonian MacBrayne ferry to Stornoway takes just under three hours, offering travellers the opportunity to eat, sleep and watch the view as they pass the Summer Isles and head for the Outer Hebrides.

Watch the Ullapool to Isle of Lewis ferry on YouTube

The Isle of Lewis provided some of the most obvious inspiration for Brave, with much of the film’s magical elements having their basis in the buildings and ancient relics of the area. Without spoiling the film for those who haven’t seen it, a key part of Brave is Princess Merida’s (Kelly Macdonald) meeting with an old witch (Julie Walters) in the latter’s home. Merida finds herself in a stone circle, tempted away into the woods by some will-o’-the-wisps, small blue lights with magical properties.

Merida meets a will-o-the-wisp in Brave

Merida meets a will-o’-the-wisp in Brave

The witch’s house is clearly based on the old blackhouses dotted around the Outer Hebrides. Blackhouses were the traditional thatched homes of crofters, a place where families could live under one roof with their animals due to the harsh weather outside.

Blackhouses had no chimneys, which made the home warmer and also killed bugs. The smoke also had an adverse effect on the owners’ lungs, meaning their life expectancy was only around 35. Our first visit was to the restored blackhouse at Arnol, which dates from the 1880s.

We spent some time walking around and inside the blackhouse, seeing where the family cooked and slept, much of their social life revolving around the fire in the centre of the kitchen.

Watch Arnol Blackhouse on YouTube

Outside Arnol Blackhouse

Outside Arnol Blackhouse

Arnol Blackhouse kitchen

The centrepoint of the Arnol Blackhouse, the kitchen

Arnol Blackhouse bedroom

Arnol Blackhouse bedroom

Inside Arnol Blackhouse

Inside Arnol Blackhouse

It’s vital to crouch down on entering the blackhouse and while moving around it, our ancestors clearly of smaller stature to ourselves. The lower ceiling would also have kept in the heat. On leaving the blackhouse our clothes reeked of the thick smoke that permeated the interior and I dread to think what it would do to you after days, weeks and months.

Our second and final experience of the blackhouses came at Gearrannan Blackhouse Village, further down the west of the island. As with Arnol, Gearrannan dates from the 1880s and was inhabited until relatively recently. Gearrannan saw electricity arrive in the mid-1960s and its last resident leave in 1974.

See Gearrannan Blackhouse Village on YouTube

The Gearrannan of today is now open to visitors looking for self-catering accommodation and it’s impressive to see so many of the houses looking much as they would have done a century ago, only this time with chimneys added for the comfort and safety of modern residents.

Gearrannan Blackhouses

Gearrannan Blackhouses

Outside a Gearrannan Blackhouse

Outside a Gearrannan Blackhouse

The witch’s house in Brave may not be quite up to the standard of Gearrannan but it was fascinating to see the lengths the filmmakers went to in bringing Scotland’s rich past to the screen.

In the next post I’ll be discussing another major inspiration for the creators of Brave, Dun Carloway Broch, before heading to the real-life version of the stone circle that leads Merida towards her fate, the Callanish Standing Stones.

Visiting the Isle of Lewis

The trip I took to the Isle of Lewis was with Rabbies Small Tours Groups, the five day Escape to the Edge Tour, staying two nights in Stornoway, capital of the Western Isles with a night in Ullapool and Portree before and after.

Adult Prices:  £275 – £295
Discount Prices:  £255 – £275
Departing: Tuesdays (May to September)

Full details can be found on the Rabbies website.

2 responses to “Cinematic Scotland’s Brave Tour: Arnol and Gearrannan Blackhouses

  1. Pingback: Cinematic Scotland’s Brave Tour: Urquhart Castle | CinematicScotland·

  2. Pingback: Cinematic Scotland Tour: Traditional Harris Tweed weaving | CinematicScotland·

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