The Whalebone Arch at Bragar, on the Isle of Lewis, is somewhat of a landmark. The lower jaw bones of a 26 metre (85 feet) long blue whale form an unusual gateway into the otherwise unassuming Lakefield House, just off the road from Barvas to Carloway.
As we arrive at the arch an elderly man greets us. He introduces himself as the son of the man who erected the arch and begins to tell us its history.
In September of 1920 a gigantic dead whale, the largest recorded the western hemisphere we are told, drifted into Bragar Bay. It was first spotted by a few village boys, who mistook it for an upturned ship. By the next morning the whale was visible from the land and village officials contacted a whaling company to retrieve the body. The whale became beached in a dangerous and inaccessible bay and the whaling ships never arrived. With the body beginning to decompose and the stench across Bragar becoming overwhelming, the villagers decided to take matters into their own hands.
The blubber was used for oil, disinfectant, ointment, tar and medicine. After a year the skeleton lay bare and local postmaster and general merchant, Murdo Morrison, thought that he could use the jawbone as a gate. The bone and the harpoon were dragged to his house on a sledge by two horses and many men. While cleaning it, the harpoon finally detonated, tearing a hole in the wall of his shed but, luckily, not hurting anyone.
The jaw bones measure 7.6 metres (25 feet) and weigh around 4,000 kilos (4 tonnes) each. The height of the apex of the arch is around 6 metres (20 feet) tall. It has now been coated in fibre glass to protect it from the elements and the remains of the harpoon serves as a centrepiece and hangs above visitors as they pass underneath.
The gentleman tells us that his father was offered a lot of money to have the arch displayed at Lewis Castle but turned it down. Today this man lives in Edinburgh and keeps his father’s house as a holiday home. His sister’s property, once the village shop, stands next door. Tourists lucky enough to be visiting when he is at the property will surely enjoy hearing the history of this arch from the son of the man who erected it.
1 week camper van road-trip with Hebridean Campervan Holidays
- The Outer Hebrides Guide Book Third Edition