Dark & Smoky, No 42 Arnol Blackhouse, Isle of Lewis, Scotland

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Can you smell the smoking peat….. because that was all you could smell when I visited No 42 Arnol Blackhouse on the Isle of Harris, The Outer Hebrides in 2014.  It was so dark and the smoke stung my eyes, although peat has quite a nice smell about it, there is no chimney or smoke hole.  No 42 is a relic of the old tradition of allowing the thatch to become impregnated with soot as much as possible, so that it could be removed regularly and used to fertilise the fields.  Imagine, that fire was never allowed to go out, and although this blackhouse is now a museum, that was a real fire.  I actually had to leave the room after a short time as it was a little difficult to breath…..this blackhouse was lived in from 1880 to 1966 by the same family.


So No 42, is the only original Blackhouse left on Lewis built with no chimney, the fire was just an open pit.  The building is more or less the same, as when the family left, just repairs the roof carried out over the years.  They use to wallpaper the walls, so it might have made it a bit brighter, but I should think not for long, with all the smoke swirling around the room.


The woman used the living room to cook and spin during the day, but come the evening, the whole family would gather together. .



The family would have slept in box beds and in No 42 there were three.




For hundreds of years it was the custom in Lewis for man and beast to live together under one roof, and No 42 is the last tangible link with that tradition.  The front door leads into an entrance area, both people and cattle had to use this entrance, but in older blackhouses the front door opened straight on to the byre, but late 19th century ones like No 42, had an enclosed threshold that separated the living room from there byre.  In 1962 this area was used as a hen house.  So you left the living room, walked through the entrance hall, now a hen house, through another door into the byre, where young cattle would have been kept.




The following photos are the exterior of No 42.  I seem to remember that there were a couple of windows on one side of the thatch roof, this was carried out by the family as a DIY project later on in the life of the building.  There is also a White House on site, which I will post about later.







15 Replies to “Dark & Smoky, No 42 Arnol Blackhouse, Isle of Lewis, Scotland”

  1. Thanks, Lynne! Fascinating to see inside. I don’t think I’ve seen such a large blackhouse before. That smoke would be a little too much authenticity for me, too. Maybe that gets people to move along. 🙂 I had to chuckle when I saw that brown teapot sitting on the counter. I’ve got one almost identical to it sitting on my counter. I think they’ve been making those forever. 🙂

    1. Glad you enjoyed them, the smoke was a bit over powering, but fancy having to live with that everyday. Ha ha I had one of those teapot many years ago, but I only drink black coffee and fruit tea now 🙂 I don’t like milk.

  2. Wonderful read! I so admire the lady folks who lived in those conditions. Maybe the smoke helped with all the barn smells.:) . Makes me thankful for my cozy home even if it is small.

  3. Wow, these remind me of some homes I saw (in pictures) in Iceland that were built into the earth. Families there had similar customs of sleeping in box beds. So interesting!

  4. A wonderful collection of images! Didn’t see all this when there, as our bus driver was impatiently waiting nearby. Did manage a few pictures however, including a nice one of a lady weaving!

  5. Gosh, Lynne, fascinating to see inside this. Just imagine the smoke! But I guess it killed a lot of bugs, especially with the cattle next door. Brilliant pics.

    1. Yes Jo, its amazing to think that they still lived like that up to the 60’s, but most had chimneys added to the ends of the cottages in the end. This is the very last one that had nothing, its wonderful that they saved it for all to see how they lived. I have one more to do on ones with the chimneys and these do look quite cosy 🙂

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