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A Lewis Chessman - not to scale, er, obviously. And made out of wood, er, obviously.

Old Things

The Lewis Chessmen are the most important Norse artefacts in existence; discovered in 1831 on the sands at Ardroil, there are conflicting stories as to how the 93 pieces emerged. 

One version is that a cow rubbing itself on a sand-bank, dislodged the entrance to a chamber that had been exposed by a particularly high tide – the herdsmen fled in terror at the sight of the ’little people’ and had to return reinforced by his wife, who told him to stop being such a big girl’s blouse and get them in a bag as soon as he could, don’t you know how much Viking chessmen are worth these days and didn’t he realise how they needed a new kitchen.

Actually I made that last bit up, but the other version of the story is even more far fetched. This involves the shipwreck of a merchant vessel offshore, and how the only survivor swam ashore carrying the precious chessmen in a bag, only to be greeted with an unusually chilly Hebridean welcome, that is, he was murdered on the beach by the local bad lad! He is said to have come to no good anyway as a result of his crime, and in the end was hung from Gallows Hill in Stornoway, not just for murder, but also “the abuse of women”.  Not the sort to invite round to meet Mummy, obviously.

Carved from walrus ivory they form part of several incomplete sets, that now can be seen in The British Museum and in the new National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. A few of the pieces were graciously (!!) allowed to return to the island in 1995, where they were obviously a tremendous attraction. Not wanting to create a mini ‘Elgin Marbles’, there was a negative response to a strong local campaign for a permanent home to be made for them on the island. Would anyone notice if a few pieces made their way home….?.! It is hoped that six pieces will be hosted on permanent loan at the new Museum nan Eilean in Stornoway when it opens in 2015. Very generous of them. Thanks.

In 2002. a Wellington bomber which crash landed in 1943, was excavated from the same beach. Could be the start of a new Tourist Board campaign — “Bring Your Own Shovel and Dig, You Never Know What You Might Find Mini-Breaks”!!

The beach at Ardroil where the Chessmen were found. 'Come on kids, you will never find anything valuable sitting on your backsides enjoying the view'! Tough love, that's what's needed in the 21st century.