For those of you who don’t know, the Laxdale Bridge is a narrow bottleneck, just to the north of Stornoway. It’s the main route to get those who live in the northernmost parts of Lewis home after a hards days work in the town. It’s an old bridge and a Listed one so it can’t be dynamited in the name of progress. The on-going saga of replacing, sorting out or just ignoring the Laxdale Bridge has filled many columns in the Gazette over the decades.
It would appear that this is a recent problem that has only come to prominence since it was found that two buses won’t fit on the Bridge at the same time. But it’s a saga stretching back many centuries and one that has been raised in story and song through the aeons.
In the Neolithic era, the Laxdale Bridge crossing was an important node on the trade routes between Stornoway (or Stornowaaaaaaargh! as it was known in Caveman) and the rest of the island. Even back then it affected the flow of commerce, not least in relation to an ancient delicacy.
The last surviving colony of woolly mammoth was found on Sulasgeir. Salted Mammoth was a great delicacy with the Neolithic Niseachs. Each year the Niseachs would row out to the island in their dugout canoes and catch 2000 mammoth (a quota carefully monitored by Friends of the Rock and Greenpieces of Ollac) . The hardy proto-Nessmen bravely scrambled up and down the rocks of Sulasgeir to catch the Woolly Mammoth in their nests. Once caught, they would skin and salt the animals and after a fortnight return to Ness with their haul.
From Ness, the salted mammoth would be transported southwards to the markets of Stornowaaaaaaaargh! However, the Laxdale crossing in these days consisted only of a number of stepping stones, which permitted just a single file crossing. Many mammoths were lost to the river as the Nessmen heading south collided with Neolithic townies heading north with sacks full of Harris Screed. Angry letters were carved on stone, but to no avail.
Even during the brief Roman occupation of Lewis the Bridge caused all sorts of traffic chaos. Despite an elaborate stone archway spanning the river, the growth in demand for Classical Niseach delicacies such as guga tounges in aspic and Chariot Wheels (the mythical giant biscuits of Habostinium, fired in the ovens of Pistrino Roigeanii) led to huge tailbacks to get over the narrow bridge.
In the Viking age, the Laxdale Bridge consisted of a wooden crossing, constructed from leftover masts and longships. The Vikings used the crossing to take their farmed salmon from the fish cages on the lochs of the Barvas Moor to the waiting longships in Stornoway Harbour.
As was the custom in Viking times, a resident Laxdale troll called Bjoki lurked under the bridge with the express task of terrifying anyone who attempted to cross it. Bjoki was extremely diligent and insisted that no traveller should pass without being subjected to his blood-curdling warcry of “Bjalach nokk” and paying a toll in the form of “Vootbeins”, “Hen Sjuppurs” and “4 Krone” (a beverage beloved of trolls but lethal to humans). This led to immensely long queues on the approaches to the bridge at peak times, especially on Friday afternoons when the hordes of office Vikings from the local authority, Thing Nan Eilean, all fleeked off home early at the same time.
All this carry-on inspired local bard Snooli Stjornovagrsson to write “Laxdaela Saga”, an extremely long and boring epic about the bridge, its history and the generations of characters who had to wait to cross it. Fortunately Stjornovagrsson’s tome is lost to history, having been pulped after a copyright dispute with some Icelander who had already written a better known saga with a similar name.
The Laxdale (Bridge) Saga
Full of heritage
Is very very narrow
You’d struggle to cross in line abreast
Unless you were pushing a barrow
But the problems old
Or so we’re told
It’s perplexed many a scholar,
Architect and engineer
And even those with a dog-collar
Coves and blones
placed stepping stones
In Neolithic years
Not wide enough for two to pass
When hunting mammoth with their spears
Druids in fog
used wooden logs
In the days of Celtic tribes
But for shortage of tree
It was onlyhalfaswideasitwassupposedto be
According to the scribes
used stone dressed square
Back In the Roman age
Barely wide enough for one chariot
Led to the creation of road rage
And surplus masts,
with rope well lashed
Were used in Viking time
The narrow bottleneck to cross
Reinforced the paradigm
The greatest minds
Through the mists of time
Had everything to consider
But they missed perhaps the easiest thing
Just fill in the fleekin’ river.