The Isle of Lewis is the largest and northern most island of the Outer Hebrides – an archipelago of unspoilt islands lying off the north-west coast of Scotland’s mainland. The Outer Hebrides, also known as the Western Isles, stretch over 100 miles earning them the title of “Long Island”. Sitting north of the Inner Hebrides, they are made up of Lewis, Harris, North Uist, South Uist, Benbecula, Barra, The Flannan Islands, St Kilda, Eriskay and other small islands.
Although treated as independent islands, Lewis and Harris are in fact joined and lie 24 miles from the mainland across the Minch. In general, Lewis is the lower lying part and Harris is the more mountainous area, but both boast beautiful white sandy shores, particularly on the west coast. The flatter, more fertile land of Lewis means the main town of Stornoway is here and as well as being a significant port, it is also home to almost a third of the population of the Western Isles with a population of just over 8,000. Lewis has a population of just over 18,500.
Life on Lewis is very different to that on the mainland. The observance of the Sabbath, the Gaelic language and peat cutting have certainly retained more importance here than elsewhere in Scotland. The traditional industries of crofting, fishing and weaving, although still present, are in decline and crofting in particular is little more than a subsistence venture today. Ironically, Lewis is now the main centre for the Harris Tweed industry, and although the dip in popularity of the Harris tweed jacket has affected the industry, the quality of the hand woven cloth is timeless and the weavers continue to produce new designs each year. The main fishing fleet is somewhat reduced from its heyday, but together with fish farms and the onshore processing and transportation, the fishing industry as a whole is still a major employer. The public sector however is the biggest employer, involving 40% of today’s working population.
Lewis today remains of strong Presbyterian tradition with a rich history behind it. With its beautiful beaches, spectacular unspoilt scenery, impressive wildlife, superb fishing, interesting people and fascinating heritage, it is no surprise that tourism is Lewis’s fastest growing industry. Come and discover this wonderful island for yourself.
“Exceptionally good with a pronounced smoke but not one that overpowers the fish.”
Tony Turnbull, Food & Interiors Editor at the Times Magazine