When you hear people talking about Lewis and Harris, you would be forgiven for believing that these were two separate islands. In fact, the two islands are connected, and despite what people may think, the islands are both parts of the same landmass, creating the largest part of the Outer Hebrides. The islands are metaphorically sliced in half by a rugged mountain range.
The stunning sands of Luskentyre were voted 13th in the Travellers’ Choice awards in 2020, ranking the Hebridean hotspot as one of the best beaches in the world. It has also scooped the award for the third-best beach in Europe and the best in Britain.
These awards have been both a blessing and a curse for the islands. Although tourism is an essential part of the local economy, Luskentyre has become so popular in recent years that much of the idyllic charm has been lost as the car park groans under the weight of campervans and people keen to get a glimpse of this ‘tranquil slice of paradise’.
Visitors to the islands are always keen to explore the history of these fascinating islands and see how past generations lived. Traditional blackhouses are dotted throughout the islands; some in ruin, some restored, some as museums, and some, like Gearrannan, are available to rent.
Gearrannan is a traditional blackhouse village complete with picture-postcard thatched cottages overlooking the Atlantic. The village also houses a living museum where visitors can watch traditional weavers at work and get a taste of how people lived even in the not so distant past.
Schools in the Western Isles are dedicated to promoting and preserving Gaelic. From 2020, children starting school in the Hebrides are automatically taught in Gaelic classrooms unless their parents opt-out. The Gaelic language is protected by the Gaelic Language (Scotland) Act 2005, and parents must opt out of Gaelic-medium education if they wish their children to be taught in English.
The Butt of Lewis is officially the windiest spot in the UK after the anemometer captured a record 161 mph which earned the north of Lewis a space in the Guinness World Book of Records. However, this claim is disputed by the Shetland Islands, who, in 1991/92, during a New Year’s Eve storm, experienced wind speeds that reached a window-rattling 197 mph – unfortunately, the anemometer that records the wind speeds blew away before the gust could be verified!
Photograph by @calcomacleod.photography
On New Years morning, 1st January 1919, HMY Iolaire was delivering returning servicemen to Stornoway following the horrors of the First World War. In a tragic and cruel blow to the community, the vessel was lost on the Beasts of Holm, in sight of the harbour, where over 202 men (of 283 onboard) lost their lives. Most men were from Lewis and were looking forward to getting home after four long and weary years of war. They were tragically drowned on their own doorsteps. A memorial in Lewis commemorates the men who were lost on that fateful night.
In 2019 the midwives of Nunnatas House took to the road and ventured to the Western Isles to film their Christmas Special. Miriam Margolyes, who plays Mother Mildred, described it as “the most beautiful place I’ve ever been”.
Locations they used include the Scalpay Lighthouse (Harris), Rodel Church (Harris), Callanish Standing Stones (Lewis) and Lewis’ Gearrannan Blackhouse Village.