Visit and the surrounding villages and stay in bed & breakfast accommodation:
Isle of Lewis, sometimes called the Lews, Na h-Eileanan Siar (Western Isles), is the most northerly and the largest of the Outer Hebrides. About 30 miles long North North East to South South West, 14 miles broad at its widest part, and, on the average, some 35 miles from the mainland, it is in many respects unique. It does not merely touch but is firmly attached to another island. Harris, its sister, is solidly clamped on to it, not by an isthmus, but by a land-breadth of some 14 miles. Yet these contiguous islands, as has already been said under Harris, are indubitably two entities within the Hebrides.
Lewis' insistent demands upon the attention of any visitor with ears as well as eyes comes from the quality of the people, the Lewis folk themselves. Even amidst the highly individual Celtic community they are remarkable. He would be a dull man who did not find the Lewis people exhilarating.
Lewis is unique in the fact that it is the only large piece of well-populated, self-contained land anywhere — and this is not forgetting Ireland — that is consciously yet naturally and vitally Gaelic in culture and in native speech. We are not forgetting also the Southern Outer Hebrides, which are equally Gaelic; but these are hanging on to Gaeldom with admirable tenacity — but only by their teeth.
Lewis's assailment of our age within the Gaelic context has been in existence since the late Lord Leverhulme's proprietorship of the island just after the First World War; but this is not a case of post hoc ergo propter hoc. Lewis was vitally Gaelic long before Leverhulme gave it a sadly misplaced, but highly effective stimulus to turn the island's vitality towards the markets of the outside world.
Since Leverhulme, the island has had its ups and downs, but the most effective element in its upward contemporary trend has been the return to Lewis of young natives of the island who made their way in the outer world and who have come back to the Outer Hebrides not in the least forgetting their Gaelic, yet armed with what one is regretfully compelled in this context to call the “know-how” of modern life. They have been in commerce, industry, journalism, and many other fields on the mainland of Scotland, and far farther than that, and have returned to lend their acquired knowledge to the life of the island. This development has been entirely post-war.
Except in the extreme South West, Lewis is largely flat and, save where the people of the characteristically scattered townships have been reclaiming the heather-land by re-seeding, it is, anywhere away from the coast, definitely moorland. “Defiantly” is perhaps a better word. On a wet day (and, like anywhere else in the West of Scotland, Lewis can be very wet), the huge central parts of Lewis present the appearance of a drenched and unconquerable Sahara. On the many fine days of the spring and summer, this same expanse of moorland has the soft beauty of the West Highlands of Scotland, but it does not appear any the less unconquerable.
For the present, and for many previous centuries, almost the entire population has lived in townships on or near the coast, and, for the most part, the East coast. This is partly because the drainage is better there, the land less naturally intractable, and, of course, because this is a seafaring people who, despite many setbacks (some of them politically contrived by wealthy combines on the mainland of Britain), have lived by fishing in these fish-abounding seas.
Apart from fishing, some of this Gaelic island lives by crofting and by the growing and extremely important business of cloth-weaving. It is, by the way, from the whole of the contiguous islands of Lewis and Harris that Harris tweed comes, and from this Long Island alone.
This is the place to mention the effect of the late Lord Leverhulme when, immediately after the First World War, he bought the island and endeavoured, in the end unsuccessfully, to influence its economy. Let it be enough to state here the following cardinal facts.
(1) Leverhulme bought Lewis primarily because he was in love with the island and liked and admired the people. (2) This did not prevent his incurably imperial business-mind from attempting to “better the lot” of the people with grandiose schemes for the marketing of their produce throughout the world. This inevitably entailed, though he tried to avoid it, some regimentation of this highly individual people. (3) The people of Lewis on the whole liked and admired Leverhulme, but were suspicious of this regimentation, and in their hearts supported the returning ex-servicemen who took active steps to hold the land against the dream-inspired proprietor. (4) The head-on clash between them and Leverhulme was, if not incited, at least made inescapable by the actions of politicians and civil servants on the mainland. (5) Upon his defeat and withdrawal from Lewis, Leverhulme left a testimony of his love for the place by magnanimous gifts to the island, principally in Stornoway. It should be added that these gifts, while coming from a warm heart, were also designed to leave the politicians, and those who had actively opposed him on the island, with some difficult problems to solve. (6) While Leverhulme was completely defeated and withdrew via Harris into the security of death, he unquestionably re-animated the island economy, giving the people less insular ideas, while not reducing their essential individuality.
It is not a fact but a legitimate speculation that, had politics not entered to hasten the clash, and had both Leverhulme and the Lewismen had time to know each other better, some compromise might just possibly have been reached between a likeable, warm-hearted man and a likeable, dignified, and intelligent peasantry. But it was not to be.
In nearly every village you will find some houses where the owners have painted the doors, windows, and even portions of the walls in scarlet, blue, or yellow. It should be remembered that Lewis, more than any other part of Gaeldom, is strongly impregnated with Norse blood. Those who have seen the Faroe Islands or the West coast of Norway will be familiar with this bold painting of the outsides of even the humblest houses. It is significant that in the more purely Celtic portions of the mainland, or in the inner islands less directly touched by Norse influence, such mural painting is unknown.
The people of Lewis are intensely religious, and are as devoted to their varying forms of Presbyterianism as are the Southern Hebrideans to Catholicism. In their vivid and affecting zeal for their faith, especially in the stricter denominations, may be perceived a touch of that Norse characteristic mingling with Celticism. The atmosphere of the Sabbath Day in any Lewis township, and particularly in Stornoway, is palpable. It is something you feel inescapably in the very air.
Brown-trout fishing in Lewis is good though scattered. Salmon fishing is of the first class, and the sea-trout angling excellent. The fishing in the sea round Lewis is abundant. There are many fine beaches of Hebridean sand near Stornoway, and in other places, where you may enjoy bathing in the sea. Even in these northern latitudes, the water is surprisingly mild owing to the beneficial ministrations of the Gulf Stream. The roads across the moorland or round the island, though not wide, have good motoring surfaces, and it is possible easily and comfortably to travel all round Lewis's highly indented coast.
Nearby islands: Isle of Harris, Isle of Skye, Stromay
Nearby towns: Stornoway, Tarbert, Ullapool
Nearby villages: Barvas, Callanish, Carloway, Leverburgh, Tolsta
Have you decided to visit or the surrounding villages? Please look above for somewhere to stay in:
- a bed and breakfast (a B&B or b and b)
- a guesthouse
- a hotel (or motel)
- a self-catering establishment, or
- other accommodation