Visit and the surrounding villages and stay in bed & breakfast accommodation:
Stornoway, Na h-Eileanan Siar (Western Isles), the port and capital town of the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides. Situated about halfway up the East coast of Lewis, this harbour town is the only example of a town purely Gaelic in its making and not one imposed by incomers. It is true that its finely protected position in tempestuous seas made it an obvious rallying point for Norse invaders, and for any who wished to take over the Western Isles, but there is no evidence that anyone except the native Lewismen established a town there, in our sense of the word today. The famous Highland chiefs, the Mackenzies of Sea-forth, were lords of the island, and had their castle at Stornoway, but there was no town.
After the Norsemen the “Fife adventurers”, a band of officially encouraged buccaneers, attempted in the 16th and 17tth centuries, but ignominiously failed, to take over Lewis and Stornoway. Later, Cromwell's troops, during the Commonwealth subjugation of Scotland, battered down the castle at Stornoway and garrisoned the present site. No town, however, arose as a result of these incursions, and, by the end of the 17th century, Martin Martin, in his work A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland, talks of Stornoway as a village.
The troubled state of the Highlands in the first half of the 18th century did not encourage town-building there; and it was not till the peace of the later Georgian era that the Lewis-men began at their famous port to build a town for the future. This is manifest in early prints and in certain graceful Regency touches in the older parts of Stornoway, particularly the pleasing Regency stairways reminiscent of Edinburgh's New Town. For the most part, Stornoway has outlived this gracious legacy. And why not? She has grown and adapted herself in the changing decades to her changing circumstances, and has always, in prosperity and adversity, remained hopeful for the future. The life of Stornoway, Lewis's single town, is mingled with the fortunes of the island.
At the head of a narrowing, well-protected bay, opening to the South East, Stornoway is preeminently a harbour. That harbour is divided by a small peninsula, on both sides of which are wharves and quays. High above the harbour to the North East is the castle built in the 1840s in baronial style by Sir James Matheson. The castle is surrounded by a well-wooded park. Castle and park were donated to Stornoway by the late Lord Leverhulme when he left the island. The park is worthy of a big city.
Education is of prime interest to Stornowegians; on the other side of the town is the well-known Nicolson Institute founded in the mid-l9th century.
The modern town, which lies below the castle and between the two beaches of the peninsula, is lively. English predominates, but Gaelic is always beneath the surface. An internationally famous store has a branch in Stornoway that, on the days when people come in from the country for shopping, turns into something of a Gaelic “ceilidh-house”. There are hotels, cafés, restaurants, and guest-houses, with a few licensed premises concentrated in this one spot on this large island.
The most prominent thoroughfare is now, oddly enough, named Cromwell Street, after the man who battered down the old Seaforth Castle and garrisoned the site with foreign soldiery. It is a shock to learn that at an unspecified date the name was changed from Dempster Street. George Dempster was the enlightened Scot who did so much for our fisheries at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries. Why not change the name back again to Dempster Street? It would be an act of grateful patriotism on the part of the citizens of Stornoway.
The most go-ahead and important tweed-mill in the islands is in Stornoway — a fascinating place of Gaelic industry to visit. The hotels cater comfortably for the visitor. There is a daily boat and air service to the town from the mainland. There are a good many well-known churches of the Kirk of Scotland and of the free denominations. There is an Episcopal and a Catholic church.
Stornoway is sometimes called remote. But remote from what? It is in constant touch with the outer world. There is a great difference between retaining your individuality and being, in the pejorative sense of the word, remote. Stornoway in that sense is not remote. It is self-sufficient, bustling, individual, and more in touch with the world than many a sleepy mainland town twice its size.
Nearby islands: Isle of Harris, Stromay
Nearby towns: Tarbert, Ullapool
Nearby villages: Barvas, Carloway, Leverburgh, Shawbost, 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