Lewis is, in general, the lower lying part of Lewis and Harris, with Harris being more mountainous. The flatter, more fertile land means Lewis contains the only town, Stornoway, and three-quarters of the population of the Western Isles. Beyond human habitation, the island's diverse habitats are home to an assortment of flora and fauna, such as the golden eagle, red deer and seals and are recognised in a number of conservation areas.
Lewis is of Presbyterian tradition with a rich history, having once been part of the Norse Kingdom of Mann and the Isles. Today, life is very different to elsewhere in Scotland with Sabbath observance, the Gaelic language and peat cutting retaining more importance than elsewhere. Lewis has a rich cultural heritage as can be seen from its myths and legends as well as the local literary and musical traditions.
About 500 BC, island society moved into the Iron Age. The buildings became larger and more prominent, culminating in the brochs – circular, dry-stone towers belonging to the local chieftains – testifying to the uncertain nature of life then. The best remaining example of a broch in Lewis is at Dun Charlabhagh. The Scots are recorded as arriving from around 1AD, bringing the Gaelic language with them.As Christianity began to spread through the islands in the sixth and later centuries, following Columban missionaries, Lewis was inhabited by the Picts.
In the 9th century AD, the Vikings began to settle on Lewis, after years of raiding from the sea. The Norse invaders intermarried with local families and abandoned their pagan beliefs. At this time, most buildings changed their forms from being round to rectangular, following the Scandinavian style. At this time, Lewis was part of the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles and officially part of Norway. The Lewis chessmen, which were found on the island in 1831, date from the time of Viking rule. The people were called the Gall-Ghaidheil, the ‘Foreigner Gaels', reflecting their mixed Scandinavian/Gaelic background, and probably their bilingual speech. The Norse language persists in many island placenames and some personal names to this day, although the latter are fairly evenly spread across Scottish Gaeldom.
Lewis(and the rest of the Western Isles) became part of Scotland once more in 1266 following the Treaty of Perth when it was ceded by the Kingdom of Norway. Under Scottish rule, the Lordship of the Isles emerged as the most important power in north-western Scotland by the 14th century. The Lords of the Isles were based on Islay, but controlled all of the Hebrides. They were descended from Somerled (Somhairle) Mac Gillibride, a Gall-Gaidheil lord who had held the Hebrides and West Coast two hundred years earlier. Control of Lewis itself was initially exercised by the Macleod clan but after years of feuding and open warfare between and even within local clans, the lands of Clan MacLeod were forfeited to the crown in 1597 and were awarded by King James VI to a group of Lowland colonists known as the Fife adventurers in an attempt to anglicise the islands. However the adventurers were unsuccessful and possession eventually passed to the Mackenzies of Kintail in 1609 when Coinneach, Lord MacKenzie, bought out the lowlanders.
Following the 1745 rebellion, and Prince Charles Edward Stewart's flight to France, the use of Gaelic was discouraged, rents were demanded in cash rather than kind, and the wearing of folk dress was made illegal. Emigration to the New World increasingly became an escape for those who could afford it during the latter half of the century. Lewis was bought by Sir James Matheson in 1844, but subsequent famine and land reform forced vast numbers off their lands, and increased again the flood of emigrants. Lewis was the site of numerous 'land struggles' which have recently been commemorated in modern cairn-style monuments in various villages.
During the First World War, thousands of islanders served in the forces, many losing their lives, including over 200 naval reservists from the island who were returning home after the war when the Admiralty yacht HMY Iolaire, sank within sight of Stornoway harbour. Many servicemen from Lewis served in the Royal and Merchant Navy during the Second World War and again, many lives were lost. Following the war, many more inhabitants emigrated to the Americas and mainland Scotland.
There are also numerous 'lesser' stone circles and the remains of five further brochs.
A cross-section of Lewis would see mostly sandy beaches backed by dunes and machair on the east coast, giving way to an expansive peat covered plateau in the centre of the island. The Atlantic coastline is markedly more rugged and is mostly rocky cliffs broken by small coves and beaches. The more fertile nature of the eastern side led to the majority of the population settling there, including the largest (and only) town, Stornoway. Aside from the village of Achmore in the centre of the island, all settlements are on the coast.
Compared to Harris, Lewis is relatively flat, save in the south-east, where Ben More reaches , and in the south-west, where Mealasbhal at is the highest point; but there are only eleven peaks exceeding in height. Southern Lewis also has a large number of freshwater lochs compared to the north of the island.
South Lewis, Harris and North Uist collectively is a National Scenic Area, and there are 4 geographical Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) on Lewis - Glen Valtos, Cnoc a' Chapuill, Port of Ness and Tolsta Head.
The coastline is severely indented into a number of large sea lochs, such as Lochs Resort and Seaforth which form part of the border with Harris, Loch Roag surrounding the island of Great Bernera and Loch Erisort. The principal capes are the Butt of Lewis, in the extreme north, where the cliffs are nearly high and crowned with a lighthouse, the light of which is visible for 19 m.; Tolsta Head, Tiumpan Head and Cabag Head, on the east; Renish Point, in the extreme south; and, on the west, Toe Head and Gallon Head. The largest island associated with Lewis is Bernera or Great Bernera in the district of Uig and is linked to the mainland of Lewis by a bridge opened in 1953.
|Average / Month||Year||Jan||Feb||Mar||Apr||May||Jun||Jul||Aug||Sep||Oct||Nov||Dec|
|High temperature Celsius (°F)||11 (52)||7 (44)||7 (44)||8 (46)||10 (50)||12 (54)||14 (58)||16 (60)||16 (61)||14 (58)||12 (53)||9 (48)||7 (45)|
|Low temperature Celsius (°F)||5 (41)||2 (35)||2 (35)||2 (36)||3 (38)||6 (42)||8 (47)||10 (50)||10 (50)||8 (47)||6 (43)||4 (38)||2 (36)|
|Days of Air Frost||2.88||7.22||7.01||6.52||2.62||0.56||0.01||0.00||0.00||0.02||0.86||3.48||6.30|
|Hours of Sun||101.94||34.46||63.43||104.85||147.07||192.18||166.44||127.94||132.57||106.63||77.19||44.26||26.21|
|Temperature figures are average figures for that month; other figures are averages of monthly totals.|
|''Source: | Met Office (Data Jan 1874-Nov 2006)|
In the Uig hills, it is possible to spot golden eagles; it has also been claimed that white-tailed eagles have been seen in the area. In the Pairc area, it is possible to see feeding oyster catchers and curlews. A few pairs of peregrine falcons survive on coastal cliffs and merlin and buzzard are not uncommon anywhere on hill and moor. An important feature of the winter bird life is the great diversity of wildfowl. A variety of duck, such as eider and long-tailed are found in the shallow water around Lewis.
The richness of insect life in Lewis is evident from the abundance of carnivorous plants that thrive in parts of the island.
Lewis was once covered by woodland, but the only natural woods remaining are in small pockets on inland cliffs and on islands within lochs, away from fire and sheep. In recent years, Forestry Commission plantations of spruce and pine were planted, although most of the pines were destroyed by moth infestation. The most important mixed woods are those planted around Lews Castle in Stornoway, dating from the mid 19th century.
Lewis is home to the majority of the Western Isles electorate and 6 of the 9 multi-member council wards are within Lewis and one is shared with Harris. 22 councillors are effectively elected by Lewis residents using the Single Transferable Vote system, and following the 2007 elections 19 are independents, 1 has Labour and 2 SNP party affiliation.
The Isle of Lewis is in the Highlands electoral region and is part of the identical Western Isles Scottish Parliamentiary and Na h-Eileanan an Iar Westminster constituencies, both currently represented by members of the Scottish National Party (SNP) and previously held by members of the Labour Party before the respective elections.
The island's settlements are on or near the coasts or sea lochs, being particularly concentrated on the north east coast. The interior of the island is a large area of moorland from which peat was traditionally cut as fuel, although this practice has become less common. The southern part of the island, adjoining Harris, is more mountainous with inland lochs.
It is claimed that the site of the Stornoway War Memorial was chosen as it would be visible from at least one location in each of the four parishes; therefore, it may be possible to see all four parishes of Lewis from the top of the monument.
The following is a non-exhaustive list of villages in Lewis according to their location:
|Back||Ness||North Lochs||Park (South Lochs)||Point||Uig||West Side||Stornoway area|
|Back, Coll, Gress, North Tolsta, Tong||South Dell, North Dell, Cross, Swainbost, Habost, Lionel, Port of Ness, Eoropie, Fivepenny, Knockaird, Adabrock, Eorodale, Skigersta, Cross-Skigersta Road||Balallan, Crossbost, Leurbost||Gravir, Cromore||Aird, Aignish, Flesherin, Lower Bayble, Portnaguran, Portvoller, Shulishader, Upper Bayble||Aird Uig, Cliff, Kneep, Timsgarry, Valtos||Arnol, Ballantrushal, Barvas, Borve, Bragar, Breasclete, Brue, Callanish, Carloway, Garynahine, Shader, Shawbost||Branahuie, Holm, Laxdale, Marybank, Melbost, Newmarket, Newvalley, Parkend, Plasterfield, Sandwick, Steinish|
Despite the name the Harris tweed industry is today focused in Lewis with the major finishing mills in Shawbost and Stornoway. Every length of cloth produced is stamped with the official Orb symbol, trademarked by the Harris Tweed Association in 1909, when Harris Tweed was defined as "hand-spun, hand-woven and dyed by the crofters and cottars in the Outer Hebrides"; Machine-spinning and vat dyeing have since replaced hand methods, and only weaving is now conducted in the home, under the governance of the Harris Tweed Authority, established by an Act of Parliament in 1993. Harris Tweed is now defined as "hand woven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the islands of Harris, Lewis, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist and Barra and their several purtenances (The Outer Hebrides) and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides.
Aside from the concentration of industry and services in the Stornoway area many of the historical sites have associated visitor centres, shops or cafes. There is a pharmaceutical plant near Breasclete which specialises in fatty acid research.
The main fishing fleet (and associated shoreside services) in Stornoway is somewhat reduced from its heyday, but many smaller boats perform inshore creel fishing and operate from smaller, local harbours right around Lewis. Fish farms are present in many of the sea lochs and along with the onshore processing and transportation required the industry as a whole is a major employer.
Itinerant, travelling shops also tour the island visiting some of the more remote locations. The ease of transport to Stornoway and the advent of the internet have led to many of the village shops closing in recent times.
Suggestions for the possibility of an undersea tunnel linking Lewis to the Scottish mainland were raised in early 2007. One of the possible routes, between Stornoway and Ullapool, would be over long and hence become the longest road tunnel in the world; however, shorter routes would be possible.
Stornoway is the public transport hub of Lewis with bus service links to Point, Ness, Back and Tolsta, Uig, the West Side, Lochs and Tarbert, Harris. These services are provided by the local authority and several private operators as well as some community-run organisations.
Stornoway Airport is away from the town itself, and is located next to the village of Melbost. From here services operate to Aberdeen, Benbecula, Edinburgh, Inverness and Glasgow, with flights from British Airways franchisee Loganair, Eastern Airways and Highland Airways. The airport is also the base of a HM Coastguard Search & Rescue Sikorsky S-92 helicopter, and was previously home to RAF Stornoway.
Once dried,the peats are carted to the croft and built into a large stack. These often resembled the shape of the croft house - broad, curved at each end and tapered to a point about 2 metres high. They varied in length from about 4 to 14 metres. Peat stacking also follows local customs and a well built peat stack can be a work of art. Peat stacks provide additional shelter to houses. A croft can burn as many as 15,000 - 18,000 peats in a year.
The odour of the peat-smoke, especially in winter time, can add to the general atmosphere of the island. While peat burning still goes on, there has been a significant decline in recent years as people move to other, less labour-intensive forms of heating; however, it remains an important symbol of island life. In 2008, with the large increase in the price (and theft) of LPG and heating oil, there are signs that there may be a return to peat cutting.
The Christian religion has deep roots in the Western Isles, but owing mainly to the different allegiances of the clans in the past, the people in the northern islands (Lewis, Harris, North Uist) have historically been predominantly Protestant, and those of the southern islands (Benbecula, South Uist, Barra) predominantly Roman Catholic. There are also small Episcopalian congregations in Lewis, though many of their members originate outside the islands.
The northern parts of the Western Isles (particularly Lewis and Harris) have been described as the last bastion of fundamentalist Calvinism in Britain with large numbers of inhabitants belonging to the Free Church of Scotland or the still more conservative Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Services in the Free Church, the Free Presbyterian Church and some congregations of the Church of Scotland do not use instrumental music or any songs other than the metrical psalms.
It has also generally been considered unacceptable for people to appear in church improperly dressed, although this is slowly changing. Violations of this nature might include the failure by women to wear a hat, or trousers being worn instead of a skirt, or the wearing of informal clothing such as jeans. In December 2005 the local council refused to conduct ceremonies for same-sex couples wishing to register under the Civil Partnerships Act 2004.
Stornoway is home to a small campus of the University of Stirling, teaching nursing, which is based in Ospadal nan Eilean (Western Isles Hospital). There is also a further education college, Lews Castle College, which is part of the UHI Millennium Institute. The college is the umbrella organisation for other vocational and community education, offered in several rural learning centres as well as on the main campus and covering subjects such as basic computer skills, Gaelic language classes and maritime qualifications.
Most of the place names in Lewis and Harris come from Old Norse. The name Lewis is the English spelling of the Gaelic Leòdhas which comes from the Old Norse Ljóðhús, as Lewis is named in medieval Norwegian maps of the island. Ljóðhús translates from Old Norse to English as Home of the Poet (Ljóð = Poet, hús = house). The 12th century ruler of the Island, Leod, taking his name from the Norse word for Poet.
The radio station Isles FM is based in Stornoway and broadcasts on 103FM, featuring a mixture of Gaelic and English programming. The town is also home to a studio operated by BBC Radio nan Gàidheal, and Studio Alba, an independent television studio from where the Gaelic TV channel TeleG is broadcast.
The Stornoway Gazette is the main local paper, covering Lewis and beyond and is published weekly. The Hebridean is a sister paper of the Gazette and also provides local coverage. Some community organisations in the rural districts have their own publications with news and features for these particular areas, such as the Rudhach for the Point district.