Jump to content

Harris, Outer Hebrides

Coordinates: 57°55′N 6°50′W / 57.91°N 6.83°W / 57.91; -6.83
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Population1,916 [1]
LanguageScottish Gaelic
OS grid referenceNB155005
Council area
Lieutenancy area
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Postcode districtHS3
Dialling code01859
UK Parliament
Scottish Parliament
List of places
57°55′N 6°50′W / 57.91°N 6.83°W / 57.91; -6.83

Harris (Scottish Gaelic: Na Hearadh, pronounced [nə ˈhɛɾəɣ] ) is the southern and more mountainous part of Lewis and Harris, the largest island in the Outer Hebrides, Scotland. Although not an island itself, Harris is often referred to in opposition to the Isle of Lewis as the Isle of Harris, which is the former postal county and the current post town for Royal Mail postcodes starting HS3 or HS5.

The civil parish of Harris is considered to include St Kilda, a now uninhabited archipelago 40 miles (65 kilometres) west-northwest of North Uist, and the uninhabited islet Rockall, which is 230 miles (370 kilometres) west of North Uist.



The Vikings arrived in the British Isles from the late 700s, and in the Northern Isles and Western Isles of Scotland they named places as part of their conquest.[2] Documents from several centuries ago show the Isle of Harris being referred to as Haray or Harray, Here or Herre, Herrie, and the plural Harreis; as well as possibly related place names such as Harris on the isle of Rum; Herries in Dumfries; Harray on Orkney; and Harrastadhir (Harrastaðir) in Iceland.[3] The place-name Harris has been suggested to be based on Old Norse hærri, meaning 'higher', a reference to the high hills, especially in comparison with the much flatter Lewis lying to the north.[4]

The name of this island in Gaelic is "Na h-Earradh". The isles of the Hebrides once had Gaelic names, however the Norsemen renamed them.[5]

The Gaelic name "Na Hearadh" was also an earlier term for the Rinns of Islay.[citation needed]

Most of the place names on Harris are Gaelicized Old Norse.[citation needed]

Harris is most likely to be the island referred to as Adru (meaning 'thick, stout or bulky') on Ptolemy's map of the British Isles.[citation needed]



As of 2011, there were 1,212 Gaelic speakers in Harris, corresponding to roughly 60% of the population.[6]


West Loch Tarbert and Taransay

The boundary between Lewis and Harris is approximately a line from the head of Loch Resort on the west coast to the closest point of Loch Seaforth on the east coast. Harris itself divides naturally into northern and southern parts which are separated by West and East Loch Tarbert. These halves are joined by a narrow isthmus at the main settlement of Tarbert (An Tairbeart or Tairbeart na Hearadh).

An Cliseam, Harris

The bedrock of Harris is largely Lewisian gneisses, which were laid down in the Precambrian period, interspersed with igneous intrusions. One of these intrusions forms the summit plateau of the mountain Roinebhal. The rock here is anorthosite, and is similar in composition to rocks found in the mountains of the Moon.[7][8]

Harris is a part of historic Inverness-shire, and was administered as such under older administrative divisions. In the 2001 census, Harris had a usually resident population of 1,916.[1] It is part of the South Lewis, Harris and North Uist National Scenic Area, one of 40 in Scotland.[9]

North Harris

Old feannagan, or "lazy beds" on North Harris

North Harris, adjoining Lewis, contains Clisham (An Cliseam), the highest mountain in the Outer Hebrides at 799 metres (2,621 ft).[10][11] The area is sparsely populated. Beyond Tarbert, the furthest settlement is Hushinish (Hùisinis) on the west coast. A bridge from the east coast links Harris to the island of Scalpay (Sgalpaigh na Hearadh).

In March 2003 the 25,300-hectare (62,500-acre) North Harris Estate was purchased[12] by the North Harris Trust, a development trust, on behalf of the local community.[13][14] In April 2006 the Trust hosted the Highlands and Islands Community Energy Company conference "Community Energy: Leading from the Edge"[15] in Tarbert. In early 2008 the Trust received planning consent for three 86 metre (282 ft) wind turbines to be located at Monan.[16] In 2008 Mike Russell, the Scottish environment minister announced that the North Harris Trust had begun canvassing local opinion about a proposal to create Scotland's third national park in the area.[17]

South Harris

South Harris

The southern part of Harris is less mountainous, with numerous unspoilt, white sandy beaches on the west coast. Its main settlements are Rodel (Roghadal), known for its medieval kirk of St. Clement (Eaglais Chliamhain), the most elaborate surviving medieval church in the Hebrides after Iona Abbey, and Leverburgh (An Tòb na Hearadh or An t-Òb na Hearadh). A ferry sails from the latter to Berneray (Beàrnaraigh na Hearadh), an island off the coast of North Uist (Uibhist a Tuath), to which it is joined by a causeway.

The east coast of south Harris is known as the Bays. The best known section called the "Golden Road" as it cost so much money to build, when it was built in 1897. It runs from Miavaig via Drinishader, Grosebay, Scadabay and Cluer to Stockinish. From Stockinish the road is the Bays and meanders through the coastal townships of Lickisto (Liceasto), Geocrab (Geòcrab), Manish (Mànais), Flodabay (Fleòideabhagh), Quidinish (Cuidhtinis), Finsbay (Fionnsbhagh) and Lingerbay (Lingreabhagh).

The beaches of Luskentyre and Scarista are amongst the most spectacular. From the former the island of Taransay, where the BBC Television series Castaway 2000 was recorded, is seen most clearly from Harris. At Scarista the beach is a venue for surfing and kite buggying. Nearby the Harris Golf Club offers well kept greens and views of the hills, but there is no play on Sundays. Scarista is the birthplace of the author Finlay J. MacDonald, who wrote about growing up on Harris in the 1930s. His books: Crowdie and Cream, Crotal and White and The Corncrake and the Lysander paint a vivid and humorous picture of Hebridean life.



Tarbert is the main port and main settlement of Harris, with a population of about 550. The name Tarbert comes from the Norse tairbeart meaning "portage" or "isthmus". It is located on an isthmus between Loch Tarbert and West Loch Tarbert. The village has a ferry terminal, local tourist information and some small shops, including a Harris Tweed shop overlooking the main access road to the CalMac ferry terminal and a general grocery store. It is also home to the Harris Distillery.



The island of Scalpay is located at the mouth of East Loch Tarbert. It was known historically for its fishing industry, though little of that remains. The island was linked to Harris when the Scalpay Bridge was opened in 1997, connecting Scalpay to the settlement of Kyles on Harris.

Media attention has recently been drawn to angling on Harris, and Tarbert in particular. Local fishermen have been targeting large Common Skate in the area and have had prolific catches, mainly from West Loch Tarbert, in autumn and winter. There is an application for the Scottish shore record of 183 pounds (83 kg) although a fish estimated at 204 pounds (93 kg) was later landed. These catches have attracted the attention of the local and national press and sea angling's leading magazines.[18][19]

Economy and transport

Golden Road from Rodel to Tarbet along the east coast of South Harris

In common with many parts of the Highlands and Islands, Harris has numerous single-track roads with passing places at intervals. Ferries sail from Tarbert to Uig in Skye.

According to the Scottish Government, "tourism is by far and away the mainstay industry" of the Outer Hebrides, "generating £65m in economic value for the islands, sustaining around 1000 jobs" The report adds that the "islands receive 219,000 visitors per year".[20] The Outer Hebrides tourism bureau states that 10–15% of economic activity on the islands was made up of tourism in 2017. The agency states that the "exact split between islands is not possible" when calculating the number of visits, but "the approximate split is Lewis (45%), Uist (25%), Harris (20%), Barra (10%)".[21]

Harris is known for Harris Tweed, although this textile is mostly made 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. Harris Tweed is 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."[22]

Tarbert is home to the Harris distillery,[23] which has former Monsanto CEO, Hugh Grant among its directors.[24] In 2018, the distillery was named Scottish Gin Distillery of the year at the annual Scottish Gin Awards,[25] and in 2020, Harris Gin was voted favourite Scottish gin in the Scottish Gin Society Consumer Choice Awards for the third year in a row.[26]

As of 2021, the company was marketing only gin, but had started production of Hearach' single malt Scotch whisky; it would be some years before that product would be available for sale.[27][28]



The Sir E. Scott secondary school in Tarbert serves the whole of the Isle of Harris and Scalpay. This school has a primary and secondary department and can educate up to sixth year.[29] The school has a 21 kW photovoltaic system installed. There is also a Primary School, Leverhulme Memorial School, in Leverburgh.[30]



Harris has a largely Presbyterian population that practises sabbatarianism: all retail outlets are shut on Sunday.[31] This area has been described as the last bastion of Reformed fundamentalism in the UK, and there was controversy in 2006 when Caledonian MacBrayne started a Sunday ferry service.[32] However, a Sunday ferry service between Berneray (North Uist) and Leverburgh (An t-Òb) in the south of Harris has been introduced with relatively little controversy and now operates all year round. This allowed travel to Lewis and Harris by ferry on a Sunday before the Sunday ferries to Stornoway started in 2009. The North Uist end of the connection can be reached by other ferry routes that also operate on Sundays (Uig-Lochmaddy and Oban-Lochboisdale).

Media and the arts


Tinted shots of parts of the island were used by Stanley Kubrick as an alien landscape in the film 2001: A Space Odyssey.[33]

In his 1962 novel Atlantic Fury Hammond Innes put a fictional Joint Services Guided Weapons Establishment in Northton, South Harris, where some of the action takes place.

The nearby island of Taransay became well known following the BBC show Castaway broadcast in 2000 and various scenes were shot on Harris itself. The film The Rocket Post was also filmed on Taransay in 2004. The film is based on the story of Gerhard Zucker, the German rocket scientist who in 1934 used the Isle of Scarp as his base for experimenting with sending mail over long distances by rocket.

The local newspaper is the Stornoway Gazette; there is also a community newspaper published fortnightly, called Dè Tha Dol?

District tartan

The Isle of Harris district tartan

A group of sixth-year pupils at the Sir E. Scott secondary school in Tarbert won the 2003 Young Enterprise UK Award for their design, marketing, and selling of the Isle of Harris district tartan. The tartan is officially registered with the Scottish Tartans Authority (under number 6198) and with the Scottish Tartans World Register (under #2981). Its symmetrical threadcount is listed as "WW/8 B80 K8 LG16 K16 LB/24", with a colour palette of:

  pelorous blue #2888C4,
  forest green #289C18,
  dark grey #101010,
  wilson white #FCFCFC, and
  Windsor blue #2C2C80.[34]

See also



  1. ^ a b "Island Populations" Archived 4 March 2016 at the Wayback Machine Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. Retrieved 31 January 2015.
  2. ^ Macbain, Alexander (1895). "The Norse Element in the Topography of the Highlands and the Isles". Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness. Vol. 19. Northern Chronicle. pp. 217–218.
  3. ^ Macbain, Alexander (1895). "The Norse Element in the Topography of the Highlands and the Isles". Transactions of the Gaelic Society of Inverness. Vol. 19. Northern Chronicle. p. 227.
  4. ^ Dictionary of Scottish Place-Names, David Ross (Birlinn)
  5. ^ Macbain, Alexander; Watson, William J. (1922). Place names, Highlands & islands of Scotland. E. Mackay, Stirling. pp. 68–73.
  6. ^ Census 2011 stats. BBC News. Retrieved 20 April 2014.
  7. ^ McKirdy, Alan Gordon, John & Crofts, Roger (2007) Land of Mountain and Flood: The Geology and Landforms of Scotland. Edinburgh. Birlinn. Page 94.
  8. ^ Gillen, Con (2003) Geology and landscapes of Scotland. Harpenden. Terra Publishing. Pages 63–4.
  9. ^ "National Scenic Areas" Archived 11 March 2017 at the Wayback Machine. SNH. Retrieved 30 Mar 2011.
  10. ^ Rotary Club (1995) p. 124
  11. ^ Johnstone et al (1990) p. 240
  12. ^ Islanders celebrate buy-out, BBC News Online, 1 March 2003
  13. ^ "Welcome to The North Harris Trust – Urras Ceann a 'Tuath na Hearadh" North Harris Trust. Retrieved 15 March 2008.
  14. ^ "About Development Trusts" Archived 4 March 2008 at the Wayback Machine DTA Scotland. Retrieved 15 March 2008.
  15. ^ "HICEC conference 2006". hie.co.uk. Archived from the original on 21 October 2006. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  16. ^ "North Harris community wind farm approved" (February 2008) John Muir Trust Journal No. 44.
  17. ^ Ross, John (14 March 2008) "Island may be site of third national park". Edinburgh The Scotsman.
  18. ^ "Press and Journal report". thisisnorthscotland.co.uk. Archived from the original on 12 June 2016. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  19. ^ "Record-breaking hope for big fish". 23 October 2007. Retrieved 4 April 2018 – via news.bbc.co.uk.
  20. ^ "The Outer Hebrides | Scotland.org". Scotland.
  21. ^ "Tourism in the Outer Hebrides". Outer Hebrides.
  22. ^ Harris Tweed Authority, "Fabric History", retrieved 21 May 2007. Archived 15 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine
  23. ^ Maclean, Charles (2016). Whiskypedia. A Gazetteer of Scotch Whisky. Edinburgh: Birlinn. pp. 240–241. ISBN 978-1-78027-401-0.
  24. ^ "Isle of Harris Distillers Ltd". Companies House. Retrieved 23 November 2018.
  25. ^ "Winners 2018". KD Media. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  26. ^ "The nations favourite Scottish Gins 2020 revealed". The Scottish Gin Society. 11 February 2020. Retrieved 18 August 2020.
  27. ^ "Isle of Harris Distillery". Isle of Harris Distillery.
  28. ^ "Welcome to a new breed of distilleries and breweries in Scotland's Hebrides". The Independent. 18 June 2019. Archived from the original on 9 May 2022.
  29. ^ "Harris School Details" Archived 24 August 2007 at the Wayback Machine Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. Retrieved 10 February 2008.
  30. ^ "Scotland's largest Sun Energy system installed in Western Isles" Archived 26 September 2007 at the Wayback Machine (2 November 2004) Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. Press release. Retrieved 31 August 2007.
  31. ^ "Hebrides 2002" Archived 15 April 2009 at the Wayback Machine Comhairle nan Eilean Siar. Retrieved 3 August 2008.
  32. ^ Seenan, Gerard (10 April 2006) "Fury at ferry crossing on Sabbath" The Guardian. Retrieved 3 August 2008.
  33. ^ "Welcome to Film Hebrides" Archived 21 October 2006 at the Wayback Machine filmhebrides.com. Retrieved 26 September 2007.
  34. ^ Scotland, National Records of. "Tartan Details – The Scottish Register of Tartans". www.tartanregister.gov.uk. Retrieved 4 April 2018.


  • Rotary Club of Stornoway (1995) The Outer Hebrides Handbook and Guide. Machynlleth. Kittwake. ISBN 0-9511003-5-1
  • Johnstone, Scott; Brown, Hamish; and Bennet, Donald (1990) The Corbetts and Other Scottish Hills. Edinburgh. Scottish Mountaineering Trust. ISBN 0-907521-29-0
  • Vogler, Gisela (2001). A Harris way of life: Marion Campbell (1909–1996). West Tarbert: Harris Voluntary Service. ISBN 0-903960-29-X.