Lewis and Harris

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Lewis and Harris
Scottish Gaelic nameLeòdhas is na Hearadh
Scots nameLewis an Harris[1]
Old Norse nameLjóðhús ok Hérað
Meaning of nameOld Norse: "Poet's House" + Hérað = "a type of administrative district"
June 2018 satellite photograph of Lewis and Harris
June 2018 satellite photograph of Lewis and Harris
Lewis and Harris is located in Outer Hebrides
Lewis and Harris
Lewis and Harris
Lewis and Harris shown within the Outer Hebrides
OS grid referenceNB240256
Coordinates58°15′00″N 6°40′01″W / 58.25°N 6.667°W / 58.25; -6.667
Physical geography
Island groupOuter Hebrides
Area217,898 ha (841 sq mi)[2]
Area rank1 [3]
Highest elevationClisham, 799 m (2,621 ft)
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
Council areaComhairle nan Eilean Siar
Population rank1 [3]
Population density9.65/km2 (25.0/sq mi)[2][4]
Largest settlementStornoway

Lewis and Harris (Scottish Gaelic: Leòdhas agus na Hearadh, Scots: Lewis an Harris), or Lewis with Harris,[8] is a single Scottish island in the Outer Hebrides, divided by mountains.[9] It is the largest island in Scotland and the third largest in the British Isles, after Great Britain and the island of Ireland, with an area of 841 square miles (2,178 km2), which is approximately 1% of the area of Great Britain. The northern two-thirds is called [the Isle of] Lewis and the southern third [the Isle of] Harris; each is frequently referred to as if it were a separate island.


The island does not have a one-word name in either English or Scottish Gaelic, and is referred to as "Lewis and Harris", "Lewis with Harris", "Harris with Lewis" etc.[10] Rarely used is the collective name of "the Long Island" (Scottish Gaelic: an t-Eilean Fada),[11] although that epithet is sometimes applied to the entire archipelago of the Outer Hebrides, including the Uist group of islands and Barra.[12]


Lewis–Harris boundary[edit]

Boundary sign at Ath Linne
Harris in red, with Lewis to the north and east

The boundary between Lewis and Harris runs for about six miles (ten kilometres), where the island narrows between Loch Resort (Loch Reasort, opposite Scarp) on the west and Loch Seaforth (Loch Shìophoirt) on the east[11][13] This is north of the more obvious isthmus at Tarbert, which separates North Harris from South Harris.[13] Until 1975, Lewis belonged to the county of Ross and Cromarty and Harris to Inverness-shire.[11] In practical terms, the dividing line is more clear-cut, according to National Geographic. "In a sense, the boundary line runs from Loch Resort in the west to Loch Seaforth in the east. The road between the two dips down past the shoulder of Clisham ... until the A859 hits the coast".[14]

The entire island group is now administered by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, the Western Isles Council. The boundary was originally between the lands of Clan MacLeod of Harris and Clan MacLeod of Lewis, the latter selling to Colin Mackenzie, 1st Earl of Seaforth. A dispute over 3,000 hectares (7,400 acres) between Alexander Hume Macleod and Francis, Lord Seaforth (respective proprietors of Harris and Lewis) led to Court of Session inquiries in 1805 and 1850 and ended with Lord Chief Justice Campbell traversing the boundary on foot.[15][16] As thus determined, it runs southeast from Loch Resort up Clàr Beag to Loch Chleistir, then east along Bealach na h-Uamha to the River Langdale, then northeast through the peaks of Tom Ruisg, Mullach a' Ruisg, and Mullach Bhìogadail, east to Amhuinn a Mhuil, and downstream to where it enters Loch Seaforth at Ath Linne under the A859, the only road connecting Lewis and Harris.[15][17] Seaforth Island was considered part of both Harris and Lewis; for statistical purposes half its area was assigned to each.[18]


Most of Harris is very hilly, with more than thirty peaks above 1,000 ft (305 m);[11] the highest peak, Clisham, is a Corbett.[19] It is 24 miles (39 km) from the nearest point of the mainland, from which it is separated by the Minch.


Lewis is comparatively flat, save in the south-east, where Ben More reaches 1,874 ft (571 m), and in the south-west, where Mealasbhal 1,885 ft (575 m) is the highest point.[11] Lewis contains the deepest lake on any offshore island in the British Isles, Loch Suaineabhat, which has a maximum depth of 66.7 m (219 ft) and an overall mean depth of 32 m (105 ft).

Nearby smaller islands[edit]

Other nearby inhabited islands in the Lewis and Harris group are Beàrnaraigh (Great Bernera) and Sgalpaigh (Scalpay). Tarasaigh (Taransay) and An Sgarp (Scarp), now uninhabited, are islands close to the shore of Harris. The Western Isles (or Outer Hebrides) also include the islands of North Uist, Benbecula and South Uist (they are three distinct islands but connected by a causeway) and Barra, just to the south of South Uist.


Lewis and Harris is the most populous of the Scottish islands: It had just over 21,000 residents in 2011,[4] a rise of 5.6% from the 2001 census total of 19,918.[20] Stornoway is the main town of the island, and the civil parish of Stornoway, including the town and various nearby villages, has a population of about 12,000.[21]

Transport links[edit]

Stornoway (Steòrnabhagh) has ferry links to Ullapool and air services to Benbecula, Inverness, Aberdeen, Glasgow and Edinburgh. An Tairbeart (Tarbert) is the ferry terminal in Harris with connections to Skye and North Uist. However the main ferry to North Uist uses the terminal at Leverburgh (An t-Òb).


The lands around Stornoway were probably settled since 6000 BC and there are many monuments which show prehistoric man's presence. A Neolithic burial cairn and some evidence of Bronze Age occupation were found here. The Callanish Stones in the Loch Ròg area were erected roughly 5,000 years ago, thus dating from the late Neolithic or the early Bronze Age.[22][23]

In the 9th century, Norsemen dominated the Isle; they eventually converted to Christianity. In the early 13th Century, the Nicholson family, or MacNicols, built Castle Lewis at Stornoway harbour. In 1607, Stornoway became a burgh of barony. In 1844, Sir James Matheson purchased the Island and built Lews Castle between 1847 and 1857. By 1863, the town had become a police burgh; the last remains of the Old Castle were removed.[24]

The island is the ancestral homeland of the Highland Clan MacLeod, with those individuals on Harris being referred to as from the Clan MacLeod of Harris or MacLeod of MacLeod, and those on Lewis being referred to as from the Clan MacLeod of Lewis.[citation needed]

Lewis is also the ancestral home of Clan Morrison.

The Lewis chessmen is a famous collection of 12th-century chess pieces, carved from walrus ivory and mostly in the form of human figures, which were discovered in Uig in 1831.


Lewis-Harris boundary sign

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".[25] Tourism accounted for 10–15% of economic activity on the Outer Hebrides islands in 2017, according to the tourism bureau. 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%)".[26]

Some visitors to Lewis and Harris are attracted by the beaches, particularly the spectacular Luskentyre, but also Seilebost, Horgabost, Scarasta and Borve. Others come for the dramatic landscapes of Harris, to experience the Gaelic traditions or the sense of history, for example at Dun Carloway or the 5,000 year old Callanish Stones.[27][14][28]

A major industry on the island is the production of Harris tweed fabric (Clò Mór or Clò Hearach in Gaelic)[29] which is made by hand on the island.[30] It is the only commercially produced handwoven tweed in the world. To qualify as Harris tweed, the textile must be "handwoven by the islanders at their homes in the Outer Hebrides, finished in the Outer Hebrides, and made from pure virgin wool dyed and spun in the Outer Hebrides", according to a British Act of Parliament. Approximately 400 islanders were working in this industry as of late 2017.[31] The textile is popular with celebrities and Royals.[32]

There is only one manufacturer of Scotch whisky and gin in Isle of Harris, namely the Isle of Harris Distillery, which opened in 2019 and was working to produce The Hearach single malt.[33][34] The Isle of Lewis also has one, Abhainn Dearg distillery, which was built in 2008.[35]

Modern commercial activities centre on tourism, crofting, fishing, and weaving (including the manufacture of Harris tweed). Crofting (usually defined as small-scale food production) remains popular, with over 920 active crofters, according to a 2020 report: "with crofts ranging in size from as small as a single hectare to having access to thousands of hectares through the medium of community grazing". Crofters can apply for subsidy grants; some of these are intended to help them find other avenues to supplement their incomes.[36]

A 2018 report stated that the fishing industry on the island primarily focused on aquaculture – fish farming. A conventional fishery still existed, "composed solely of inshore shellfish vessels targeting prawns, crabs and lobsters around the islands and throughout the Minch". [37]

The Isle of Lewis website states that Stornoway's "economy is a mix of traditional businesses like fishing, Harris Tweed and farming, with more recent influences like Tourism, the oil industry and commerce". The sheltered harbour has been important for centuries; it was named Steering Bay by Vikings, who often visited it.[38] A December 2020 report stated that a new deep water terminal was to be developed, the Stornoway Deep Water Terminal, using a £49 million investment. The plan included berths for cruise ships as long as 360 metres, berths for large cargo vessels, and a freight ferry berth.[39]

The UK's largest community-owned wind farm, the 9 MW Beinn Ghrideag, a "3-turbine, 9 MW scheme", is located outside Stornoway and is operated by Point and Sandwick Trust (PST).[40][41]

In literature[edit]

The Lewis Trilogy of novels (The Blackhouse, The Lewis Man and The Chessmen) by Peter May is set on Lewis and Harris.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Map of Scotland in Scots – Guide and gazetteer" (PDF).
  2. ^ a b Haswell-Smith (2004) p. 262
  3. ^ a b Area and population ranks: there are c. 300 islands over 20 ha in extent and 93 permanently inhabited islands were listed in the 2011 census.
  4. ^ a b c National Records of Scotland (15 August 2013). "Appendix 2: Population and households on Scotland's Inhabited Islands" (PDF). Statistical Bulletin: 2011 Census: First Results on Population and Household Estimates for Scotland Release 1C (Part Two) (PDF) (Report). SG/2013/126. Retrieved 14 August 2020.
  5. ^ Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh: Canongate. ISBN 978-1-84195-454-7.
  6. ^ Ordnance Survey
  7. ^ Jón A. Hjaltalín; Goudie, G.; Anderson, J. (Ed.) (1893). The Orkneyinga saga (1981 ed.). Edinburgh: Mercat Press. ISBN 978-0-901824-25-7.
  8. ^ Webster's New World Pocket Geographical Dictionary (Prentice Hall, 1994), p. 194
  9. ^ "A journey through Lewis and Harris, the wild heart of Scotland's Outer Hebrides". National Geographic. 25 June 2020. Retrieved 10 December 2020.
  10. ^ Thompson, Francis (1968). Harris and Lewis, Outer Hebrides. Newton Abbot: David & Charles. ISBN 978-0-7153-4260-2.
  11. ^ a b c d e Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Lewis-with-Harris" . Encyclopædia Britannica. Vol. 16 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 525–526.
  12. ^ Murray, W.H. (1966). The Hebrides. London: Heinemann. p. 2. OCLC 4998389.
  13. ^ a b "The Western Isles; Harris (na Hearadh)". The Rough Guide to Scottish Highlands & Islands. Rough Guides UK. 2017. ISBN 978-0-241-31483-8. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
  14. ^ a b |A journey through Lewis and Harris, the wild heart of Scotland's Outer Hebrides |25 June 2020
  15. ^ a b Angus, Stewart (1997). The Outer Hebrides: the shaping of the islands. White Horse Press. pp. 215–216. ISBN 978-1-874267-33-1.
  16. ^ "On the Lewis-Harris Boundary". Uig Historical Society. 10 April 2010. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
  17. ^ "Ordnance Survey 1920s–1940s 1-inch map". Map images. National Library of Scotland. Retrieved 7 July 2020.
  18. ^ Haswell-Smith, Hamish (2004). The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh: Canongate. pp. 283–84. ISBN 978-1-84195-454-7.; Cooke, A. C. (1879). "Parish of Harris, Hebrides". Ordnance Survey of Scotland; Books of reference to the 25 inch parish maps of Scotland. Vol. 55. London: HMSO. p. 12. Retrieved 19 July 2020.
  19. ^ Johnstone et al (1990) pp. 240–43
  20. ^ General Register Office for Scotland (28 November 2003) Scotland's Census 2001 – Occasional Paper No 10: Statistics for Inhabited Islands. Retrieved 26 February 2012.
  21. ^ "Scrol". Archived from the original on 2 December 2013. Retrieved 17 August 2013.
  22. ^ Overview
  23. ^ Lucky strike? How lightning inspired builders of Callanish
  24. ^ History
  25. ^ The Outer Hebrides
  26. ^ Tourism in the Outer Hebrides
  28. ^ Discover the ancient lore of the Outer Hebrides
  29. ^ "Word of the Week: Clò". Harris Tweed. 25 March 2020. Retrieved 18 February 2021. Clò Mòr or Clò Hearach (literally Big Cloth or Harris Cloth) is how we refer to Harris Tweed® cloth in Gaelic
  30. ^ "Harris Tweed". Archived from the original on 8 March 2013.
  31. ^ Harris Tweed
  32. ^ "'It is a sad reflection on the market reality': Harris Tweed forced to make redundancies". Press and Journal. Retrieved 10 December 2020.
  33. ^ Isle of Harris Distillery
  36. ^ A new age of crofting in the Outer Hebrides
  37. ^ Stornoway Facilities – Isle of Lewis, Outer Hebrides, Scotland
  38. ^ Stornoway
  39. ^ Investing in islands infrastructure
  40. ^ Point and Sandwick Trust, We built & run the UK’s biggest community-owned wind farm using funds to provide local support to our island community
  41. ^ Renewables recognition for Point and Sandwick Trust


  • Johnstone, Scott; Brown, Hamish; and Bennet, Donald (1990) The Corbetts and Other Scottish Hills. Edinburgh. Scottish Mountaineering Trust. ISBN 0-907521-29-0

External links[edit]

  • Google map
  • hebrides.ca/ Home of the Quebec–Hebridean Scots who were cleared from Lewis to Quebec, 1838–1920s

Coordinates: 58°15′N 6°40′W / 58.250°N 6.667°W / 58.250; -6.667