Address: Outer Hebrides, Scotland

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Outer Hebrides History

The islands were first inhabited in around 8,000BC, this during the Stone Age. The Iron Age followed and evidence of their inhabitation can be seen by the various brochs located around the islands. The Standing Stones of Callanish are a good example of these ancient structures.

Little is known of the islands until the arrival of Columba to the area in the 6th century. Christianity had arrived, but following the arrival of the Vikings around the 800’s, this was subdued with Christian sites being destroyed.
 
In 1079, the islands became part of the Kingdom of the Isles. They were run by the Norse, with the area including the Isle of Man. In 1098 Norse control formalised as Magnus II overcame the resident Norwegians and agreed terms with the Scottish king Edgar. This followed the Norse conquering of Orkney. The Norse referred to their southern islands of Isle of Man as ‘Sudr-eyjar’ and the Hebrides and their northern islands of Orkneys and Shetlands as ‘Nordr-eyjar’.
In 1156, the Inner and Outer Hebrides split with the Inner Hebrides now being under the rule of Somerled, the Gaelic/Manx rulers.
 
By 1266, following the Treaty of Perth, the Outer Hebrides, along with the Isle of Man, came under the rule of Scotland, with local power being held by Clan Donald who were Lords of the Isles. In 1493, James IV dissolved the Lordships of the Isles. Despite local resistance, by 1600, the islands were firmly under mainland control.
 
Following the 1707 Treaty of Union, the islands officially became part of the British Isles. There was local support for the Jacobites, but this ended with the Battle of Culloden.
 
Cattle farming became a main industry, but in the late 1700’s and early 1800’s, due largely to the sustenance needed during the French Wars, the kelp industry took off, making use of the islands’ seaweed resources. Despite the success of the industry, many local crofters emigrated to Canada.
 
Following the Battle of Waterloo in 1815, the kelp industry collapsed with many landlords going bankrupt. Sheep farming took over and many people emigrated, often forcibly under the Highland Clearances.
 
The Crofters Act of 1885 restored rights and much land was given back to the crofters.
Today, the economy remains fragile. Much financial support is given from the mainland and local industries include tourism, fishing, crofting and weaving. The latter known for its famous ‘Harris Tweed’.
 
 
Outer Hebrides Visit
 
For travelling across, there are five main routes. 
 
Ullapool on the Scottish mainland to Stornoway (on Lewis and Harris) – takes 2 hrs 30 mins on the ferry.
Uig to Tarbet (Lewis and Harris) – 1 hr 40 mins.
Uig to Lochmaddy (North Uist) – 1 hr 45 mins.
Mallaig to Lochboisdale (South Uist) – 3 hrs 30 mins.
Oban to Castlebay (Barra) – 4 hrs 45 mins.
 
To give an idea of price, it costs about £120 for a driver and car to make the return crossing from Ullapool to Stornoway. Additional adult passenger tickets are about £20.
 
There are also inter-island ferries between Harris and North Uist, and South Uist and Barra.
 
The islands are over 150 miles in length and have stunning scenery. As they require a ferry crossing, they become quieter than many holiday destinations and are a great place for a relatively tranquil break.
 
Simply enjoying the scenery is a reason to travel in itself, but there’s also much to do.
 
All the various watersports are catered for and the islands are recognised as one of the best places to windsurf in the UK. 
 
The islands were inhabited thousands of years ago and much evidence can be seen. Possibly the most famous sight is the Callanish Standing Stones that can be seen about 15 minutes west of Stornoway. The Calanais Visitor Centre is nearby.
 
Lews Castle is near Stornoway, just to the west. It was built as a country house for Sir James Matheson, who used to own the whole island!
 
Arnol Blackhouse is further north than Stornoway and on the west coast. This is a typical Blackhouse of a 19th century crofting family and is found in Arnol. Further north, and up to the extreme north of Lewis is the ‘Butt of Lewis’. This is a headland with a lighthouse nearby.
 
A few miles further down from Arnol lies the Gearannan Blackhouse Village, a restored blackhouse village on the west coast. A few miles away is the Dun Carloway, a broch, which is a prehistoric stone tower. It is well-preserved considering its age. Nearby is the famous Bosta Beach.
 
Other famous beaches are Scarista Beach and Luskentyre. The latter is regarded by many as the best beach in Scotland.
 
St Clement’s Church is in Rodel, on the south tip of Harris.
 
Further south, a ferry takes people to North Uist. Here we find Bharpa Langrass and Pobull Fhinn, a Neolithic burial site and a stone circle. 
 
On the west coast is the summit of Clettraval. Here, on top of the mountain is a telescope through which you can see the island of St Kilda, an island 45 miles off shore. The islands are the westernmost islands of the Outer Hebrides.
 
On South Uist, attractions include the Kildonian Museum.
 
From South Uist there is a ferry to the island of Barra. Attractions include Kisimul Castle, the Barra Heritage Centre and Traigh Mor, the world’s only beach runway with scheduled flights.
 
Golf courses include Stornoway, Uig Lodge, Isle of Harris, Benbecula and Ackernish, the latter a historic golf course designed by Old Tom Morris.
 
In addition to the above, there are a host of other attractions, amenities, wildlife watching etc.