About the Islands
The Western Isles have been likened to a jewelled necklace lying beside the head of Scotland. From their northernmost tip at the Butt of Lewis, to the islands of Mingulay and Berneray in the south, they stretch for nearly 130 miles – a constantly changing landscape of light surrounded on both sides by the sea.
The largest island, Lewis, is largely flat moorland for the most part – except at its south-western edge where it overlooks the Atlantic, and where Uig and its neighbouring sands nestle amongst the shattered cliffs of Mangersta and Aird. To the south, the hills of Harris, crowned by the Clisham, stand like guardians of the silvered pearls of Luskyntyre and Seilabost, world famous beaches of pure white shell-sand. A little further south, and the Sound of Harris, with its myriad of islets and shallow shoals, leads us to the ‘machairs’ of the Uists and Benbecula, whose flower-rich grasslands and extensive loch systems are home to thousands upon thousands of waders and ground nesting birds each spring and summer. Yet further south, the isle of Eriskay, made famous by the book ‘Whisky Galore’ and its ponies, and Barra, the jewel amongst Scottish islands, form the final links in the chain which ends with the islands of Mingulay and Berneray with their towering sea cliffs - home to myriads of seabirds every spring.
The Western Isles are a haven for wildlife. For those prepared to invest in the time, a walk in the hills will often be rewarded with a sighting of a golden eagle, while its close relation, the sea eagle, which has only recently been re-introduced to Scotland, can sometimes be seen soaring above a sea loch. And if you stand quietly in one of the many glens you may also hear the distinctive cry of the peregrine falcon or even catch a glimpse of a merlin as it hunts over the moor.
Each spring, the cliffs and coastal waters of the islands are home to many many thousands of sea birds which return each year to raise their young here. Guillimots, Razorbills, Fulmar, Kittiwakes, Black headed gulls, Great Skuas, as well as Arctic and Common Terns, all nest along the coastline, while on many of its freshwater lochs inland, you will hear the cry of diminutive and pretty Sandpipers and watch both Black and Red-throated Divers as they display during their courtship rituals.
You can also take one of any number of local boats - or even your own - on a trip which will give you the chance to glimpse both common and grey seals sunning themselves on the rocks - while in early summer you might easily sight basking sharks lazily feeding on plankton near the surface of the sea. Dolphins and porpoises are commonplace if you know where to look, and many types of whales - including the impressive orca or killer whale – can be sighted if the conditions are right. In the evening, you can also go out to catch mackerel and herring for the pot or buy lobsters from the quayside.
The Western Isles are rich in social history. Throughout the islands, standing stones, brochs, and the scattered remains of beehive dwellings are testament to the extraordinary cultural legacy left by their early inhabitants. Gaelic, their traditional language, is still the main language spoken today (except in front of strangers when English is sometimes used out of natural good manners), and modern day islanders are rightfully proud of their unique cultural and historical inheritance.
While crofting and fishing are still mainstays of the economy, they are gradually being replaced in many areas by tourism, as each year more and more visitors are drawn to the islands by their natural unspoilt beauty.
All the main islands are well served by transport links to the mainland, with regular ferry sailings from Tarbert, Stornoway, Lochmaddy, and Lochboisdale, as well as daily flights from Stornoway and Benbecula. For those who actually live on the islands, there is also a significant discount for all airfares to and from mainland airports (see the links page for more information on discounts), Also, since August 2008, the Scottish Government has introduced a scheme called the Road Equivalent Tarrif which has slashed most ferry prices nearly in half, making it easily affordable for all those wanting to travel back and from the mainland by car.
Internet communications are also well served, with many parts of the islands connected to Broadband.
the sun doesn't always shine!