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Thursday, 13 December, 2001, 16:26 GMT
Wind farm isle's wealth of history
The island has been reliant on traditional industries
The Hebridean island of Lewis has been in the spotlight after plans to site a major wind farm there were announced.

Lewis and Harris are technically only one island but they are divided by such mountainous terrain that they have long since been referred to as separate places.

Flatter than its sister isle, Lewis ( or Ledhas in Gaelic), is the largest and most populated island in the Outer Hebrides, which lie in a crescent shape approximately 40 miles off the north-west coast of Scotland.

It is about 70km long and has an estimated 20,000 inhabitants, about 8,000 in the main town and ferry port of Stornoway.

Disused yard
There have been setbacks in recent years
The indigenous Gaelic culture has survived in the Outer Hebrides to a far greater extent than elsewhere in Scotland and the language is still widely spoken on the island.

The island's name is derived from "Leog" which is Irish Gaelic for water lying on the surface, possibly referring to the large numbers of inland lochs on this relatively low-lying island.

Or it could refer to the marshy land which constitutes large swathes of the island.

Peat is still cut, dried and used for fuel by many islanders.

Lewis has traditionally been dependent in the main upon weaving, fishing, crofting, and tourism.

But the Lewis economy badly needs a boost.

Mature woodland

The Arnish offshore oil fabrication yard used to employ more than 500 workers .

But the boom years have gone - followed by thousands of islanders forced to leave the island to find work.

The only community which is large enough to call itself a town is Stornoway.

The town is dominated by Lews Castle, which overlooks the harbour.

It sits amongst mature woodland, a rare sight for Lewis after an ancient king burned most of them to the ground.

This light brown, mock-Tudor folly was built in the 19th century by Sir James Matheson who purchased the island in 1844 with part of the fortune he accumulated from the opium trade in the Far East.

Callanish stones
Callanish stones: Part of a rich history
The surrounding trees and greenery were planted in thousands of tons of soil that he had shipped over from the mainland.

In 1923, only five years after buying Lewis, Lord Leverhulme gifted the building back to the people of Stornoway.

It now houses the island's highly successful further education college.

Stornoway is also the terminal for the ferry from Ullapool on the mainland which runs six days a week and takes less than three hours.

Lewis and the other Western Isles only became part of Scotland in 1266 when the islands were given up by the Norse king.

Sandy beaches

In the days of the Highland clans, the MacLeods ruled the island and frequently resisted the efforts of the King of Scotland to exercise control.

Later, in 1623, the Mackenzies headed by the Earl of Seaforth bought much of the land until they sold out in 1844.

The island has lots of unspoilt sandy beaches and is home to the famous Callanish standing stones, one of the most fascinating formations of ancient standing stones in Europe.

Dating back over 4,000 years, Callanish ranks second in terms of importance only to Stonehenge and is older.

On a headland overlooking part of a huge sea loch, 53 pale grey stones of Lewisian gneiss stand in a curious cross formation.

The Butt of Lewis in the far north is a paradise for bird watchers.

Only rarely seen on the island are the Lewis Chessmen which were made by 12th century Norsemen and were found in the sand in Lewis in 1831.

The chessmen are on display in Edinburgh and London.

See also:

13 Dec 01 | Scotland
Giant wind farm planned for island
06 Apr 00 | Scotland
Historic chessmen check in
27 Nov 01 | Scotland
Firms plan 500m wind farm
12 Nov 01 | UK
Q&A: Wind and wave power
12 Nov 01 | Scotland
Plan for 400m energy cable
27 Sep 01 | Scotland
UK 'first' power scheme launched
23 Jul 01 | Scotland
Wave power test site chosen
30 Nov 00 | Scotland
Executive pledge on green energy
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