Can you believe I still have things to write about Lewis & Harris?! After our trip in August, we have firmly fallen in love with the place, and I’ve written pretty extensively about our visit.
(A little too extensively, according to a couple of people, but a thorough guide isn’t always a bad thing, right?)
Anyway, I’m not done yet, because there were quite a few interesting things we noticed that I haven’t talked about, so I wanted to share those with you.
Gaelic is spoken everywhere
Probably my favourite fact about Lewis & Harris, and which I have shared before, is that 52% of the population speak Scottish Gaelic. When you consider that less then 2% of the whole of Scotland speak it… you can imagine that the vast majority of them are in the Outer Hebrides!
One thing I find interesting – but very sad – to think about is the clearances that spread to the islands, and the impact this would have had on the number of people who speak Gaelic. The clearances were essentially evictions on a large scale in the 1700’s and 1800’s amongst crofters in the countryside all over Scotland, and many of the residents wound up shipping off across the Atlantic. I do wonder, had this not happened, what life would look like today in Scotland, and whether the language would have remained more widespread.
Either way, it’s great seeing and hearing it used in Lewis & Harris – even the road signs are in Gaelic first and then English.
The bus stops on Lewis are… weird
We passed so many of these curiously shaped structures along the road side and wondered what on earth they were. Turns out – they’re bus shelters!
Everything is run by community centres & historical societies
Outside of Stornoway, virtually every café we visited was run by either a community centre or a historical society, as were some of the museums and even shops and art galleries. I found it really interesting as I’ve never seen this elsewhere. There are lots of community centres in Orkney, but none of them are really open to the public unless they’ve been booked or there’s an event going on such as local table top sales or performances.
I thought they were really resourceful finding a source of income as well as providing a much-needed service in places where amenities are scarce. We stayed out in the middle of nowhere, but the local shop in Uig is a community co-operative – it actually sold branded Co Op food too, but it was very much independent.
It also gave everywhere a very local feel as you didn’t feel like you were going into a business – it felt like, well, a community-run facility.
The Lewis chessmen
Another interesting story of Lewis history is the Lewis chessmen. They were discovered in 1831 on Uig beach, and have been dated from the 12th or 13th century. They are thought to have been from the Vikings and made in Norway from walrus ivory, as the style is the same as chess pieces found in Norway.
As well as chess pieces, they also discovered some pieces relating to other games, such as a game similar to what would be backgammon now.
Who knows whether they were buried or washed up on shore from a Viking ship? Let the imagination run wild with that one!
One popular souvenir is the Lewis chess set, and despite the hefty price tags, I was really tempted to pick one up. I mean, it’s between that and a Harry Potter chess set.
Bonus fun fact: the chess game Harry & Ron are playing at Christmas in the Philosopher’s Stone movie is a replica of the Lewis chess set!
Honesty boxes are everywhere!
From eggs and fudge to full-blown meals, pastries and even mustard, you can pick up all sorts of lovely bits and pieces from boxes outside people’s homes on the understanding that you’ll pay for it.
We stopped by the mustard box and dropped some cash in the cash box – but some of them are super fancy and even have card machines!
This was just a lovely part of the island experience as you knew you were supporting local people, and the fact it works restores my faith in humanity somewhat. (Something that’s been hard to come by in the past couple of years…!)
The roads on Lewis are really bumpy
If you want to speed on Lewis, don’t count on it. We very rarely made it to the speed limit because the roads are really bumpy, if that’s even the right word. We think it’s probably because of the peaty terrain, as the roads themselves are in great condition, and there was a noticeable difference once we got into the mountains of Harris and the road was much smoother.
The views in Harris are unexpected
Honestly, outside of the spectacular beaches, I hadn’t seen much of the scenery in Harris – and Lewis is pretty barren in comparison. The fact that there are mountains everywhere on Harris should have given it away, but I’d never seen photos of any viewpoints outside of beach ones. Which is why I was surprised when we were faced with THAT.
Then again, it’s Scotland, so I don’t know why I’m surprised, really. 😉
Harris Tweed is protected
The one thing you must buy on Lewis & Harris, or in Scotland in general if you fancy it, is Harris Tweed. You see it everywhere in Scotland, but did you know that the label on it is there for authenticity, and any tweed without the famous Harris Tweed® label cannot call itself Harris Tweed? (A bit like champagne from outside of Champagne.)
The way it’s made and the quality of the fabric is fundamental to the final product, and it’s even protected by law under the Harris Tweed Act 1993.
It’s home to black pudding
If you want to try black pudding, there’s no better place than Stornoway. In fact, Stornoway black pudding is so popular that it’s also now protected because other companies were producing them with Stornoway on the label (though it’s an EU law, so who knows if it still even applies in the UK?).
And what is black pudding, dare you ask? It’s essentially a big sausage served in slices, and it has animal blood in it. Not very vegan-friendly, that’s for sure – in fact, about as vegan-friendly as haggis! However, as with many food traditions like this, it was borne of necessity. Farmers were killing the animal for food anyway, so creating things like haggis and black pudding ensured that none of it was wasted. Unlike haggis, black pudding is fairly popular all over the UK, especially in fry up breakfasts.
The Butt Of Lewis is the windiest place in the UK
The Butt Of Lewis is the northernmost point of the Isle Of Lewis, and it does feel like you are in the proverbial butt end of nowhere.
Now I found the name funny anyway because I have the maturity level of an eight-year-old, but now that I’m writing about a butt being the windiest place in the UK, here I am laughing again.
I can’t remember for the life of me what the Guinness Book Of Records has listed the wind speeds at as I’m sure it said it on the sign, but in some ways I find it hard to believe given the ferocity of winds in Orkney. I’ll try and find out and report back, as I know you’re all waiting with baited breath for this one.
And there we have it. Ten facts about Lewis & Harris, which is one island by the way. There’s a free bonus fact for ya.
Want to read more about Lewis & Harris? Check out my other posts here!
⭐ Landscapes & History On Lewis & Harris: A Five Day Itinerary
⭐ Photo Friday: The Incredible Beaches Of Lewis & Harris
Don’t worry, I’ll write about somewhere else next! But it certainly won’t have been the last visit for us.