William Lever, later Lord Leverhulme, bought Lewis, Harris, Great Bernera, the Shiants, and many smaller offshore islands. William Lever was a partner in his father's Bolton-based wholesale grocery business and manager of its Wigan branch when in 1884 he visited the Hebrides on holiday with his wife. The visit made such a deep impression that in 1917 when he heard Lewis was for sale, he decided to buy it.
By that time, William Lever, who was made Lord Leverhulme earlier in 1917, was a multi-millionaire, head of the Lever Brothers soap empire, builder of Port Sunlight, endower of Bolton School, owner of Rivington and much more both in Britain and overseas. Leverhulme went on to buy neighbouring Harris and other Islands but his Hebridean ventures were not successful and all the properties were disposed of after his death in 1925. When he stayed on Harris, Leverhulme lived in Borve Lodge, a large elegant house on the western seaboard, set amid the fertile sandy land known locally as machair.
This display aims to give
you an e-look into the opportunities for living
and working (and enjoying yourself) on the Western Isles of Scotland, also
widely known as the Outer Hebrides, with articles and pictures that will
give you a feel for the place and the people.
The Islands are a lure for
anyone with a yen for the unusual and a
spot of adventure. They give a chance to discover a different
culture and they provide an attractive base for a wide variety of occupations and businesses.
For families moving to the
Islands, there are now arts centres,
local exhibition centres and museums, often community-run,
throughout the Islands and many relocating companies find they need make no allowance for staff turnover as the lifestyle and facilities
keep employees happy to stay.
For relatives and
families wishing to holiday close to home
there are a rage of hotels, bed and breakfast establishments, holiday homes, hostels, and camping sites throughout the islands which
stretch for more 120 miles. The Western Isles Tourist Board has
a wide range of information available (www.witb.co.uk).
On days out, you could go
to Harris, where the shimmering shellsand of the
beaches creates a tropical fringe to the towering sand dunes of Luskentyre. South of Taransay lies Berneray where Prince Charles
stayed incognito with a crofter.
Further south there is Eriskay which is famous for its role in the '45
rebellion when the Jacobite Charles III (Bonnie Prince Charlie)
landed to start his march on London, as well as being the site of
the World War Two sinking of the s.s. Politician, immortalised in
the book and film Whisky Galore.
Then there is Barra, which
with adjoining Vatersay, is the final link in
the necklace of the Outer Hebrides. The Barra Feis Gaelic music
festival is widely renowned and other festivals are held throughout
the Gaidhealtachd Gaelic-speaking region.
centres, such as one in Lochmaddy, North Uist, enable a
range of sports including trekking, cycling, canoeing, sailing and windsurfing. For divers, the islands offer some of the clearest water
in the world, plus many natural sites and shipwrecks to explore.
Places like Loch Druidibeg
in South Uist have bird populations of
international importance. Other indigenous creatures include
golden eagles, falcons, gannets, otters, seals, porpoises,
dolphins and whales.
For the truly daring, there
is St Kilda, 50 miles out in to the Atlantic
and host to many wild creatures.
The scenery, the culture,
the people and the wildlife draw many people to
the Islands and restaurant menus in Stornoway, the capital of the Western Isles, have become intensely cosmopolitan in recent years.
Stornoway itself has lots
to offer. There is a town centre swimming pool
with fully equipped gym, a full-scale six-lane running track and athletics
arena and an all-weather sports pitch. A variety of local clubs and
societies make use of the harbour which has an array of pontoons for
yachts as a base for all sorts of maritime activities such as diving,
canoeing and sea angling. The Stornoway Sea Angling club¹s headquarters,
beside the main ferry terminal, is also a major centre for all sorts of
On the musical front, there
are a variety of one-off events, such as the
Hebridean Celtic Music Festival in July or Pipe-Major Donald Macleod Piping Competition in April, both in Stornoway. But there are local
feisean Gaelic music festivals - in many parts of the islands.
Restaurant menus in Stornoway, the capital of the Western Isles, have become intensely cosmopolitan in recent years.
Over the same time, the town has undergone a rebirth, moving from a society dominated by traditional industries like fishing, spinning, weaving and crofting to one dependent on television production, call-centres and multi-media work.
Now the town can boast the chance for people to enjoy Thai, Chinese and Indian food in different restaurants - along with a variety of takeaway establishments.
A number of restaurants both inside and outside the town serve traditional food, often based on locally available seafood and other produce. In addition, a range of local hotels also cater for a variety of food tastes, and specialist restaurants can be found scattered elsewhere on the Islands, including a French restaurant on the most remote north-westerly point in Europe.
Thousands of Islanders and visitors are attracted to a range of cultural and community events on the Western Isles every year. Many throng the streets of Stornoway in early August each year for the annual Lewis Carnival, one of the biggest of the summer events held throughout the Islands.
In addition, a world-standard
event for runners, cyclists and canoeists
passes through the town, the Hebridean Celtic Festival brings performers
from all over the world, or for those with a liking for bagpipes, there's
the Pipe-major Donald Macleod Memorial piping contest with the world's top performers. Summer brings the annual fish festival and a maritime festival. The Hebridean Celtic Festival in July attracts around 5000 people from more than 20 countries to a mix of music events with performers from many parts of the world.
The Lewis Carnival is only one of many such community events. Unlike several of the others, it has no sports events. Others like the Highland Gatherings in South Uist and North Uist, or the Lewis Highland Games in Tong, have a day of competitions, pitting individuals against one another track and field events, including a variety of heavy throwing contests, and village against village in events like the tug of war.
Sports are also associated with other events
like the annual show in
Carloway, Lewis, where an agricultural and produce show is combined with
Highland Dancing and some sports contests. In addition, there are many
community fun days with sales of work, boat rides, sideshows and
children¹s features like bouncy castles.
are also several large agricultural shows which take place throughout the
Islands, although there is a far wider range of produce and animals on show
in those held in the Uists and Benbecula where a wider range of agricultural
activities is pursued.
The months of July and August see the shows
following each other quickly
through the calendar some held midweek, but most on Fridays or Saturdays. There are also local produce markets held in the Uists and in Stornoway, usually on Saturdays.
Challenge race will see contestants from all over the world
trying to outdo each other in racing on foot, by bike or by canoe from
one end of the Island chain to the other. There is also a series of half
marathon races held in the early summer in Stornoway, Harris, Benbecula and on neighbouring Skye.
For seagoing types, there is the Sail
Hebrides event in Stornoway each
August and a special boat day in Grimsay, in the Uists. Plus there's tons of other stuff for footballers, surfboarders, canoeists, fishermen, divers and many other outdoor types.
What to Do? - Western Isles Tourist Board.
The development of a range of ultra-modern industries has seen the economy of the Outer Hebrides transformed over the past 20 years. The island capital of Stornoway has been the focus of many new developments - with around 300 people employed in television, radio, newspapers and electronic media work including Internet and call centres.
Few, if any, other towns of around 8000 people boast a higher education college - Lews Castle College, part of the University of the Highlands and Islands Project - as well as TV companies, radio stations - one in Gaelic - and a broadcasting authority - the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee or Comataidh Craolaidh Gaidhlig.
It is the base for several Internet companies as well as ones involved in television production. There are also major fish processing plants owned by international companies, linked to fish farms throughout the islands. Work on information technology projects also takes place throughout the islands, in individual homes and small companies, such as Lasair in Benbecula.
In addition, the traditional industries such as the production of the internationally-known Harris Tweed fabric, fishing, and crofting continue to play a major role.
The Islands also have a local enterprise company, Western Isles Enterprise, which offers advice and assistance to business developments of many kinds. The island council, Comhairle nan Eilean Siar, has an economic development department whose work is covered elsewhere on this web-site.
The latest drive for economic growth includes a major business park development, intending to bypass the growing shortage of industrial land around Stornoway. The £2.02 million Creed Enterprise Park is being developed by WIE; the Stornoway Trust - the local landowner which is the UK's only democratically elected landowner; and the Council.
Major developments are also taking place on the the island of Scalpay, where a new salmon processing plant is being built, and on several sites where advance offices are being built.
A major plus-point for companies looking at a move just a few miles offshore, is the highly educated workforce - more than 40 per cent of all school leavers on the islands go on to higher education compared with 31 per cent in the rest of Scotland, with the main Stornoway school, The Nicolson Institute, sending 52 per cent of its pupils to higher education establishments.
There is also a skilled labour market among islanders who have moved away over the years but are known to be wanting to come back if suitable work is available.
Compared with the mainland, Island office rental costs are low - £8 a square foot compared to £25 a square foot or more in Edinburgh.
Overall, facilities in Stornoway far exceed what you would expect from a town of around 8,000 people in an area so remote from main centres of population. In fact, Stornoway - which is part of the Broadbay region of Lewis with a total population of around 14,000 - is the biggest community for many miles in any direction.
For people with sports in mind there is a town centre swimming pool with fully equipped gym, a full-scale six lane running track and athletics arena and an all-weather sports pitch.
A variety of local clubs and societies make use of the harbour - which has an array of pontoons for yachts to moor at - as a base for all sorts of maritime activities such as diving, canoeing and sea angling. The Stornoway Sea Angling club's headquarters, beside the main ferry terminal, is also a major centre for all sorts of social activities.
Further along the waterfront is the An Lanntair Arts Centre, based in the old Town Hall, which has a cafe open all day serving a wide range of food. It has exhibitions running almost every week and also provides a venue for musical and other events.
On the musical front, there are a variety of one-off events, such as the Hebridean Celtic Music Festival in July or Pipe-Major Donald Macleod Piping Competition in April. There is also a feis - Feis Eilean an Fhraoich - in the summer, which is a music festival with tuition in a range of instruments. While mainly for Gaelic speakers, English speakers are also welcome.
The town is also the base for the Gaelic Broadcasting Committee - Comataidh Craolaidh Gaidhlig - which commissions programmes for the Gaelic television service which goes out mostly on BBC2 and Channel 3 but also on BBC1 and Channel Four. It has a large television studio - Studio Alba - as well as two independent television producers.
Taransay - the base for the Castaway 2000 project which brought national attention to the Islands during 2000 - is one of a series of Hebridean islands which have lost their communities in the past 100 years. But over the past 60 years, local and national government in Scotland has ploughed many millions into building bridges and causeways, as well as providing ferries, to reduce the geographic deficit suffered by communities remote from the main centres of population.
The ferry services are provided by Caledonian MacBrayne, and link Stornoway with Ullapool and hence Inverness; Tarbert and Lochmaddy with Skye; Harris and North Uist; and Lochboisdale and Castlebay with Oban.
Bus services run throughout the Western Isles, with services running hourly from Stornoway to many of the surrounding villages, and a north-south network, via ferry links which allows travel from Ness at the north of Lewis through to Castlebay in Barra.
The road network is being continually improved with millions of pounds having been spent on the inter-island route from Ness to Barra, via Stornoway. In 2000 work was started on an £9.4m project to link the island of Eriskay to South Uist by causeway and Barra by car ferry. This is the largest civil engineering project of its type under way in the United Kingdom. To the north of Eriskay - which lies a similar distance offshore to Taransay - lie the islands of the Uists, Benbecula and Berneray, all now linked by causeways.
Where the rest of Britain has built motorways and bypasses to supplement existing roads, the islands of the Outer Hebrides have faced the challenge of putting in roads where none existed before, to replace the sea transport that dominated past eras.
The aim of the transport policy pursued on the Western Isles has been to prevent islands like Great Bernera, Vatersay, Scalpay, Berneray and Eriskay from the joining the roll-call of casualties - which included Atlantic island of St Kilda evacuated in August 1930. This was the end of many centuries of occupation, punctuated by disasters brought about by disease from visitors, shipwrecks and the deadly eight-days sickness which for decades in the 19th century killed two out of three babies born. The population hit 200 in about 1810 before starting to decline.
Other islands suffered the fate of Ronay, off Benbecula, which in 1826 had more than 180 people but they were expelled by the landlord. Its community then ranged between four and nine inhabitants until the 1931 census by which time the last had left.
Facilities for visitors, for artists, for those interested in family or Island history, and for those interested in buying Island products exist throughout the Outer Hebrides from Ness in north Lewis to Kildonan in South Uist and Castlebay in Barra.
On the waterfront in Stornoway is the An Lanntair Arts Centre, based in the old Town Hall, which has a cafe open all day serving a wide range of food, as well as a shop with books, craft items and other products.
A bigger arts centre is Taigh Chearsabhagh in Lochmaddy, North Uist, which is a hive of local artistic activity. It also has a shop and is the base for further education courses.
Northton in Harris is the base for a genealogical research centre which brings visitors from all over the world to find their origins - many islanders remain in contact with relatives in places abroad as disparate as Canada and Patagonia, New Zealand and Chile.
Community groups and organisations provide local museums, cafe facilities and events in many locations, including Ness, Great Bernera, Scalpay, Kildonan and elsewhere.
The growing strength of the renewed links between the Gaels of Scotland and of Ireland was demonstrated in summer 2000 when senior ministers from both the Irish and British governments joined Western Isles MP Calum Macdonald at the opening of small centre for music and the arts at the northernmost tip of Lewis.
Scotland Office minister Brian Wilson, who has a home in west Lewis, spoke at the opening of the Columba Project/Iomairt Calum Cille which he launched as a Scottish Office minister before devolution in 1997. It aims to foster closer links between Ireland and Scotland. He launched it coincide with the visit to Stornoway of the then Irish President, Mary Robinson, who told of her hopes for closer links in a speech during her visit. Mr Wilson said the aims of the initiative were being being fulfilled by the growing links between Ness and Connemara which saw Niseachs - people of Ness - visit Ireland last year and a return visit this year.
Mr Eamon O Cuiv, the Irish minister for the Gaeltacht - the Gaelic speaking areas of Ireland - as well as the arts and heritage, said the local priorities of maintaining economic activity, keeping the culture alive and developing contacts were echoed in his country. 'I could have been at home listening to the same speeches, looking at the same problems, seeking the same solutions.'
He had been a manager of a local community co-operative - earlier Annie MacSween of Ness Community Council had recalled visits to and from Ireland when the community co-operative movement was being established in the Islands 20 years ago. He recalled Brian Wilson walking into his office to suggest Iomairt Calum Cille. 'I was particularly pleased that this initiative came from Scotland to rebuild the links with Ireland. What we share is greater than what divides us.'
For instance, all but one of the Irish Gaeltacht areas were peripheral on the west and south coasts and on offshore islands - very similar to the Scottish Gaidhealtachd - although the Scottish islands had far more people. And Scotland was the nearest country to Ireland - only 11 miles separated it from County Antrim.
In looking at economic development, Eamon O Cuiv suggested lessons could be learned from the image of Ireland - it had an image of music and dance internationally. At a time when the world was 'becoming very much the same, people looking for things that are different.'
He added: 'Things which are not valued within our own communities are becoming of great interest and value to a worldwide audience.' In both Gaelic speaking areas “we need young people to stay in their communities and work. We need to give them chances of gainful employment.'
If the Islands are regarded as isolated now, they were not so in the past as they formed an integral part of the Viking world 1000 years ago on the main sea routes of the North Atlantic. The Gaelic word for Stornoway is Steornabhagh but this is merely descended from the Norse Steornavagr.
One of the many relics of this extraordinary past are the Lewis chessmen normally held in the British Museum, which were found at Uig on the west coast nearly 200 years ago, and now widely copied for sale by local craftsmen.
After the Vikings came the Lords of the Isles, with atrocity after atrocity as families - or clans - fought each other for power and influence. Battered by the elements , remnants of that era lie in the ruined church at Ui on Lewis or more complete in the church at Rodel on Harris.
From earlier eras, there are also prehistoric field landscapes preserved intact, the amazing stonework of the broch (a double-walled circular tower) at Carloway, and the Calanais Stones - usually rated as second only to Stonehenge.
In March 1818, William MacGillivray of Northton, Harris, who went on to become the close friend and aide of the internationally renowned ornithologist John James Audubon and finally Regius Professor of Natural History at Marischal College, Aberdeen, faced an unusual challenge for his skills as a naturalist. He was asked to kill a bear ... in Harris!
The local landowner, who lived at Rodel, had been keeping the animal in a cage in his yard. As an expert shot - ornithology in those pioneering days with many millions more birds available meant plenty of shooting to allow dissection and research - MacGillivray was called on first to kill "poor Bruin" as he calls him in his diaries and then stuff him. A special visitor centre marking his work is situated in Northton.
The first public demonstration of television in Stornoway took place in 1959. Stornoway had a cable television service for several years, run by the local firm of Maciver and Dart before full-scale transmissions to the islands started from the Eitshal mast started in 1971.
North Lewis is almost as close to Iceland as it is to Kent. Stornoway airport is 600 nautical miles from Iceland's capital Rekjavik and 450 miles from London. Stornoway is further west than Dublin in the Republic of Ireland and at the same latitude as the snowy wastes around Hudson's Bay in Canada and about 200 miles further north than Moscow.
The greatest peace-time loss of life in a shipping disaster in British waters took place a few yards from Stornoway harbour on New Year's Day 1919 when 205 men drowned as the Iolaire went off course in a storm and hit rocks.
Most of the victims were soldiers and seamen returning from the Great War - many had survived years of war to die within yards of their homes. A monument to the victims stands on the hill above the site of the disaster.
There are many opportunities for countryside walks across the Western Isles - whether over the hills or around the coastlines. A series of walks over the whole area from North Lewis to Barra is outlined in 25 Walks: The Western Isles by June Parker, published by HMSO and on sale from Island booksellers.
In 1739 in Finsbay, Harris, across the hills from Taransay, around 100 local men, women and children were tricked or kidnapped on to a ship to be sold as slaves in the West Indies. The scheme had been masterminded by local landlords. Most of them managed to escape after the ship docked in Ireland but it is thought that few returned home.