View of Muirneag from Point

Across America
The first recorded European crossing of the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean across what is now the United States of America by Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in 1804-6 was ordered by the third U.S. President Thomas Jefferson after he read a book about a crossing of modern-day Canada by Stornoway-born Alexander Mackenzie. Mackenzie, whose name lives on in the great Mackenzie River, made his journey to the Arctic and Pacific Oceans in 1789-93.

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.

Celebrities old and new: Some famous names with Island connections .... Arthur Ransome based one of his Swallows and Amazons books, Great Northern, on a visit to Lewis; the Macaulay family from Uig, Lewis produced the anti-slavery campaigner Zachary Macaulay and the historian Lord Macaulay; the Maciver family also from Uig, Lewis helped found the Cunard line; former Tory Chancellor of the Exchequer Iain Macleod came from Lewis; as did multi-millionaire Donald Trump's mother's family.

Lewis and Harris are Presbyterian and Sabbatarian - meaning all retail outlets are shut on Sunday and there are no buses or ferries. The southern parts of the Outer Hebrides have a largely Roman Catholic population and ferries run on Sundays dependent on the season.

The island of Eriskay in the southern part of the Islands 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 . The island is also known through the famous Eriskay lilt; it has a a unique breed of pony; and a locally made woollen pullover with a unique design.

Exploding Mail and Separated Twins
The now deserted island of Scarp - off Harris - hit the headlines twice in 1934 - first in January. Christina Maclennan gave birth to a baby on the island one Saturday. The following day concern grew for her condition. There was no phone and the nearest doctor was 17 miles of winding road beyond the ferry. Finally she travelled by ferry boat, the floor of a bus and by car to Stornoway, many hours away - giving birth to a twin baby in hospital two days after the first. Then in July, the island was the setting for a trial of sending mail by rocket. The mail had a special stamp saying Western Isles Rocket Post on it. The scheme failed - the rocket exploded scattering mail over the beach but the German inventor went on to help with Nazi Germany's V-rocket programme in World War Two.

Gaining fitness nowadays can involve nothing more than the recommendation that you should avoid the use of the TV remote control and instead get up off your seat to change channels ... but in 1819 William MacGillivray of Northton walked about 828 miles over eight weeks travelling between Aberdeen and London. Earlier, when a student at Aberdeen University he simply walked home to Harris. And it was not his prodigious walking which drew any attention, it was his skills as a scientist and later the details of his life contained in his diaries. A special visitor centre marking his work is situated in Northton.

It is not only the warmth of the Gulf Stream which crosses the Atlantic from the Caribbean to the Hebrides - rotten pineapples and coconuts wash up on the shore of Taransay - famous for its TV castaways - and other islands. The remains of a catamaran which had been abandoned by its crew in the West Indies came ashore on Taransay in the 1970's.

Gaelic spirituals
Paul Robeson performed Gaelic songs at the Albert Hall in London in 1938. He said: 'Gaelic songs have an affinity with Negro spirituals. Like all folksongs of the world, they are not composed. They are the spirit of the people set in music.'

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.

Lots of MP's
The Western Isles has an MP at Westminster and representatives in the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh - but the main island of Lewis could also be represented in Tynwald, the Isle of Man parliament, a historic right dating back to the Norse occupation of the islands of the west 1000 years ago.

James Morrison, a bosun's mate on HMS Bounty at the time of the infamous mutiny, and who was court martialled and later reprieved, was from Stornoway.

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.

Reign of Tyranny
At a time in the 19th century when political concern in London was centred on expanding the number able to vote in democratic elections, Donald Munro combined almost every public office on Lewis to enable a reign of tyranny under the then landowner Sir James Matheson. He was the factor - landlord's agent - as well as the top law officer - procurator fiscal - and one of only two solicitors - the other was his cousin. Since he was also a J.P., people who crossed him found it rather difficult to get justice. He was deposed after a rebellion among crofting tenants in the offshore island of Great Bernera.

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.

Vanishing Lighthousekeepers
The Flannan Isles, off west Lewis, were the centre of a great mystery in December 1900 after the three lighthousekeepers who were their sole residents vanished without trace, a disappearance so sudden that a meal of cold meat, pickles and potatoes was left untouched on their table. Surviving notes showed they had just survived a storm so fierce that it had removed turf from the top of a cliff which normally stood 200ft above the surface of the sea. It is thought they were caught unawares by a huge follow-up wave and drowned.

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.

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.