Lewis and Harris are a single large island in the Outer Hebrides or Western Isles of Scotland. It's the third largest island in the British Archipelago, only Great Britain and Ireland being larger. Lewis (Gaelic Leòdhas) makes up the northern two-thirds, and is low-lying, with a population of 19,658 in 2011. Harris to the south is rugged. Only in modern times were they connected by road: historically you could only travel from one to the other by boat, as if they were individual islands. Moreover their transport links were to different mainland ports, and they became parts of separate counties (Ross and Cromarty for Lewis until 1975).
Towns and villages
- 1 Stornoway is the only town. It has good transport and visitor amenities, and is the obvious base for touring both Lewis and Harris.
- Point is a farmland peninsula east of Stornoway.
- Back north of Stornoway is farmland along on the east coast, with the villages of Tong, Gress, Coll and Tolsta. The road ends at "The Bridge to Nowhere".
- Balallan is a scattered community to the south, where A859 climbs across the hills to Harris.
- Valtos on the bleak west coast includes Uig, Timsgarry and Mangersta.
- 2 Great Bernera is an island linked by road.
- Carloway on the west coast has the Callanish standing stones, Carloway Broch and Gearranan Blackhouse Village.
- Arnol further up that coast has the Blackhouse museum, and the settlements of Barvas and Borve.
- Ness at the north tip is the end of the road, with a lighthouse, a restless ocean and a distinct change in the rocks: here Scotland was once linked to Greenland.
During the 19th century Lewis, like much of the Scottish Highlands, became impoverished and depopulated. This reflected eviction of tenant farmers by the landowners (the "Highland Clearances"), harsh living conditions, famine in some years, and hopes of a better life in the Lowlands or America. Those left behind dwelt in squalour, alongside empty arable acres given over to sheep, deer-stalking or grouse-shooting. Eventually the government sought to reverse these trends by providing land for small farm settlements, allotments or crofts.
Violent agitation for land reform broke out, and on Lewis the farm of Coll was seized by land raiders in 1888. Agitation faded when the Highland economy recovered from its 1880s slump and when optimism grew about government action. But progress was very slow, and halted by the outbreak of war in 1914. After the war, there was high public expectation, and demand to deliver on the political promise that returning servicemen should enjoy “a land fit for heroes to live in” with priority for resettlement. Expectation turned to anger at official delay, and land raids resumed.
From 1917 the whole of Lewis was owned by Lord Leverhulme the soap tycoon. He had ambitious plans for it and was investing heavily, but as an industrialist, his vision of the island’s future was industrial – fisheries, tweed manufacture and the like. He even drafted the timetable for the railway he was planning! But he utterly opposed land re-settlement, seeing this as perpetuating an outmoded way of life, and so in March 1919 the farms of Tong, Coll and Gress were raided. By autumn the raiders were persuaded to leave, but in January 1920 they made new raids on Coll and Gress, and began to build houses there. Leverhulme’s response was to stop all his development work - a severe blow to the island economy that caused uproar. He claimed that Coll and Gress were needed as dairy farms to supply Stornoway, but as a compromise he offered land on the west coast, and the raiders were again persuaded to leave.
Several farms on the west coast were indeed re-settled, but in spring 1921 Coll and Gress were again raided, and again Leverhulme halted his developments. The government decided to invoke compulsory powers, and faced with this, Leverhulme conceded to resettlement of the farms of Coll, Gress, and Orinsay to the south. Conflict continued around Galson to the north, but by this stage Leverhulme was despairing of his plans for Lewis, and turning his attention to Harris. He was also becoming seriously overstretched financially. In 1925 he died and his many projects on Harris and Lewis were abruptly ended. His mainland business continued to prosper as Unilever, but his only Hebridean venture to carry on was Mac Fisheries, which lasted until 1979.
Talk: Some 60% of the population speak Gaelic, and place names on road signs are primarily in Gaelic. The English version beneath is smaller, while the villages themselves may look smaller still. But everyone understands English, including most foreign tourists.
By boat: Calmac ferries sail to Stornoway from Ullapool on the mainland, taking 2 hr 30 min. There are two sailings year-round M-Sa, and on Sunday two Apr-Oct and just one Nov-March - see Stornoway#Get in for fares. In summer these ferries sell out, so even foot passengers should book ahead.
It's also possible to sail to Lochmaddy on North Uist, or to South Uist or Barra, then work your way north by road and ferry. It's not the obvious route to Stornoway but could be part of a grand tour of the Hebrides.
By bus: There are 3 or 4 buses M-Sa between Harris and Lewis. A linked bus / ferry service runs up the Western Isles through Barra, the Uists and Harris and across Lewis to Stornoway, so M-Sa it's possible to go the whole way in one day. There are half-a-dozen services part-route, but for the full route you need to set off from Castlebay Barra at 06:20, Lochboisedale South Uist at 09:00, Benbecula at 11:10, Lochmaddy North Uist at 11:30 and Tarbert Harris at 16:20, to reach Stornoway by 17:30. Going south, you leave Stornoway 09:30 to reach Tarbert at 10:45, Lochmaddy at 13:45, Benbecula at 14:25, Lochboisdale at 15:25 and Castlebay at 17:35.
By bus: Routes across Lewis all converge on Stornoway. Buses are sparse M-Sa with nothing on Sunday.
Bus W10 connects Lewis and Harris, running from Stornoway via Balallan and over the hills to Tarbert, then Luskentyre, Borve, Leverburgh and Rodel. It's part of the bus / ferry spine route all the way south to the Uists and Barra, see "Get in". There are five between Stornoway and Tarbert M-Sa but only one connection full-route to Castlebay Barra.
Bus W5 runs east along A866 to the airport, Melbost, Garrabost, Bayble, Shulishader and Aird out on The Point. About a dozen M-F and five Saturday. This bus continues north along B895 up the east coast past the hospital to Tong, Coll, Back, Gress and Tolsta.
Bus W2 runs to the west coast in a loop via the hospital, Barvas, Arnol, Bragar, Shawbost, Carloway, Callanish and back to Stornoway. There are about five each way round the loop M-Sa.
Bus W1 runs to the north tip of the island, via the hospital, Barvas, Borve, Galson, Lionel and Port of Ness; about 8 M-Sa.
Bus W3 runs to Great Bernera, via Lochganvich and Garynahine then across the bridge to Barraglom, Breaclete and Croir; about 6-7 M-Sa.
Bus W4 runs to the western corner, via Garynahine, Enaclete, Miavaig, Valtos, Timsgarry, Mangersta and Brenish; five M-Sa.
Bus W8 runs to the North Lochs (north of Loch Eireasort) via Leurbost, Crossbost and Ranish every couple of hours M-Sa.
Bus W9 runs to the South Lochs via Balallan, Kershader, Gravir and Orinsay every couple of hours M-Sa.
Car hire: see Stornoway, they're all based there.
- The district of Back has some of the best farmland on Lewis, and was the scene of several land raids. B895 runs along the coast from Stornoway through a string of small places: Tong, Coll, Gress and Tolsta. Tong was the birthplace of Mary Macleod (1912-2000), mother of 45th US president Donald Trump: this background must have profoundly influenced his philosophy, and a monument seems overdue.
- 1 Gress Monument, looking like a megalithic pop-up toaster, commemorates the land raids of the 1920s. Gress corn mill half a mile north is 19th century but fell derelict in the 20th.
- 2 Carn a Mharc on the hillside above is the scrappy remains of a chambered burial cairn.
- Tolsta has a fine beach, popular with surfers and horse-riders.
- 3 Bridge to Nowhere or Garry Bridge was built in the 1920s to extend the road north from Tolsta to Ness at the north tip of Lewis. You can drive over it, but half a mile later the road comes to an abrupt stop against the bleak moorland, symbolic of Leverhulme's unfulfilled plans for the island.
- The Point (An Rubha or Eye Peninsula) juts out beyond the airport, as if giving a thumbs up to the Scottish mainland. A866 connects it to Stornoway across an isthmus.
- Aignish cairn east end of the isthmus commemorates land raids here in 1888: two tapered opposing stone jaws.
- 4 Ui church or St Columba's near the cairn is a medieval ruin. Many chiefs of Clan MacLeod lie in the graveyard, which has been partly lost to coastal erosion.
- 5 Clach Ghlas meaning "grey stone" is a triangular megalith. The smaller stones might once have formed a circle but more likely were part of a burial chamber. It might be Bronze Age.
- 6 Tiumpan Head marks the northern bound of The Minch, the channel between Inner and Outer Hebrides. The lighthouse, first lit in 1900, was designed by David and Charles Stevenson, and was as much to watch out for illegal trawling as to aid navigation. When a new foghorn was installed in 1956, the 7-year old Prince Charles (now King) sounded the inaugural blast. The lighthouse was automated in 1985 and is still active, but the keepers' accommodation has been turned into a kennels / cattery, with a clifftop location that would appeal to Cruella de Vil.
- A858 crosses the island from Stornoway. At Gearraidh na h-aibhne (Garrynahine) B8011 branches off to the west, while A585 follows the coast northwest.
- 7 Deanstone on A858 is a monument to a failed attempt in 1850 to turn these peat bogs into arable farmland. A settlement was built near the existing village of Lochganvich, but within a year all the settlers had despaired and left.
- 8 Callanish IV is a stone circle next to B8011 towards southwest Lewis. Five stones stand of an original 13. The site has not been excavated but is clearly part of the Callanish complex 3 miles north. Callanish VI is two stones on the moor a mile east, not worth the midge-bites that a visit will incur.
- Great Bernera is an island reached by B8059 branching north from B8011, see separate page. It too has standing stones, an Iron Age house and Norse Mill.
- 9 Traigh na Beirigh is a long sandy beach at Valtos on the west coast.
- 10 Uig Sands (Traigh Uige or Ardroil) is a long broad sandy beach: the Uig chessmen were found hereabouts in 1831. Dun Borranish is the scrappy remains of a dun on a tidal islet in the bay.
- Uig Community Centre north end of the bay has a small museum open April-Oct Tu-Sa 12:00-16:00, guarded by a pair of giant chessmen. In Ardroil cemetery lies Linda Norgrove, an aid worker kidnapped by the Afghan Taliban in 2010 and fatally wounded during the rescue attempt.
- Abhainn Dearg Distillery is south of Ardroil, see Drink. The road continues to Mangurstadh (Mangersta) which has a beach and sea stacks.
- 11 Mealasta is the end of the road, with a sand and rock beach. The abandoned village, cleared in 1838, stands on the slopes.
- This Atlantic coastline has a rich heritage and Lewis's top sights.
- 12 Callanish Standing Stones, Calanais HS2 9DY. Stones 24 hours, visitor centre M-Sa 09:00-16:30. Iconic of Lewis, this is the chief circle ("Callanish I") of an extensive ritual landscape. It was erected some time 2900-2600 BC and is an irregular circle of 13 stones surrounding a monolith, with a cross of avenues or aligned stones radiating. A chambered tomb within the circle was added later: it was only discovered when 19th century peat-cutting revealed the true height of the stones. They're of local gneiss and have no obvious astronomical alignment. Free.
- Callanish II & III are lower but larger circles half a mile east of the chief circle. Peat-cutting here revealed an earlier timber circle.
- 13 Dun Carloway, Chàrlabhaigh (Carloway) HS2 9AZ. 24 hours. A broch or round tower built around 200 BC and inhabited until 1000 AD; it was a hideout of cattle thieves in the 17th century. Parts of the broch walls still reach their original height of 9 m. Free.
- 14 Gearrannan, 5A Garenin HS2 9AL, ☏ . April-Oct M-Sa 09:30-17:30. A village of blackhouses occupied until the 1970s. Nine have been restored: one as a hostel and others as self-catering cottages, see Sleep. The one you visit is a museum showing village life circa 1960, not long after electricity reached the area.
- 15 Norse Mill and Kiln, Siabost bho Dheas (South Shawbost) HS2 9BJ. 24 hours. Two thatched buildings that have been "netted" and the nets weighted with stones to keep the roof from being ripped away by high winds. The larger is a kiln for drying grain - so it operated at relatively low temperature, whereas the heat of a pottery kiln would make short work of a thatched building. The smaller is a click mill or Norse mill, where the waterwheel is set horizontally in the flow of a mill lade. This means it doesn't need gears, but directly drives grindstones to render wheat into flour. It was used into the 1930s, restored in 1968 and again in 1996. Use the parking lot on the main road and follow the track a quarter-mile north. Free.
- Whalebone Arch stands beside a house along the road from Shawbost to Arnol. It's the lower jawbones of a blue whale that washed up in the 1920s, with a harpoon impacted in its head that had failed to explode. The crofter took these trophies back to his shed and was lucky not to be close by when the explosive did to his shed what it was intended to do to the whale. Just west, Loch an Dunam has an Iron Age crannog on an islet.
- 16 Blackhouse at Arnol, 42 Arnol HS2 9DB, ☏ . Apr-Aug M-Sa 09:30-17:00; Oct-Mar M Tu Th-Sa 10:00-16:00. Blackhouses like these were the traditional dwellings of this island where timber was scarce but stones and thatch were plentiful. People and animals shared the interior, with a fug from the peat fire that must never be allowed to go out. Opposite is the "white house" occupied from the 1920s, thereafter the blackhouse was used as the cattle byre until the 1960s. The site is closed each September for re-thatching. Adult £7.50, conc £6, child £4.50.
- The Shieling is another traditional stone dwelling, a mile east of Arnol on the main road to Barvas. A family of six once lived in this shack the size of a bus shelter.
- 17 Steinacleit is a group of ten slabs and many smaller boulders around a mound, the remains of a chambered burial cairn. Its age is uncertain but other Hebridean cairns of this type are late Neolithic. The nearby lochan holds a crannog, an artificial prehistoric islet. To the southwest is seen Clach an Trushal, Scotland's tallest standing stone at 5.8 m.
- 18 Ness Historical Society (Comunn Eachdraidh Nis), Sgoil Chrois, Ness HS2 0SN, ☏ . M-F 10:00-16:00, plus July Aug Sa 11:00-16:00. Local history museum, archive and cafe. Donation.
- 19 Dùn Èistean is a sea stack with the jumbled remains of a 16th-17th century bastion of Clan Morrison, probably over much earlier structures. You reach it by a footbridge.
- Loch Stiapabhat a mile southwest of Dùn Èistean is a nature reserve.
- 20 Butt of Lewis Lighthouse at the north tip of the island was built by David Stevenson in 1862. It's red-brick, unpainted, and in its early days burned fish oil. Until the 1960s supplies were brought to the three keepers by sea as the Lewis roads were so bad; the light was automated in 1998. Ridges in the fields nearby are from "Lazy Beds", the traditional way of cultivating potatoes.
- The cliffs by the lighthouse are dramatic, but eroding and best not explored on a windy day. Luchruban is a sea stack on the promontory a mile west of the lighthouse with the remains of an early Christian hermitage overlying Neolithic settlement. The name means "pygmies" as medieval visitors found small skeletons here, and failed to identify them as animals reared by the hermits for food. Access across the tidal cleft is hazardous. There's a sea arch a little way south, and this coastline is riddled with stacks and caves.
- A853 climbs into the hills, the land becomes bleak and rugged, and you'd probably only come this way to cross into Harris.
- 21 Kinloch Historical Society, Balallan HS2 9PL, ☏ . M-Sa 10:00-16:00. Small history museum and cafe. Balallan village straggles for four miles along Loch Erisort, so the crofters each had access to their own beach to draw up boats, and a strip of grazing and vegetable patch behind. Free.
- 22 Park Deer Monument commemorates a land raid of 1887. The growing population was on poor cramped land, but Lady Matheson the landowner would not make any of the deer forest available for cultivation. A mob invaded and over a week slaughtered as many deer as they could, roasting them at a camp canteen. Three ringleaders were taken to Edinburgh for trial but acquitted. Along with similar acquittals, this spelled out that juries would not convict desperate people driven by poverty, and would uphold human rights above property law.
- 23 Bonnie Prince Charlie Monument is at the boundary of Lewis and Harris. After his defeat at Culloden, the Prince's first escape attempt brought him to the Outer Hebrides in hopes of a passage to France, but it proved a dangerous dead-end. On 4 May 1746 he landed with a few supporters in Harris and hiked overnight to Stornoway. No "speed bonny boat" for him there, the town was hostile, but he was able to sail south to the Uists then back to Skye thence to the Scottish mainland.
- 24 Clisham is the 799 m "Corbett" looming to the south, often wraithed in drizzle, see Harris for climbing trails.
- Surfing: Atlantic rollers and you need a wetsuit. Schools and organisers are Surf Lewis based in Stornoway and Hebridean Surf based in Barvas.
- Horse-riding: Traigh Mhor Pony Trekking are based at Tolsta.
- Golf: the only course is Stornoway GC just west of town.
- All the big stores are in Stornoway, which has two supermarkets. Small shops are dotted around the island, and often manage to pack a varied stock into a small building. Everything is closed on Sunday except Engebret filling station in Stornoway.
- Lewis chessmen make distinctive giftware, though you'll find the best prices on Amazon. The originals were found in a sandbank near Uig in 1831 and were 79 mismatched items from at least five different sets, carved from walrus ivory or whale tooth and dated to the 12th century. The pawns are simple pegs but the pieces have comically glum expressions. Most of the originals are in the British Museum in London and 11 are in the NMS in Edinburgh. Pieces occasionally tour but none are on permanent display in Lewis.
- Buth Tholastaidh, Tolastadh bho Thuath (North Tolsta) HS2 0NL, ☏ . M-Sa 10:00-17:00. Shop and Post Office.
- Uig Community Shop, Timsgearraidh HS2 9JD, ☏ . M-Sa 09:00-78:00. Shop, post office, laundrette and free ATM. Petrol and diesel with out of hours payment terminal.
- Borve Mini Market, Fivepenny, Borve HS2 0RX. M-Sa 08:00-20:00. Small shop, it no longer has a filling station.
- Welcome In Filling Station, Lower Barvas HS2 0RA, ☏ . M-Sa 08:00-20:00. Shop and filling station, and best of all they have worms for fishing.
- Cross Stores, 7 Cross Skigersta Road, Ness HS2 0TD, ☏ . M-Sa 09:00-18:00. Licensed grocer and hardware store. The butcher makes his own black, white and fruit puddings.
- Ness Post Office is 100 yards north.
- Swainbost Shop and filling station (Maclean Mair Nicolson & Co) half a mile northeast of Cross is closed and for sale in Aug 2023.
- The best eating places are often the hotels, see Sleep. That includes breakfast at your accommodation in Stornoway - if you're day-tripping round the island, make sure to gobble up your sausage and extra slice of toast, as come lunchtime you may find slim pickings out of town.
- Buth an Rubha is a cafe on the Point a quarter-mile past Ui church, open M-Sa 09:00-18:00.
- 1 The Edge Cafe, Aird Uig HS2 9JA, ☏ . Su-Th 11:00-16:00, 18:15-18:30. Quirky cafe for light bites. Gallan Head beyond is disfigured by an old radar station - this is being dismantled with the intention of creating a bird observatory.
- Uig Sands Restaurant, Timsgearraidh HS2 9ET (half mile south of Uig community centre), ☏ . W-Sa 16:00-23:00. Great dining and views over the beach, open April-Oct, booking essential. Assistance dogs only. They also have four rooms. Double (room only) £200.
- Stones Cafe is within Callanish Standing Stones Visitor Centre, see above. It's open W-Sa 10:00-16:00.
- 2 Mollan's Takeaway, 32 Siabost Bho Thuath (North Shawbost) HS2 9BQ, ☏ . Apr-Sept F Sa 12:00-14:00, 16:00-19:30. Beach cabin serving fish & chips.
- Cross Inn (Old Barn Bar), Cross HS2 0SN (100 yards northeast of Ness Historical Society), ☏ . M, W-Sa 12:00-21:00. Good pub grub, dog-friendly. The bar serves M-Sa until 23:00. They also have rooms. B&B double £110.
- 3 The Breakwater (formerly Cafe Sonas), Barr'a Yard, Port of Ness HS2 0XA, ☏ . M-W 12:00-18:00, Th-Sa 12:00-21:00. Pleasant seafood restaurant and coffee shop, does takeaway.
- Stornoway is the only place with stand-alone bars, but out-of-town hotel bars are open to non-residents.
- 1 Abhainn Dearg Distillery, Carnish HS2 9EX (B8011 to Uig then lane south), ☏ . Tours M-Sa 11:00-15:00 on the hour. In the 17th century, Martin Martin reported that two spoonfuls was the maximum safe dose of whisky in these isles: "If any man exceed this, it would presently stop his breath and endanger his life." Maybe it was the adverse publicity, more likely it was the competition from Islay and Speyside, but Lewis ceased to make whisky for 200 years. This distillery, set up in an abandoned fish farm, began production in 2009, so they now have a ten-year malt. It's described as fruity, like schnapps, with a hint of barbecued fish. That'll be from the fish barrels used for maturation; it improves with a little water. Tour £15.
- See Tarbert (Harris) for the distillery there. The Isle of Lewis Brewery has closed.
- Most accommodation is in Stornoway, while this page lists out of town places. Self-catering rentals are from Saturday to Saturday.
- 1 Eilean Fraoich Campsite, North Shawbost HS2 9BQ, ☏ . Clean friendly camping and caravan site open April-Sept, with kitchen, showers and WiFi. Dog-friendly. Tent £22, caravan £30.
- 2 Mangersta Croft, 5 Mangersta, Uig HS2 9EY, ☏ . Two shepherd's huts sleeping two and 3 wigwam cabins sleeping four. No camping or caravan pitches. Cabin £100, hut £90.
- 3 Ravenspoint Community Hostel, Kershader HS2 9QA, ☏ . Modern hostel open April-Oct. As it is small and sometimes booked out by groups, advance booking is recommended. Camping also available.
- 4 Otter Bunkhouse, Uig HS2 9ER, ☏ . 8-bed hostel, plus a private room in The Bothy. Open all year, minimum stay 2 nights. In 2023 the dorm is only available for exclusive rental.
- Gearrannan Hostel, Carloway HS2 9AL, ☏ . 10-bed hostel in a restored village of traditional blackhouses. The other blackhouses are now self-catering cottages, plus a museum. No arrivals on a Sunday. £30 ppn.
- 5 Traigh na Beirigh Campsite, 13 Kneep, ☏ . 50 pitch campsite for tents and motorhomes by the beach, open May-Sept. Toilets and coin operated showers.
- 6 Loch Roag Guesthouse, Pentland Rd, Breasclete HS2 9EF, ☏ , (mobile). Restful 6-roomed place two miles from Callanish Stones, open April-Oct. B&B double £160.
- 7 Clearview B&B, 44 Balallan HS2 9PT, ☏ . Comfy 3-room B&B on Tarbert-Stornoway road open March-Oct. B&B double £100.
- 8 Galson Farm, South Galson HS2 0SH, ☏ . Attractively decorated four room guest house open Feb-Sept. Offers hot breakfast every day and Sunday evening cold meals. Minimum stay 2 nights, no pets or children under 14. B&B double £150.
- 9 Broad Bay House, Back HS2 0LQ, ☏ . Delightful guesthouse by the beach with fine dining, open Feb-Oct. Pets allowed but no young children. B&B double £230.
- 10 Borve House Hotel, Borve HS2 0RX, ☏ . 9-room country house hotel with bar and restaurant, open April-Oct. B&B double £160.
- 11 Doune Braes Hotel, Carloway HS2 9AA, ☏ . 16-room hotel with restaurant and bar. B&B double £160.
- 12 Loch Erisort House, Sheildinish HS2 9RA (on B8060 to Kershader), ☏ . Pleasant six-room hotel open March-Oct, new owners in 2023, plus restaurant. Assistance dogs only. B&B double £110.
- 13 Wardicott B&B, Sraid Na H-Eaglaise (Church St), Back HS2 0LF, ☏ , firstname.lastname@example.org. Check-in: 15:00 - 22:30, check-out: 08:00 - 10:00. Great welcome and comfort at this 3-bedroom B&B open April-Oct. B&B double £100.
As of Sept 2023, there is virtually no mobile signal anywhere beyond Stornoway. Some accommodation has Wifi hotspots.
- Great Bernera island is reached by road bridge. Prehistoric stones greet your arrival.
- South to Harris,which has more rugged terrain and the villages of Tarbert (for ferries to Skye) and Leverburgh (for ferries to Berneray and the Uists).
- East by ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool on the mainland.