Way out to the north and west off the coast of
Scotland, near the edges of the world, lie the Hebrides. This group of islands can count over 50 individual rocks in the sea as its members. Some of the islands are small and nearly uninhabited; others house larger communities of people.
The Hebrides consist of green grass and grey rocks, white sand and a surrounding ocean which both nourishes and threatens. Numerous old ruins and legends give the windswept islands a magical feel, at least to the visiting romantic. They are a much favoured as a filming location if the director wants a desolate spot by the sea.
Getting to and from the Hebrides can be expensive and cumbersome, which certainly gives them a certain appeal to hermites, but is a deterrent to many youngsters who would like to be more in touch with the world. With a population of 28,000, the islands certainly are in no danger of being over-populated. Because of their out-of-the-way nature, changes have happened slowly on the Hebrides. Gaelic language and culture is still prevalent in this remote part of the British Isles. The islands usually carry Gaelic or Norse name, reflecting the mix of their populace. In addition to people (and sheep), the Hebrides are also home to many types of sea fowl, and they are a great place to watch seals swimming and basking.
As is the case with much of the Scottish countryside, the Hebrides were owned by various clans. This worked quite well until the clan heads started selling off islands. A certain Colonel Gordon of Cluny purchased the islands of South Uist, Benbecula, Eriskay and Barra in 1838, whereupon he deported most of the people so that he could graze sheep there. In later times, landlords haven't been able to be as cruel, but the inhabitants have not felt entirely safe. In 1997, after a succession of owners, the inhabitants of Eigg joined forces and bought their island.
Furthest west, all of 110 miles from the Scottish mainland, we find some tiny specks in the ocean.
The volcanic archipelago of the Scottish Hebrides, more easily distinguished as the St Kilda islands, comprises the islands of Hirta, Dun, Soay and Boreray.
The native Kildians managed to survive on the harsh islands for centuries. However, an influx of visitors damaged the environment and the livelihood of the inhabitants. In the 1930s, the Kildians were evacuated from the islands at their own request. They has now been designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, famous for its sea bird colonies.
The Outer Hebrides, also known as the Western Isles, also known as Long Island (you get the picture), is a large a chain of islands forming a semi-circle about the Isle of Skye. The islands are separated from the Inner Hebrides and the Scottish mainland by The Minch, a deep sea moat with a rapid current. The main islands from north to south are:
The largest and most populous island is largely flat and peat-covered. Stornoway, the capital of the Outer Hebrides, lies on this island. Lewis is also the centre of the Harris Tweed industy, where tweed is still being manufactured in the traditional way. The island's main industries are crofting, weaving, fishing and, increasingly, tourism.
Countless neolithic sites around the island are remnants of the islands' Iron Age inhabitants, who were probably their first settlers. The "Stonehenge of the Hebrides", a great stone circle that attracts numerous visitors, stands at Callanish.
Almost, but not quite separated from the main island lies the peninsula of Harris, which has less people and more mountains than Lewis. Harris has a large collection of ancient standing stones, raised by Bronze Age settlers.
Harris' neighbouring isles are Taransay and Scarp.
Once more, a Hebridean island boasts of several ancient stone circles, tombs and buildings. A great example is the ruins of Teampull na Trionaid, once an ecclesiastical centre of Scotland.
Berneray, Vallay and the Monach Islands are small islands close to North Uist.
Joined to both North and South Uist by bridges, Benbecula is the flattest of the islands. It further links them to the mainland with an airport.
Home to more ruins, such as that of the Ormacleit Castle, which unfortunately burned down in 1715. Legend has it that a side of venison caught fire in the kitchen, and the disaster followed. However, conventional history tells us that the castle was destroyed during a battle where the clan chief was killed.
This small and barren island has given name to the Eriskay pony, the only surviving type of Hebridean pony and now threatened by extinction. The sparse population of the island grew dramatically in the 19th century, when clearances forced many Hebrideans off their native islands.
The big island of Barra and many of its surrounding cousins were once owned by the MacNeil clan. Now, Barra houses Cockle Strand, the only official beach airport in Britain. Its main town is Castlebay.
Scattered around Barra lie several small islands:
Fuday, Gighay, Hellisay, Vatersay, Muldoanich and Sandray; further south are Pabbay, Mingulay, and Beneray.
The Inner Hebrides, or Highland Isles, are much closer geographically to the Scottish mainland, making them less remote and more influenced by all that goes on there. They are officially separated from the outer ones, mainly for government purposes. However, they are very much Hebridean islands.
Most famous of the Inner Hebrides is the Isle of Skye, the destination of Bonnie Prince Charlie. Off its southern shore are the Small Isles with the whimsical names of Rum, Eigg, Muck, and Canna. Further south again are the more isolated islands of Coll and Tiree.
The New Hebrides are located very far away from Scotland. This was the name Captain Cook gave Vanuatu when he visited in 1774.