John and I had  the pleasure of visiting, on our most recent progression through Scotland, both the Island of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, and the Mainland island of the Orkney Isles.   They are completely different.

Both are lovely islands, scoured by Atlantic gales and surrounded by fearsome seas.   They tend to be largely treeless;  green in the case of Orkney with pasture, and yellow on Lewis with ‘macher’ – flower filled meadows.   I think technically, for beauty, you would have to award the prize to Lewis, but it would be a judgement of Paris.   Lewis has a melancholic, haunting beauty, whereas Orkney is more robust, down to earth, cheerful.

Although some of my ancestors are from Lewis, and I have some of the characteristics of the islanders with on the downside my prematurely grey hair but on the other hand my problem free skin, in fact I have always felt much more at home on Orkney.

Lewis occupies the area I think of (perhaps unkindly) as ‘celtic twilight’, where  efforts, rather pointless in my opinion, (though no doubt an opposite argument could be mounted) are made to preserve the customs of the island in its language – Gaelic – and in its crafting, fishing and other traditional activities.   Religion seems to be  an on-going issue in the Hebrides – apparently the Northern sections of the archipelago are Protestant and the Southern catholic.    However it appears that politically they are controlled by a group of people who are able to ban public opening of any shop, visitor centre or even public transport on a Sunday, and who would prevent the ferries from operating if only they could.   While I am happy for people to celebrate the Sabbath in any way they choose,  I vehemently object to them seeking to compel me to do likewise;  and so on Lewis on a Sunday I always feel like doing cartwheels down the street while singing ribald songs.

Lewis and Harris manufacture one of the loveliest fabrics in the whole world – Harris tweed – yet nowhere on the island is there a large showroom, demonstrating the whole process from sheep shearing, through carding, spinning, dying and weaving;  with fabrics to buy and perhaps a pattern book to order from, with articles and clothing made from the tweed, a nice coffee shop, adequate parking and OPEN ON SUNDAYS.    The Director of Tourism for Lewis should be removed from his post and replaced by someone who actually thinks visitors to the island are a good idea – even on Sundays.

Orkney on the other hand feels as if it has always been richer and more secure in its identity than Lewis.   It certainly isn’t an island whose main purpose is tourism, but it is like New Zealand – gives the impression of quietly getting on with its own affairs while making you warmly welcome.    It has a wonderful new dig of an amazing huge complex thought to predate Stone Henge, and is handling that competently, able to protect the artefacts and engage visitors as well.   On Orkney, too, they can always make you comfortable, feed you, look after you.

Whereas on Lewis I feel you are just tolerated as a visitor, and treated with a certain amount of suspicion, on Orkney they’re glad you came to see them and are hospitable and warm.

But not everyone of our party felt this about Lewis, and they are both very lovely islands.    Perhaps you should go there and see for yourself.


About adhocannie
I am a good natured woman with a long memory and a swift tongue. I like loooking at things and thinking about them. Also food, clothes, travel, reading, sewing. I try to see the ridiculous in things, but sobriety of reflection keeps edgting in. I have husband, children, grandchildren, friends... I feel rich in things that matter. I am a happy exile. I like writing. I do not like talking about me (though I do.). You willl be much more interesting.


  1. Eugene Windsor says:

    Interesting….I love them both, though it’s true that Lewis can be quite grim. There’s no doubt Orkney is more welcoming and prosperous. I think Lewis and Harris probably win on scenery; though Orkney is pleasant, it’s seldom spectacular, though its birdlife is.

  2. adhocannie says:

    Thanks, Eugene. Yes, I think Lewis in its basic state is the more beautiful, but Orkney is lovely too and full of wonderful things. I don’t know what’s the matter with Lewis; needs to give itself a shake.

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