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Isle of Harris Visitor Information Guide

Harris To the uninitiated visitor must appear something of a quirkish oddity that Lewis and Harris are always referred to as separate ‘islands’, whereas in fact they are in dubitablyjoined by some 7 miles of very solid land and rock.

But even before some forgotten ‘authority’ decreed that Lewis should be in Ross and Cromarty and the rest of the Western Isles southwards in Inverness-shire, striking a boundary across from near the top of Loch Seaforth on the east to the head of Loch Resort on the west this already existed where the desolate Lewis moor land meets the rugged mountains of Harris, for this stretch of country acted as a natural barrier between the peoples on either side, whose differences are reflected not least in the dialects of Gaelic, that of Harris being softer in pronunciation and having fewer words of Norse origin.

  • Isle of Harris Geolocation 57.9933° N Longitude -6.8736° W
  • Isle of Harris Postcode HS3
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History Of The Isle of Harris

It is also said that the Harrisman (Herrach) diflers in character and looks from the Lewisman (Leodliasaeh). But the purists notion that Lewis and Harris are one island may well come to be accepted, as the county boundary no longer exists and all the isles are under their own Islands Authority, firmly based at Stornoway. Harris itself is divided into north and south by the narrow isthmus at Tarbert.

Little is known of the earliest history of Harris or of its original people, although traces of them may be seen in stone forts or duns at Rodel and Borve and on loch islands with underwater stepping stones leading to them as at the north end of Loch Langavat and on Taransay.

Pieces of decorated pottery have been dated as more than 2,000 years old. It is thought that the Fingalians, an ancient race of giants who lived in the west in Ossian‘s times, came to Harris. Norse raids occurred in the 8th century followed by a few settlements and some intermarriage but the Celtic influence is stronger in Harris than in Lewis, although many place names are of Norse origin.

Neither the Fife Adventurers nor Cromwell’s forces penetrated to Harris. The ownership passed away from the MacLeod Chiefs in 1779, and was split into two large estates until Lord Leverhulme reunited them, but with his death in 1925 and the abandonment of his beneficent schemes the estate was again split up, this time unhappily largely to absentee landlords, later the Government bought back certain lands, particularly in the west to be reconverted into crofts, which at least enabled some of the native people to return to their traditional way oflife. North Harris, apart from car ferry services to Tarbert, is reached by road on the winding A859 from Lewis, which continues round south Harris to Rodel, Its mountainous country is topped by the Clisham (2,622 ft), the highest peak in the Western Isles, with three other mountains over 2,000 ft presenting excellent sport for climbers and rock climbers. The B887, which branches north west at Ardhasig along west Loch Tarbert, passes several small crofting communities and the splendid Amhuinnsuidhe Castle, built by the Earl of Dunmore last cent, with close by a fine salmon river where, about the end of June, scores of fish may be seen (but not caught) as they leap the falls and thread the pools on their way up to the spawning grounds.

Also near here is a rarity in these islands, the hydro-electric dam at Loch Chliostair which supplies most of the power for Harris. Here also is the Forest of Harris. But this, of course, is the misleading Scottish misnomer in these forests there are no trees but only well preserved red deer.

Among the high lying lochs in the hills (equally full ofwell-preserved salmon and sea trout) is Loch Voshimid, whose little island is said to have inspired Barries hat fey Mary Rose.

The road ends at Hushinish, a village with a glorious stretch ofsand and overlooking the island of Scarp, now depopulated apart from some holiday homes and countless nesting sea birds.

Hushinish, moreover, has a niche in history, because in 1938, long before such things came to Benbecula and South Uist, the first rocket was fired in an experiment to send the mail to Scarp by air thus avoiding the troublesome sea crossing.

On the twisting road from Tarbert into south Harris, which runs south then west to the coast, many crofts are passed (and many of them are deserted), and here may be seen the ‘lazy-bed’ system of cultivation: small strips of soil, annually enriched with seaweed and manure and continuously cropped.

The croftcrs here also eke out an existence with the old crafts of spinning, weaving, knitting, dyeing wool with herbs, fishing and some boat-building. For the visitor there are wide, clean, little-used beaches facing the Atlantic and lapped by the Warming Gulf Stream. Notable among these are the sands at the Seilebost estuary, together with those near Borve Lodge (Lord Level-hulme’s Harris residence) and especially in the deep estuary below Chaipaval (1,201 ft) on Toe Head, where there are the ruins of an ancient chapel and memorable views.

On the east of south Harris there are interesting unclassified loop roads well worth investigating, and of course this is paradise for the walker and the gentle angler.

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