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The Isle of Lewis

The Isle of Lewis is one of the islands of the Outer Hebrides, also known as the Western Isles; other islands in this group include Harris, Barra, North and South Uist and St Kilda. I reached Lewis by boat from Ullapool on Scotland’s north-west coast, but you can also fly to Stornaway, the main town on the island. The church is a key part of life in Lewis and it is only in the last few years that ferries and flights have operated there on Sundays.

Lewis is a land of beauty and barrenness, of long sandy beaches and peat covered hills. Modern buildings sit next to old, ruined stone houses. Sheep populate much of the landscape. Time walks at its own pace – our bus waited some time for the bus coming the other way, so they would not come head to head on a single track road.

Lews Castle in Stornaway, has beautiful grounds which are well worth a visit (the castle itself is not accessible to the public but you can enter the grounds for free). The castle was built in the nineteenth century and given to the people of Stornaway in the 1920s by Lord Leverhulme.

The Callanish stones on Lewis are said to be up to 4,000 years old. They comprise a stone circle with “arms” of stones in three directions and an avenue of stones in the fourth. The stones are accessible to the public, and people travel vast distances to see them. When I arrived a young man was kneeling in the tomb at the centre of the stone circle, seeming deep in meditation whilst playing his guitar, oblivious to others who wandered there. I met a Canadian couple who said they wanted to see the stones before they were fenced off from the public as Stonehenge has been. Stonehenge had a rare opening recently for Dr Who to film the finale of Matt Smith’s first series, but visitors are still not able to touch the stones.

Lewis also houses a ruined broch, a circular drystone tower, narrowing as it goes up, with inner and outer walls protecting staircases and walkways. Brochs are common in the north of Scotland, particularly the islands. In seeing a broch I realised a childhood dream born when I read the childrens book The Stronghold by Mollie Hunter. This fictional building of the first broch in the Orkney Islands suggests they were built for military defence.

You may have heard of the Lewis chessmen, an almost complete set of chess figures found on the Isle of Lewis in the nineteenth century. They are yet another testament to the ancient origins of this island which holds the old ways and respects its rich heritage.

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