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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

General view of the Hebrides

The Hebrides (pronounced /ˈhɛbrɨˌdiːz/ "HEB-ri-deez", Gaelic: Innse Gall) comprise a widespread and diverse archipelago off the west coast of Scotland. There are two main groups: the Inner and Outer Hebrides. These islands have a long history of occupation dating back to the Mesolithic and the culture of the residents has been affected by the successive influences of Celtic, Norse and English speaking peoples, which is reflected in the names given to the islands.[1]


Geology and geography

The Hebrides have a diverse geology ranging in age from Precambrian strata that are amongst the oldest rocks in Europe to Tertiary igneous intrusions.[2][3][4]

The Hebrides can be divided into two main groups, separated from one another by The Minch to the north and the Sea of the Hebrides to the south. The Inner Hebrides lie closer to mainland Scotland and include Islay, Jura, Skye, Mull, Raasay, Staffa and the Small Isles. There are 36 inhabited islands in this group. The Outer Hebrides are a chain of more than 100 islands and small skerries located about 70 kilometres (43 mi) west of mainland Scotland. There are 15 inhabited islands in this archipelago. The main islands include Barra, Benbecula, Berneray, Harris, Lewis, North Uist, South Uist, and St Kilda.

A complication is that there are various descriptions of the scope of the Hebrides. The Collins Encyclopedia of Scotland describes the Inner Hebrides as lying "east of The Minch", which would include any and all offshore islands. There are various islands that lie in the sea lochs such as Eilean Bàn and Eilean Donan that might not ordinarily be described as "Hebridean" but no formal definitions exist.[5][6]

In the past the Outer Hebrides were often referred to as the Long Isle (Scottish Gaelic: An t-Eilean Fada). Today, they are also known as the Western Isles although this phrase can also be used to refer to the Hebrides in general.[Note 1]

The Hebrides are probably the best-known group of Scottish islands, but other groups include the islands of the Firth of Clyde, Islands of the Forth and the Northern Isles. The islands in the Clyde, especially Arran, are sometimes mistakenly called "Hebrides" too.


The Hebrides contain the largest concentration of Scottish Gaelic speakers in Scotland. This is especially true of the Outer Hebrides, where the majority of people speak the language.[8] The Scottish Gaelic college, Sabhal Mòr Ostaig, is based on Skye and Islay.


The first reference to a name similar to the modern Hebrides is by Ptolemy, who called the islands Αἱβοῦδαι = Haiboudai in Ancient Greek. Later texts in classical Latin, by writers such as Solinus, use the forms Hebudes and Hæbudes.[9]

The old Old Norse name, during the Viking occupation, was Suðreyjar,[10] which means "Southern Isles" (see also Sodor). It was given in contradistinction to Norðreyjar, or the "Northern Isles", i. e. Orkney and Shetland.

Ironically, given the status of the Western Isles as the last Gàidhlig speaking stronghold in Scotland, the Gaelic language name for the islands - Innse Gall - means "isles of the foreigners" which has roots in the time when they were under Norse occupation and colonisation, and in reference to the Norse-Gaels, known in Gaelic as the Gall-Ghaidhil (meaning Foreign Gaels).



The Hebrides were settled during the Mesolithic era around 6500 BC, after the climatic conditions improved enough to sustain human settlement.[11] There are many examples of structures from the Neolithic period, the finest example being the standing stones at Callanish, dating to the 3rd millennium BC.[12] Cladh Hallan, a Bronze Age settlement on South Uist is the only site in the UK where prehistoric mummies have been found.[13][14]

Celtic era

The earliest written mention of the Outer Hebrides was by Pomponius Mela, a Roman-Spanish geographer of the first century, who refers to a group of seven islands which he gave the name Haemodae. Pliny the Elder's Naturalis Historia of AD77 gives the name as Hebudes.[15] Other ancient writers such as the Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy mention the Hebrides, attesting to some contact of the peoples there to the Roman world. In 55 BC the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus wrote that there was an island called Hyperborea (which means "far to the north") where a round temple stood from which the moon appeared only a little distance above the earth every 19 years. This may have been a reference to the stone circle at Callanish.[16] A traveller called Demetrius of Tarsus related to Plutarch the tale of an expedition to the west coast of Scotland in or shortly before AD 83. He stated that it was a gloomy journey amongst uninhabited islands, but that he had visited one which was the retreat of holy men. He mentioned neither the druids nor the name of the island.[17]

Little is known of the history of the peoples of the Hebrides before the 6th century. The first detailed records of the islands comes with the arrival of St. Columba on Iona in the 6th century AD. It was this Irish-Scottish saint who first brought Christianity to the islands in the 6th century, founding several churches.

Norwegian control

The Kingdom of Mann and the Isles about the year 1100.

The Hebrides began to come under Norse control and settlement already before the 9th century. Norwegian rule of the Hebrides was formalised in 1098 when Edgar of Scotland recognised the claim of Magnus III of Norway. The Scottish acceptance of Magnus as King of the Isles came after the Norwegian king had conquered the Orkney Islands, the Hebrides and the Isle of Man in a swift campaign earlier the same year, directed against the local Norse leaders of the various islands. By capturing the islands Magnus imposed a more direct royal control over land seized by his kinsmen centuries earlier.

The Norwegian control of both the Inner and Outer Hebrides would see almost constant warfare until the partitioning of the Western Isles in 1156. The Outer Hebrides remained under the Kingdom of Mann and the Isles while the Inner Hebrides broke out under Somerled, the Norse-Gael kinsman of both Lulach and the Manx royal house.

After his victory of 1156 Somerled went on to seize control over the Isle of Man itself two years later and become the last King of Mann and the Isles to rule over all the islands the kingdom had once included. After Somerled's death in 1164 the rulers of Mann were no longer in control of the Inner Hebrides.

Scottish control

In 1262 there was a Scottish raid on Skye and this caused Haakon IV, King of Norway, to set sail for Scotland to settle the issue. Late in 1263 Haakon headed for Scotland with a large invasion force consisting of 200 ships and 15,000 men. The storms around the coast of Scotland took their toll on the Norwegian fleet, which at one point meant dragging forty ships overland to Loch Lomond. In the end a minor skirmish took place at the Battle of Largs where the Norwegians and their Manx allies under Magnus III of the Isle of Man failed to achieve anything more than a minor tactical victory against the Scots led by Alexander III, King of Scots. After the battle the bad weather forced the Norwegian-Manx fleet to sail back to Orkney. After arriving in Kirkwall, Haakon decided to winter in Bishop's Palace before resuming his campaign the following summer. This failed to occur as the king was struck by illness and died in his palace in December of the same year. The death of Haakon left the crown to his son Magnus the Lawmaker, who considered peace with the Scots more important than holding on to the Norwegian possessions off western Scotland and in the Irish Sea. The Treaty of Perth of 1266 left the Hebrides and the Isle of Man to Scotland for 4000 marks and an annual payment of 100 marks. The treaty also confirmed Norwegian sovereignty over Shetland and Orkney. Still, Scottish rule over the Isle of Man was confirmed finally only after the Manx and their last Norse king, Godred VI Magnuson were decisively defeated by the Scots in the 1275 Battle of Ronaldsway.

The arts

Entrance to Fingal's Cave, Staffa

The Hebrides, also known as Fingal's Cave, is a famous overture written by Felix Mendelssohn while residing on these islands, while Granville Bantock wrote the Hebridean Symphony. Contemporary musicians associated with the islands include Ian Anderson, Donovan and Runrig. The poet Sorley MacLean was born on Raasay, the setting for his best known poem, Hallaig.[18] Iain Crichton Smith was brought up on Lewis and Derick Thomson was born there. The Hebrides are the setting of The Solitary Reaper, by William Wordsworth.

The novelist Compton Mackenzie lived on Barra and George Orwell wrote 1984 whilst living on Jura. J.M. Barrie's Marie Rose contains references to Harris inspired by a holiday visit to Amhuinnsuidhe Castle and he wrote a screenplay for the 1924 film adaptation of Peter Pan whilst on Eilean Shona.[19][20]

The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow mentioned the Hebrides in his poem Seaweed.

Enya's song "Ebudæ" from Shepherd Moons is named for the Inner Hebrides (Ebudae in Latin).

Virginia Woolf's novel To the Lighthouse is the story of a family's vacation house in the Hebrides (specifically, the Isle of Skye, part of the Inner Hebrides).

See also

References and footnotes

General references
  1. ^ Murray (1973) notes that "Western Isles" has tended to mean "Outer Hebrides" since the creation of the Na h-Eileanan an Iar or Western Isles parliamentary constituency in 1918. Murray also notes that "Gneiss Islands" – a reference to the underlying geology – is another name used to refer to the Outer Hebrides but that its use is "confined to books".[7]
  1. ^ Haswell-Smith, Hamish. (2004) The Scottish Islands. Edinburgh. Canongate. ISBN 1-84195-454-3
  2. ^ Rollinson, Hugh (September 1997) " Britain's oldest rocks" Geology Today. 13 no.5 pp. 185-190.
  3. ^ Gillen, Con (2003) Geology and landscapes of Scotland. Harpenden. Terra Publishing. Pages 44 and 142.
  4. ^ Rollinson (1997) states that the oldest rocks in Europe have been found "near Gruinard Bay" on the Scottish mainland. Gillen (2003) p. 44 indicates the oldest rocks in Europe are found "in the Northwest Highlands and Outer Hebrides". McKirdy, Alan Gordon, John & Crofts, Roger (2007) Land of Mountain and Flood: The Geology and Landforms of Scotland. Edinburgh. Birlinn. p. 93 state of the Lewisian gneiss bedrock of much of the Outer Hebrides that "these rocks are amongst the oldest to be found anywhere on the planet". Other non-geological sources sometimes claim the rocks of Lewis and Harris are "the oldest in Britain", meaning that they are the oldest deposits of large bedrock. As Rollinson makes clear they are not the location of the oldest small outcrop.
  5. ^ Keay & Keay (1994) p. 507.
  6. ^ Encylopedia Britannica (1978) states: Hebrides - group of islands of the west coast of Scotland extending in an arc between 55.35 and 58.30 N and 5.26 and 8.40 W.” This includes Gigha, St Kilda and everything up to Cape Wrath – although not North Rona.
  7. ^ Murray (1973) p. 32.
  8. ^ Mac an Tàilleir, Iain (2004) 1901-2001 Gaelic in the Census (PowerPoint ) Linguae Celticae. Retrieved 1 June 2008.
  9. ^ Louis DEROY & Marianne MULON, 1992, Dictionnaire de noms de lieux, Paris: Le Robert, article "Hébrides"
  10. ^ Anderson, Joseph (Ed.) (1893) Orkneyinga Saga. Translated by Jón A. Hjaltalin & Gilbert Goudie. Edinburgh. James Thin and Mercat Press (1990 reprint). ISBN 0-901824-25-9
  11. ^ Occupation at a site on Rùm is dated to 8590+/-95 uncorrected radiocarbon years BP. Edwards, Kevin J., and Mithen, Steven (Feb., 1995) "The Colonization of the Hebridean Islands of Western Scotland: Evidence from the Palynological and Archaeological Records," World Archaeology. 26. No. 3. p. 348. Retrieved 20 April 2008.
  12. ^ Li, Martin (2005) Adventure Guide to Scotland. Hunter Publishing. p. 509.
  13. ^ "Mummification in Bronze Age Britain" BBC History. Retrieved 11 February 2008.
  14. ^ "The Prehistoric Village at Cladh Hallan". University of Sheffield. Retrieved 21 February 2008.
  15. ^ [1] Scottish Gazetteer from the University of Edinburgh's Department of Geography.
  16. ^ See for example Haycock, David Boyd. "Much Greater, Than Commonly Imagined." The Newton Project. Retrieved 14 March 2008.
  17. ^ Moffat, Alistair (2005) Before Scotland: The Story of Scotland Before History. London. Thames & Hudson. pp. 239-40.
  18. ^ Text of the poem in Gaelic, with Sorley Maclean's own translation into English Retrieved 2 June 2007.
  19. ^ "Famous Visitors to the Islands - Luchd-tadhail Ainmeil" Culture Hebrides. Retrieved 26 July 2008.
  20. ^ Birkin, Andrew, The Lost Boys. Yale University Press.

External links

Coordinates: 57°00′N 7°00′W / 57°N 7°W / 57; -7

Travel guide

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikitravel

A fishing boat passes between Berneray and Pabbay in the Outer Hebrides.
A fishing boat passes between Berneray and Pabbay in the Outer Hebrides.

The Hebrides are the most beautiful part of the British Isles. The landscape is rocky and mountainous, but also lush and verdant - due in no small part to the large amounts of rain which tend to fall. However, this should not put off the potential visitor, and many would say that the Hebrides are just not the same without at least some drizzle - just bring some rainclothes! When the sun does shine however, the resulting vistas are almost always stunning.

The Outer Hebrides have some of the most spectacular beaches, not just in Europe but in the world. Much of the west side of the 130 mile long string of islands is one virtual long deserted and clean beach. Incredible beaches can be found on Barra, South Uist, North Uist, Berneray, Harris and Lewis.

Many of the other Hebridean islands, such as Coll, Tiree, Islay and Mull also have quite breathtaking beaches. Due to the beaches, tides and weather, the Hebrides are rapidly becoming a major fixture on the sea sports map, especially for surfing.

Map of the Hebrides
Map of the Hebrides
Inner Hebrides (Skye, Mull, Lismore, Islay, Jura, Coll, Tiree, Colonsay, Small Isles)
Outer Hebrides (Lewis, Harris, North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, Barra, Saint Kilda)

Get in

The Hebrides covers a very large area. Examination of timetables is often prudent. However, it is possible to travel around the Outer Hebrides without your own transport. The nearest large city on the mainland is Glasgow, some way to the South East.

Most of the islands are reachable by ferries or other boats. Most of these ferries are operated by Caledonian MacBrayne [1], otherwise known as CalMac, who have a full set of timetables and additional information on their website. Ferries are relatively cheap for foot passengers, though very expensive for cars and other vehicles.

The port of Oban on the mainland is a main transport hub, with ferry connections to Barra, South Uist, Mull, Coll, Tiree, Colonsay and other islands. Further north, the port of Mallaig has ferry services to the Small Isles - Canna, Rum, Eigg and Muck, as well as Skye. It is also possible to drive onto Skye using the bridge at the Kyle of Lochalsh.

The port of Uig on Skye has short ferry connections to the Outer Hebrides islands of North Uist and Harris. Ullapool, in the far northwest of Scotland, has a ferry connection to Stornoway on the island of Lewis (note: this does not currently operate on a Sunday).

In the Outer Hebrides, there are airport in Stornoway in Lewis, Benbecula and Barra. These airports provide direct flights to Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Inverness. The airport in Barra is one of the most spectacular in the world, with planes landing on a three-mile beach at low tide. These flights however are often delayed due to weather problems, and are often very turbulent, and therefore are not for nervous flyers, due to small planes being used. The safety record, thankfully, is almost immaculate.

Many signs are bilingual, being in both English and Gaelic. Most people speak Gaelic, but English is spoken to a lesser extent. The Locals would appreciate you learning a few Gaelic phrases, as a sign of politeness - Goiresan (Toilet) may come in useful!

Get around

The road networks are small but tolerable and link all major settlements on larger islands. Many of the most beautiful roads are single track with passing places. Hitchhiking is usually a good option and is safer than on the mainland.

The best way to enjoy these islands is almost certainly on foot - the hiking opportunities are excellent, and the most beautiful and tranquil spots are often (unsurprisingly) located far from roads. The Isle of Skye is home to the Cuillin, the famous glacially cut mountain range. The lower reaches provide excellent walking terrain, while assailing the peaks is harder and depending on the mountain in question fit for very keen walkers up to skilled mountaineers with full climbing equipment.


The Northern Lights are frequently visible from the Hebridean islands. Due to the low population, there is an absence of light pollution to affect this, and other nighttime views.


Accommodation is often most rewarding if you stay somewhat off the beaten track - most villages will have chalets or bed and breakfasts. These will probably be cheaper than those in the more tourist-oriented areas. Due to the steep cost of advertising, most accommodation is not listed in official tourist brochures or through the monolithic VisitScotland service. Instead, ask locally, search on the web, or look at more locally focused community websites.

A light covering of snow on a Berneray road.
A light covering of snow on a Berneray road.

The wetness also encourages midges, though these often last for just a few weeks of summer. Insect repellent or headnets (available widely) are useful, though if not walking on grassland or when dry underfoot this will be much less of a problem. Many people are unaffected by these wee beasties.

In winter, the high latitude at the north of Scotland means it is often cold, even in Spring and Autumn. Snow may be expected to last late and start falling early, on the high ground - say, November to March. Some might say don't bother visiting in winter as it's too cold. Those same people will never witness Scotland at its most beautiful, where the sun striking the snow-covered peaks is truly a sight to behold.

Stay safe

People are very friendly in this part of Britain, and crime is to all intents and purposes non-existent in many rural parts. Many of the Hebridean islands are remote and sparsely populated, however, and the weather can change very rapidly; it is therefore important to be well prepared before venturing onto the hills or moors.

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Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary



Proper noun




  1. Collective name for the islands off the west coast of Scotland, divided into the Inner Hebrides and the Outer Hebrides.


See also

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