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Lewis with Harris

(The Long Island)

The 'long island' of Lewis with Harris is the most northerly and the largest of the Outer Hebrides, extending to 859 sq. miles (2225 sq. km). From the Butt of Lewis in the north to Renish Point in the south is a distance of 60 miles (97 km), while the width, from Aird Brenish to Tiumpan Head, is 37 miles (59 km). The island is separated from the mainland, 24 miles (39 km) to the east, by the Minch. Despite being part of the same island, Lewis (which forms the larger part of the island, to the north) and Harris (in the south) are separated by a natural barrier of mountains and moorland which link Loch Resort in the west to Loch Seaforth in the southeast. Indeed, until 1975, it was divided between different counties (Ross & Cromarty and Inverness-shire). This division, together with physical and cultural differences have resulted in the two effectively being regarded as separate islands.

The main settlements are Stornoway, Breasclete, Carloway, Coll, Laxdale, Leurbost, Sandwick, Shawbost and Tolsta (in Lewis) and Tarbert, Leverburgh and Rodel (Harris). Once the domain of the MacLeods, Lewis became the property of the Mackenzies of Kintail (later the Earls of Seaforth) in 1610 after the MacLeods had fallen foul of King James VI. It was purchased by Sir James Matheson (1796 - 1878) in 1844 on the profits of his enterprises in China. The MacLeods retained Harris but, in 1918, the whole island was bought by soap-magnate Lord Leverhulme (1851 - 1925). He gifted a significant portion to the people of Stornoway in 1923 but, on his death, the remainder of the island was split up. The population of the island has fallen from 24107 (1961) to 22222 (1971), 22476 (1981), 21737 (1991) and 19918 (2001), recovering to 21031 in 2011.

Geologically, the island is almost entirely composed of ancient Pre Cambrian Lewisian Gneiss, representing some of the oldest rocks in Britain. The islands were soured by glaciers and, away from the great expanses of heather moorland, which covers much of the centre of Lewis, the soils are often thin. Once heavily forested, the effect of human settlement has removed all of the natural woodland.

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