Lewis and Harris together form one island, the largest and most northerly of the Hebridean group. Harris lies to the south of Loch Seaforth on the east, and of Loch Resort on the west, and forms part of the County of Inverness. It does not come within the scope of our Remit, and is accordingly not considered in this Report. The land to the north of these lochs forms the part called Lewis, is in the County of Ross and Cromarty, and is usually dealt with as a separate island. This treatment has prevailed for centuries, as we find from Blaeu’s Atlas, published at Amsterdam in 1607. That work contains a map of Lewis and Harris, the title to which is as follows :—
“ Leogvs et Haraia, insulee ex Æbudarum numero quæ, quamquam isthmo cohæreant, pro diversis habentur.”
“ Lewis and Harray of the numbre of the Westerne Yles, which two, although they ioyne be a necke of land ar accounted dyvers ylands.”
The island, as a whole, may be taken as lying from 25 to 30 miles from the west coast of the mainland of Ross and Sutherland. The Butt, the most northerly part of Lewis, is about 45 miles from Cape Wrath, but it is only a few miles south of the latitude of that promontory.
Lewis may be described as pear-shaped. It is about 25 miles broad from sea to sea at the south end, and tapers to a narrow point at the Butt. The distance from there to the south end is about 40 miles as the crow flies. There are patches of links or sandy land at various places, but the island, as a whole may be described as a vast peat moss, studded over with small freshwater lochs. Compared with the neighbouring Island of Harris, Lewis has few high hills. These are in the Parish of Uig on the south-west, the highest being Mealasbhal, which rises to a height of 1,885 feet above sea level. Other hills in the same quarter vary from 1,400 to 1,688 feet in height. The remainder of the island may be described as undulating, but without high hills, the highest being Beinn-Bharbhais in the Parish of Barvas, rising to 874 feet. Monach or Muirneag, and Beinn-Bhragar, both in Barvas, rise to 807 and 857 feet respectively.
All the hills are covered with heather, while the lower grounds consist of broken hags with heath and moss plants, and large tracts of flow ground. These features have earned for Lewis the name of “Eilean an Fhraoich”—Isle of the Heather——a name under which its praises have been sung in Gaelic verse.
The island is divided into four parishes—Barvas, Lochs, Stornoway, and Uig.
According to the latest survey the area of these parishes is as follows :—
Barvas, — 97,543 acres
Lochs, —114,601 acres
Stornoway, —63,160 acres
Uig, — 129,109 acres
In all —404,413 acres
The Estate Management has returned the gross area at 404,180 acres, as will be seen later on.
The island has thus an area of about the same extent as Banffshire, and is much larger than many of the other Scottish counties. Indeed there are 20 with a lesser and only 13 with a larger area than Lewis.