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The local area guide to living in Western Isles

The Western Isles is an island chain in the Atlantic Ocean, off the western coast of Scotland. Otherwise known as the Outer Hebrides, there are 15 inhabited islands, and approximately 50 uninhabited islands in the small cluster surrounding the Scottish mainland.

Despite being part of a single formation, the terrain on the various islands can differ greatly, along with the climate on the different islands. Generally speaking, the Outer Hebrides has a marine west-coast climate which is mild, with no dry season, and experiences heavy rainfall in the winter months.

The economy of the Western Isles nowadays relies mainly on tourism, weaving, fishing and crofting. This, however, is often dependent on good weather, as the islands can get cut off in bad weather, given they are primarily accessed by ferries and planes from mainland Scotland.

Information about the local residents

In the 19th century, the population of the Western Isles decreased dramatically, owing to highland clearances, in which many were forcibly displaced from their homes to make way for sheep. However, the population has steadily increased and now sits at around 30,000 residents across the 15 inhabited islands. The largest settlements are on islands such as Lewis and Harris, and residents are generally older than the UK average.

Owing to the isolation of the islands, the community is very tightly knit. The spoken language is Gaelic across the islands; which is a beautiful testament to their history, however the vast majority of the Islanders are fluent in, or at least understand some English.

Nearby schools

Naturally, given the small and somewhat isolated location of the islands, there are only a handful of schools to choose from, with an estimated 38 primary and secondary schools available across all 15 islands. Schools can mainly be found on the primary islands of Lewis, Harris and Barra, upon which can be found a selection of primary and secondary schools. Secondary schools on offer include The Nicolson Institute in Stornoway and Back Junior Secondary School in Lewis. Additionally, Lews Castle College - one of 13 campuses offered by The University of the Highlands and Islands - can be found in Stornoway, and offers a range of undergraduate courses to prospective students.

Getting around

The most picturesque, and potentially most enjoyable, way of travelling to and from the Western Isles is to catch a ferry. These travel between Lewis and the west coast of Scotland, with the average journey taking just over 2 hours.

A quicker, but arguably less scenic, route to take is to fly. Flights can be caught from Edinburgh or Glasgow, and take approximately 1 hour to reach their destination.

For those on the islands, a car is the easiest and most sensible route for transport. Ferries offer a service to transport cars across islands; however, for those who do not own their own transport, there is a designated bus operating which serves all inhabited islands.

Local shops

The main 'to-do' on the Western Isles is simply to sight-see. The islands themselves have retained a natural beauty, with their preserved state making them quite unlike any other place found in the UK. Visitors are welcomed to partake in a little fishing, or even surfing on the designated beaches. There are also some historical highlights that are worth visiting, for instance the Ormacleit Castle, which holds the title as one of the shortest surviving castles after being burned down a mere seven years post completion.

Shopping wise, the main bulk of shops and amenities can be found on Stornoway; whether it's a convenience store, bank or a restaurant you're looking for, Stornaway has it on hand.

Whilst every effort has been taken to ensure the above information is up to date, some inaccuracies may occur. If you notice any inaccuracies please contact

All information was correct at time of publication and is provided in good faith.