Wednesday, May 11, 2005


Actually, the isle of Lewis is kinda dull. Stornoway, the 'capital', is ugly and quite scruffy. The main landscape feature is endless peatbog, surrounded by marsh, leading into morasses, sloughs and quagmires. Then there are the fens. However, there is one interesting thing about wild, remote, quaggy old Lewis. The whole place is as religious as, er, hell, and shuts down on Sunday. Totally. But they call Sunday 'the Sabbath', in a rather weird, Wicker Man type way (as you can see). Given that I was in Lewis for the Sabbath, and naturally there wasn't anything else to do, I went to church in a little village. The service was packed with bonnet wearing women, and it was in Gaelic. Spooky. There's something eerie and romantic about hearing this ancient Celtic tongue in a cold little church hard by the slate-blue waters of the Hebridean sea. And what about the singing!? In the Outer Hebrides they still sing a very ancient kind of unaccompanied plainchant - first the minister starts warbling, then the congregation joins in, ululating and carolling, nasally. It's bizarre and affecting and poignant. And oddly African. You know people travel the world to see wierd exotic authentic stuff, and yet, here, right here in Britain, is one of the wierdest most authentic pieces of exotica I have EVER encountered. And I've been around a bit. Apart from the Gaelic ululations, however, Lewis ain't got much going for it... I don't think.... er... Posted by Hello

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Cheeky sod! ;-)

As a born and bred Lewisman, I somewhat resent your description of Lewis as mainly a place of quagmire and bogs. It will soon, if our crazy local council have their way, be the site of the largest onshore windfarm in the world. So it will probably be even uglier for you then, unless you're one of those deluded nutters who actually believe wind turbines reduce 'global warming'. Personally I think it's rather beautiful as a wilderness.

Stornoway IS a bit of a dump. Scrappily designed - inasmuch as there is any design to it - bad architecture, a mishmash of styles cobbled together over the decades to create the mess we have now. Things could be better. However, in its defence, I would say that despite Lewis's fire and brimstone approach to religion, there is plenty of toffeewombling going on. And I'm not talking about computers.

The next time you head for the Hebrides, visit mountainous North Harris (30 miles south of Stornoway) on a lightly breezy summer's day. Very different. Sublime, in fact.

Anonymous said...

Ah, I've just seen your Harris post. Harris is indeed beautiful, but will also be under threat from commercial wind turbines in the near future.

Anonymous said...

I suppose your perception of Lewis matches mine of London. Quagmire, dull, bizarre and full of religious nutters!!