Rare moths, ancient remains…all part of the Uig story


By Eric John MacDonald 

Mary Sherwood Campbell - author of the sadly forgotten classic ‘Flora of Uig’ - made her first visit to the Hebrides in the summer of 1939.

She wrote later:“ I had been told that the finest scenery in the Outer Hebrides was in Western Lewis.  Even so, I was surprised by its wild magnificence.  Rocky hills giving an illusion of much greater height than their actual maximum of 1855 feet; coastal cliffs more rugged and precipitous than those of Cornwall or Land’s End; sandy bays fringing a sea of Mediterranean colour flanked by dunes and flower carpeted machair.  Beyond them, tiny villages, some with cottages of the old thatched type interspersed with strips of cultivation and ample peat stacks.  And all around one sees evidence of ancient settlements and long vanished cultures.”

If you stand in the middle of Uig Sands - the Traigh Mhòr - today the scene she so vividly described 70 years ago is barely changed.  The thatched houses are gone but the hills, the flower carpeted machair and the rugged cliffs remain.  Within 15 minutes you can visit an Iron Age fort (Dun Borranish), a couple of Bronze Age cairns, the site of a probable Neolithic chambered tomb and the ruins of an early Christian chapel.  On one side of the bay is the spot where the Viking Age chess pieces were found; on the other the 18th century manse Baile na Cille and its ancient cemetery.  Nearby is all that remains of the old village of Erista, cleared of its inhabitants in the 1840’s.

Read more: Rare moths, ancient remains…all part of the Uig story

How a sack of woollen socks started local business story 

Hebridean Crofter Weavers, now known as D MacGillivray & Co Ltd, or simply “MacGillivrays” came into being as a home-based business at Muir of Aird, Benbecula, in 1941. 

At the time founder Donald MacGillivray regularly visited most of the shops in the Outer Hebrides as a commercial traveller (sales rep).  

In 1941 he arrived home from his rounds with a large canvas sack of hand knitted Harris wool socks. His wife Effie asked what he planned to do with them, “sell them, of course” was the reply.  

A small wooden hut was duly erected against the south end of Donald and Effie’s home and from this point a new company was born, which to this day has grown and diversified to meet the regularly changing market trends. 

Read more: How a sack of woollen socks started local business story 

Glen House…restored

By Eilidh Whiteford

Believed to be one of the older buildings surviving in Stornoway, Glen House has, at long last, been saved from ruin, repaired and refurbished.

A solid two-storey, stone built structure, Glen House has stood within the boundaries of Lews Castle Grounds, on Willowglen Road, for around 160 years.

The origins of Glen House are unclear – although local planners suggest there has been a house on the site since as far back as 1785, there is no indication of a structure on a 1821 Stornoway Town Plan, nor any mention of the house in the first census of 1841.  However, the Admiralty Chart of Stornoway Harbour for 1846 does indicate a small buildings at the site of Glen House, marked 'school'.

The first Ordnance Survey map of Stornoway was completed in 1849, with the first edition of the map showing a large building at the Glen House site.  This was marked as 'Mill Glen' when recorded in the 1951 census records a few years later.

In 1857, however, speculation ends, as the property became home to Henry Caunter, a man of science and close friend of landlord Sir James Matheson – and some of the most interesting times of Glen House began!

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Bundles of books from islands…wrapped with baler twine!


By Eilidh Whiteford

There are 101 uses for baler twine – and wrapping up a bale of hay is number 101!

A 'must have' for country dwellers, and a 'recipe book of possibilities' for the first time user, the small, quirky, delightful and chuckle-inducing book by Frank Rennie helps illustrate the diversity and scope of island-based publishers Acair Books, which this year celebrates its 40th anniversary.

Lost the drawstring from your hoodie-top – no problem, use some baler twine.  Hinges broken on the gate and need a quick fix – baler twine; need to tie your long hair back but have no bobble – baler twine; lost your spectacles chain – baler twine; starter chord on the lawn mower broken – baler twine...

There really are 101, and it appears many more beside, uses for baler twine, as Frank Rennie says in his introduction: “This book began as a joke, well, a wind-up really.  I started to tease my daughters every time I saw a piece of baler-twine being utilised around the croft.  'Look! See how useful it is? That's another use for baler-twine!'.”

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The Maciver and Morrison era at Cunard Line

First Cunard sailing advertised
on 2 July 1840

By Fred Silver

The role of two Lewis families in the setting up and operation of the internationally renowned Cunard Line in the 19th Century was very great.

The Macivers and the Morisons, linked by marriage and seafaring traditions that extended from Stornoway to Liverpool and beyond to North America and Jamaica, had, through their shipping and merchanting companies, a major role in how Cunard – officially called the British & North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Company – developed.

Charles Maciver, married to Mary Ann Morison, became the manager of the company, as it became the leading mail and passenger line on the North Atlantic. For more than 30 years, he was consulted regularly by government officials and was a principal witness at several major Parliamentary Inquiries. By the 1860s, he was Cunard’s largest shareholder.

Two generations of ship-owning Macivers moved south from Stornoway during the 18th Century. Two Macivers, believed to have been first cousins, were trading in kelp from Lewis to Liverpool in that era. John Maciver married in 1752, and he had sons William, Peter and Iver, and records survive, for example, of a shipment of kelp sent from Lewis to Messrs Iver and Peter Maciver, of Liverpool in 1798. John’s father, also called Iver, is said to have moved to Dunoon at the start of the 18th Century.

Read more: The Maciver and Morrison era at Cunard Line