30 Fascinating Facts from the Scottish Hebrides
Posted on Jan 16, 2013 by Rupert Shanks
We are offering you the chance to show off your knowledge, just like our guides do, with 30 fascinating facts from the Scottish Hebrides. Included are some real gems from the isles, such as Islay and Jura, mixed with history, wildlife facts and local knowledge from Argyll and the Scottish mainland coast. So the next time you are up in the Outer Hebrides, please use our facts to impress and educate your fellow travellers!
30 Fascinating Facts from the Scottish Hebrides
1) Dunaad is the site of the Kings of Dal Riata – regarded as the first Scottish kings. Their Gaelic speaking kingdom originated in Ulster, Northern Ireland. On arrival in what is now Scotland, they encountered and eventually merged with the Picts. Dunaad is famous for its carved ceremonial footprint and Pictish boar carving.
2) Islay is known as the ‘Queen of the Hebrides’.
3) Islay’s population is over 3000, with about a quarter speaking Gaelic. Its main industries are agriculture, whisky production and tourism.
4) In Bowmore is Kilarrow parish church – built in 1767. It is unusual because it is completely round – it is said the reason for this is to prevent the Devil hiding in any corners!
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The Tartan Pimpernel
5) Rev. Donald Caskie was born in Bowmore – he was the ‘Tartan Pimpernel’ who helped over 2000 Allied servicemen to escape from France in World War 2.
6) Finlaggan Castle, near Port Askaig in the north of Islay was the original seat of the Lords of the Isles and Clan Donald. They controlled most of Scotland’s western seaboard for two hundred years. The castle is situated on an island in the loch for protection and was excavated by Time Team in 1995.
7) Now, the ‘Lord of the Isles’ title belongs to the heir of the British throne.
8) Wavegen, an Inverness based company, installed one of the first commercial wave turbines in the world, near Portnahaven on Islay. Called the LIMPET (Land Installed Marine Power Energy Transmitter), it was installed in 2008. The 500KW turbines are powered by air forced up from wave action.
9) Frenchmans’ Rocks (Rubha na Faing) at SW Islay are named after a French squadron of three ships which was driven on to the rocks in 1760 after a battle with three British frigates. The Gaelic name means ‘sheep pen point’.
Islay – Home to 7 Distilleries
10) Islay is 25 miles long, yet supports 7 distilleries! There were once 21. Lagavulin, Laphroaig and Ardbeg in the south are considered the most strong tasting whiskies in Scotland and very peaty. Those in the north: Bunnahabhain, Bowmore, Coal Ila and Bruichladdich tend to be lighter, sometimes due to unpeated malt or water taken from close to the spring.
11) In 1847, the founder of Laphroaig distillery died when he fell into a vat of boiling whisky by-products.
12) The Singing Sands on the Oa Peninsula, Islay: the sand is said to sing when you rub the sole of your shoe across its surface. However, there are a few prerequisites: the grains have to be silica, rounded, between 0.1 and 0.5 mm in diameter and of just the right humidity!
13) Islay was settled early – some of the earliest prehistoric remains in Scotland have been found here, including a flint arrowhead from around 10,800 BC (Skara Brae Neolithic village on Orkney dates from 3000 – 2000 BC). Several more recent crannogs and roundhouses have also been found on Islay, plus an iron age fort nearly 400 sq metres in size, near Bridgend.
Deer to People Ratio
14) On Jura, Red deer outnumber people by 30 to 1!
15) Jura has 6000 – 7000 red deer, controlled by seven estates. The deer are considered to have amongst the purest genetics of all red deer in Scotland, as they cannot hybridise with introduced Sika deer on the mainland.
16) Jura means ‘Deer Island’
17) George Orwell wrote the famous sci-fi novel ‘1984’ on Jura. He also nearly drowned in the Correyvreckan Whirlpool.
18) The uncle of Saint Columba (who brought Christianity to Scotland in 563 AD) is buried on Jura at Inverlussa.
19) Oban means ‘Little Bay’ in Gaelic. In 2011, the town’s firework display was accidentally ignited all at once. It made the headlines when £6000 worth of fireworks, intended to last 20 minutes, went up in 50 seconds.
20) Islay hosts around 37000 Barnacle geese in winter (70% of Greenlands popn), together with 13000 Greenland White fronted geese (40% of Greenlands population). The White fronts get their name from the white ring around their bill. Some are satellite tagged and have ID collars around their necks to find out where they migrate to.
21) People from Jura are known as Diurachs.
The Corryvreckan – The World’s 3rd Largest Whirlpool
22) Depending on wind and tidal conditions, waves in the famous Corryvreckan whirlpool have been seen to reach 15 feet in height!
23) Tarbert is a gaelic term referring to a ‘portage’ – a (usually narrow) land crossing over which a boat could be carried.
24) One of the Sea Eagle’s Gaelic names means ‘the eagle with the sunlit eye’ (Iolaire sulaghreinne).
25) The Gaelic for otter is ‘dobhran’. They will travel big distances to access freshwater and follow rivers – there’s a ‘hill of the otter’ in the middle of the Cairngorms, which is 8km away from the nearest loch, over rough mountains. Another ‘otter hill’ is on the southern end of the Oa peninsula on Islay.
26) Greenland white fronted geese take about 4 days to migrate approx. 3000 miles between SW Scotland and Greenland, via Iceland.
27) The Exmouth Memorial is in memory of the ‘Exmouth Castle’ which was wrecked in 1847, with the loss of 108, mostly women and children Irish immigrants, bound for Canada.
28) There are less than 500 breeding pairs of chough in the UK. Farmers on Anglesey used to believe they started crop fires as they probed the soil for food, with their bright red beak.
29) Hen harriers perform a spectacular ‘sky dance’ during the breeding season. The male drops prey to the female and in mid air, she rolls upside down to catch it.
30) Short eared owls are known as the ‘cattie face’ on Orkney.
31) And one extra one, just for you…Over the last few years, SNH have paid £400 000 annually in compensation to Islay farmers for damage to crops by migrating geese.
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Feel free to use our facts to show off at will!
- Want to learn more about the Outer Hebrides? Take a look at our blog ‘Life on the Islands: Hebridean Wildlife Uncovered‘ for information on the diverse range of wildlife found on the islands.
We offer a range of exciting adventure holidays in the Scottish Hebrides, such as road cycling, sea kayaking and walking in the wilderness. Take a look below to see just some of the exciting trips scheduled to take place in the future.
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