Wednesday, 23 July 2008


The Shiants were clearly visible past Kebock Head as we drove over the Braigh on a few days during my holiday on Lewis.

Photo from The Heb

Known as the Enchanted Isles, the Shiants are five tideswept miles off the coast of Lewis – a miniature St Kilda, beckoning but tantalisingly out of reach. To get there you have to cross the Stream of the Blue Men – a crash of cross currents – and even then landing is often impossible. Now, a 35 year old Harris man, Seamus Morrison, has established trips to the Shiants whose towering basalt cliffs are topped by Jurassic mudstone which forms high fertile meadows. These high meadows are used for summer grazing for sheep from Lewis.

Garbh Eilean from Eilean Mhuire by James Smith

The Shiants consist of three islands joined by rocky bars, one separate island and a few offshore rocks and stacks to the West. They were formed by the slow cooling, deep underground, of volcanic intrusions through the Gneiss and Granite and the dolerite cliffs are over 100 metres tall with pillars over 2 metres wide in places. These pillars dwarf those of the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland and on Staffa.

A summer colony of nearly a quarter of a million Puffins are among the seabirds to be found there. The islands also have Black Rats from a shipwreck many years ago, making them one of the few places in the UK where the Black Rat is still found.

Archaeological evidence suggests they were inhabited as long ago as 1200BC. There are also early Christian remains. A gold torc was dredged up by Scalpay scallop fishermen a few miles SW of the islands.

The human population in recent time reached a peak of 20 in the 1700s but by 1821 there were only 6 people. In 1901 when the island was finally abandoned the eight inhabitants went to Harris and included a 21 year old girl who had never previously left the Shiants. From 1925 to 1934 they were owned by author Compton MacKenzie. Then they were bought by the Nicolson family and Adam Nicolson, the current owner, wrote a book on his brief stay in the bothy there – “Sea Room”.

There is a fine website about the Shiants.

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