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Background Information

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Coordinates: 58.209°N 6.387°W / 58.209; -6.387

Scottish Gaelic: Steòrnabhagh
Stornoway Harbour.jpg
Stornoway is located in Outer Hebrides

 Stornoway shown within the Outer Hebrides
Population 9,000 
Language English
Scottish Gaelic
OS grid reference NB426340
Council area Na h-Eileanan Siar
Lieutenancy area Western Isles
Country Scotland
Sovereign state United Kingdom
Postcode district HS1
Dialling code 01851
Police Scottish
Fire Scottish
Ambulance Scottish
EU Parliament Scotland
UK Parliament Na h-Eileanan an Iar
Scottish Parliament Na h-Eileanan an Iar
List of places

Stornoway ( / ˈ s t ɔr n ə w /; Scottish Gaelic: Steòrnabhagh) is a town on the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland.

The town's population is around 9,000, making it the largest town in the Western Isles (with a third of the population) and the third largest town in the Scottish Highlands after Inverness and Fort William. The civil parish of Stornoway, including various nearby villages, has a population of approximately 12,000. Stornoway is an important port and the major town and administrative centre of the Outer Hebrides. It is home to Comhairle nan Eilean Siar (the Western Isles Council) and a variety of educational, sporting and media establishments. Observance of the Christian Sabbath (Sunday), had long been a unique aspect of the islands culture. Recent changes mean that Sunday is now less different to the other Western Isles or the mainland of Scotland.


The town's true beginnings are now lost in the mists of time. The island sea roads were well travelled by the islanders seafaring ancestors as evidenced by their megalithic building traditions, commensurate with the oldest of those circles found in Britain and Europe. This taken together with archaeological pottery finds on the island which date back 5000 years similar to the products of other widely travelled pottery traders, is evidence of interchange of ideas that involve sea travel and trade on a wide scale. The town, and what eventually became its present day version, grew up around a sheltered natural harbour well placed at a central point on the island, for the convenience of people from all over the island, to arrive at the port of Stornoway, either by family boat or horse drawn coach for ongoing travel and trade with the mainland of Scotland and to all points south. At some point in the mid 1500s, the already ancient MacLeod castle in Stornoway 'fell victim to the cannons of the Duke of Argyle'. By the early 1600s rumbling trade wars came to a head and all further governmental attempts to curtail traditional shipping rights were firmly resisted by the islanders as was an attempt by the King of Scotland James VI to place in the island the Scottish trading company known as the Fife Adventurers, around 1597.

In the mid 17th century, the ownership of Stornoway and by extension, Lewis - passed from the MacKenzies of Seaforth, to Sir James Matheson (and his descendants) who built the present Stornoway castle on a hill overlooking the bay of Stornoway. Matheson sold the island to William Lever, 1st Viscount Leverhulme. Lord Leverhulme held the island for a short time. His economic plans for the island (and with diverse business setbacks looming) over-stretched his finances and faced with failure in Lewis, he gifted Stornoway parish to the people of the town. The Stornoway Trust was formed and continues to administer the parish for the people.

Harbour and maritime industry

Panorama of Stornoway Harbour area from Arnish Point

Today the harbour hosts a fishing fleet (and associated shoreside services) somewhat reduced from its heyday, a small marina and moorings for pleasure craft, a small shipyard and slipway, three larger piers for commercial traffic and Stornoway Lifeboat Station, run by the RNLI and home to a Severn class lifeboat, Tom Sanderson. Her Majesty's Coastguard operates a Maritime Rescue Sub Centre from a building near the harbour.

A lighthouse, seaweed processing plant and a renewable energy manufacturing yard are situated on Arnish Point at the mouth of the harbour and visually dominate the approaches. Arnish Point is also earmarked by AMEC as the landfall for its proposed private sub-sea cable which would export the electricity generated from the Lewis Windpower wind farm with a planning application for 181 turbines submitted to the Scottish Executive. In 2008 the Scottish Government rejected the plans - the company responsible is currently planning their next move.

The Arnish area was also surveyed by SSE for a second sub-sea cable but lost out in favour of Gravir to the south as the preferred site.

The manufacturing yard was originally established in the 1970s as a fabrication plant for the oil industry but suffered regular boom and bust cycles. The downturn in business from the North Sea oil industry in recent years led to a move away from serving this market. The yard is now earmarked as a key business in the development of the whole Arnish Point industrial estate and has received large amounts of funding in recent years.

In 2007 the Arnish yard was taken over by its third tenant in as many years. Cambrian Engineering fell into liquidation as did Aberdeen-owned Camcal Ltd with relatively large scale redundancies. Both firms were affected by the absence of a regular stream of orders and left a chain of large debts impacting upon local suppliers. Altissimo Ltd is a new firm backed by a group of Swiss and Dutch investors, and has purchased the Camcal name from the previous operator. In December 2007, the yard won a contract to construct 49 towers for wind turbines in Turkey. This will ensure employment for around 70 employees for over six months.

On 1 January 1919, the Iolaire sank at the entrance of the harbour, one of the worst maritime disasters in Scottish or UK waters, with a death toll of 200 men.


Stornoway, like much of the British Isles, has an Oceanic climate, with relatively little variation of temperature and damp conditions throughout the year.

Climate data for Stornoway 15m asl, 1971–2000, extremes 1901–
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °C (°F) 14.4
Average high °C (°F) 7.0
Average low °C (°F) 2.0
Record low °C (°F) −12.2
Rainfall mm (inches) 141.1
Mean monthly sunshine hours 31.9 62.7 98.9 141.6 196.5 162.3 129.6 132.1 109.5 82.5 43.2 26.0 1,216.8
Source #1:
Source #2:


MV Isle of Lewis
Stornoway Airport

A Caledonian MacBrayne operated ferry ( MV Isle of Lewis) sails from the harbour to Ullapool on the Scottish mainland, taking 2 hours 45 minutes. There are an average of two return crossings a day, with an increase and reduction in frequency in summer and winter months respectively. As ferry traffic has increased, a second ship (MV Muirneag) now provides a single early morning sailing to carry most of the island's freight lorries.

Suggestions for the possibility of an undersea tunnel linking Lewis and Harris to the Scottish mainland were raised in early 2007. One of the possible routes, between Stornoway and Ullapool, would be over 40 miles long and hence become the longest road tunnel in the world.

Stornoway is also the public transport hub of Lewis, and bus services provides links to Point, Ness, Back and Tolsta, Uig, the West Side, Lochs and Tarbert, Harris. These services are provided by the Comhairle and several private operators as well as some community-run organisations.

Stornoway Airport is located next to the village of Melbost, two miles away from the town itself. From here services operate to Aberdeen, Benbecula, Edinburgh, Inverness and Glasgow, with flights from Flybe franchisee Loganair, Eastern Airways and Highland Airways. The airport is also the base of an HM Coastguard Search & Rescue Sikorsky S-92 helicopter, and was previously home to RAF Stornoway.

In 1898, the Hebridean Light Railway Company was proposed, with a terminus at Stornoway, but the line was never constructed.


Boats in Stornoway harbour

Stornoway is home to a small campus of the University of Stirling, teaching nursing, which is based in Ospadal nan Eilean (Western Isles Hospital).

There is also a further education college, Lews Castle College, which is part of the University of the Highlands and Islands.

Primary education in Stornoway is in Stornoway Primary School, situated on Jamieson Drive with around 300 pupils. The head teacher is Annette Murray.

The Nicolson Institute is the only secondary school in Lewis providing a six year course, with a roll of approximately 1,100 pupils.


Football is the most popular amateur sport and Goathill Park in the town hosts special matches involving select teams and visiting clubs and other organisations. Two local teams currently participate in the Lewis and Harris Football League, Stornoway Athletic (Aths) and Stornoway United. Until the early 1990s there was also Stornoway Rovers. Shinty is not as popular as in the rest of the West of Scotland, but the Lewis Camanachd team is based around the town. Rugby Union is also popular with Stornoway RFC competing regularly in national leagues and cups.

The town also has a very popular gymnastics group which competes annually in sports festivals.

The Lews Castle Grounds is the home of Stornoway Golf Club (the only 18-hole golf course in the Outer Hebrides).

Very near to the Nicolson Institute is the Lewis Sports Centre (Ionad Spors Leòdhas), which has a Sports Hall, Fitness Suite, Climbing Wall, Swimming Pool and various other facilities. It also boasts a running track and an Astro Turf Football pitch.

There is also the Stornoway Karate Club, a member of the International Japan Karate Association. The club has run for over thirty years, under the teaching of Sadashige Kato.

Other clubs include: Stornoway United FC and Stornoway Athletic FC. There is also other sports clubs. Stornoway United FC normally win the Manor Dairy Football Competition.

Food and drink

Stornoway black pudding is a gourmet black pudding.

Stornoway Kippers and Stornoway smoked salmon are produced in town. They have one of the last working brick kilns in the UK, at the establishment of Stornoway Fish Smokers, Shell Street.

The Hebridean Brewing Company produces cask ale and filtered beer in bottles.


Lews Castle in Stornoway

Notable buildings in Stornoway include:

  • Stornoway Town Hall;
  • The Lewis War Memorial;
  • The neo-gothic Lews Castle.

It is also home to a new arts centre, an Lanntair, containing an art gallery, auditorium for film showings, music and other performances, a restaurant and bar.

Other attractions include a museum and the Lewis Loom Centre.


Stornoway has several churches of various Christian denominations, and is a stronghold of the Free Church of Scotland. The Sabbath is still widely observed in Stornoway; it is home to a number of members of the Lord's Day Observance Society, which lobbies for no work on the Christian Sabbath (Sundays), based on its interpretation of the fourth (by the Hebrew reckoning) of the Ten Commandments. Sunday newspapers are not available and almost all shops and local amenities are closed on Sundays.


Until July 2009, there were no Sunday ferry services to or from Stornoway. It was announced on 14 July 2009 that Caledonian MacBrayne would begin to operate Sunday sailings from Sunday 19 July 2009. Before this, they would operate additional sailings on Sundays if several previous sailings have been cancelled, to allow the backlog of traffic to clear. Caledonian MacBrayne have said that they took legal advice that not implementing Sunday sailings would be against human rights legislation.

There are Sunday flights leaving from Stornoway airport with two return flights to Inverness and one to Glasgow.

Notable people

Born in Stornoway

  • Linda Norgrove, aid worker from the Western Isles
  • Astrid (band), band from the Western Isles
  • Kevin MacNeil, novelist, poet and playwright
  • Sheilagh M. Kesting, first woman minister to be nominated to be Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland.
  • Cathy MacDonald, TV presenter
  • Donny Macleod, former TV presenter on Pebble Mill
  • Calum Kennedy, singer and entertainer
  • Calum MacDonald, politician
  • Alexander MacKenzie, explorer, after whom the Mackenzie River in Canada is named
  • Colin Mackenzie, 1st Surveyor-General of India
  • Anne MacKenzie, BBC current affairs presenter and radio presenter
  • Ken MacLeod, science fiction writer
  • Hans Matheson, actor, plays the title role in Granada's £8.5m serialisation of Boris Pasternak's novel, Doctor Zhivago
  • Alexander Munro, Olympic tug-of-war medalist and wrestler
  • Donald Stewart, politician
  • Alasdair Smith, Professor of Economics at the University of Sussex

Links to Stornoway

  • Iain Crichton Smith, writer - grew up in Lewis. Educated at the Nicolson Institute.
  • The 4AD Records folk-rock band Stornoway - took their name from the town, after seeing it on the BBC weather report.
  • Stuart Braithwaite, lead guitarist of Glasgow based band Mogwai - mother was born in Stornoway
  • Angus MacAskill, the strongest man to have ever lived - born in Berneray and briefly lived in Stornoway before emigrating to Canada
  • Arthur Pink, Christian evangelist and Biblical scholar
  • Misbah Rana, also known as Molly Campbell, schoolgirl who recently was the focus of an international custody dispute between Scotland and Pakistan
  • Donald Trump, American billionaire - mother came from Tong, a village four miles from Stornoway
  • Derick Thomson, Scottish Gaelic poet, born elsewhere in Lewis, but educated in Stornoway
  • Alistair Darling, former Chancellor of the Exchequer - Mother was born and brought up in Stornoway. Darling is also a former pupil of the Nicolson Institute.

Areas of the town

  • Stornoway Town centre
  • Goathill
  • Manor Park
  • Plasterfield
  • Stornoway Castle Grounds
  • The Cearns
  • Marybank
  • Laxdale
  • Sandwick
  • Stornoway Airport
  • Newvalley
  • Steinish
  • Newmarket
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