The typical vacation of spending hours on end sunbathing on the beach is quickly becoming far less popular than it once was. As more and more of us become aware of the dangers of over exposure to the sun more of us either take extra precautions such as using high factor sunscreen while others choose to spend their vacation exploring other cultures and interesting ways of life. While the United Kingdom may not strike you as being a drastically different culture to that of the United States of America the differences are often startling, none more so than the Hebridean culture of the Isle of Lewis and other islands of the Outer Hebrides.
One of the very first things that strikes you about the Isle of Lewis is the strict adherence to the rules of the “Wee Frees” which results in most places being closed on Sundays (the Sabbath). Confusingly the term “Wee Frees” is used in reference to the members of two rather different churches (more obvious if you understand the theology), the Free Church of Scotland and the Free Presbyterian Church of Scotland. Both churches follow the creed of Sabbatarianism.
Although there has been much anglicanisation of the islands over the last few decades the Western Isles Council (Comhairle nan Eilean Siar) have played a major role in the promotion of the, native, Gaelic language and preservation of the Hebridean way of life. While the observance of the Sabbath may not be as strong as it once was it is important that visitors to the Isle of Lewis, Isle of Harris, North Uist and some of the other, smaller, northern islands of the Outer Hebrides/Western Isles, understand this aspect of the island’s culture. [The Sabbath observance is less of an issue in the southern islands as they are predominantly Roman Catholic].
Many folk find the observance of the Sabbath something of a restriction as most places, including children’s playgrounds. are closed. No public bus services, and only very limited flights and ferry services, means that movement to and from, and throughout, the islands is severely restricted. However it is generally accepted that the majority of islanders are in support of this policy. As a visitor you really need to be careful not to offend and that you respect the views of the local folk.
Personally I have always liked the Sundays in the Outer Hebrides, even when I lived on a tiny island, whose ferry service did not run on the Sunday, I loved the uniqueness of the day. Admittedly the observance is most strict on the Isle of Harris and North Uist but there are some areas on the Isle of Lewis that maintain strict observance. As the years go by the town of Stornoway loses much of it’s Sunday character with more and more places now opening but visitors still need to be aware.
One of the most important things to remember is that you may need to stock up on supplies, it can be extremely annoying if you run out of essentials such as milk or bread. A word of advice, get to the shops early on Saturday if you need shopping as most shops are extremely low on stock by the end of the day as fresh supplies come in on the Monday, even the large supermarkets on the Isle of Lewis can run out of many items of food.