The comments below are from a regular visitor to the island, and he tries to describe Lewis from a visitor’s perspective.
‘Sundays are a very special day on both The Isle of Lewis and Harris, in that, virtually all commercial activity ceases and a large proportion of the population attends church. This makes the character of the islands very ‘different’ from the hustle and bustle of most mainland areas on a Sunday, when a trip to the hypermarket or garden centre is becoming the norm. The quiet and calm of Lewis and Harris on a Sunday is something worth observing, or even taking part in.
Churches Lewis and Harris are well known for their religious observance. There is a quality to the peace and quiet on a Sunday and the Visitor shouldn’t feel inhibited from going round the Island and experiencing that for themselves. The Free Church of Scotland is the predominant church with the Church of Scotland and the Free Presbyterian Church being the other main churches. On Sundays there will usually be a Gaelic service in the morning and an English service in the evening. Gaelic psalm singing is unique and is something to be experienced. It is unaccompanied with a Precentor “giving out the line”. Currently there is a great deal of interest from the American Deep South, especially Alabama, as they see a connection between their mode of church praise and Gaelic Psalm singing. Visitors to the Island are most welcome to attend any of the services and although one might be aware of a certain dress code, casual clothes will not be a bar to anyone attending a service. Most morning services are at 11.00am or 12 noon with the evening service at 6.00 or 7.00pm. One should check the individual church noticeboard for times of Services. ( by Neil Macarthur)
The visitor can find the restrictions on Sunday hard to adjust to, particularly if not a church goer. There’s no reason for Sundays to have an adverse effect on your holiday if you plan ahead by following some of the points below:
At the time of writing, the only place to buy fuel on a Sunday is at Engebret’s Garage in Stornoway. (Close to the Council buildings and on the road leading to the airport).
A limited ferry service now operates on a Sunday between North Uist and Harris (Air services also operate)
As of 20th July 2009, There is a Sunday Ferry service between Ullapool and Stornoway.
Some Bed and Breakfasts do not take visitors on a Sunday and so care must be taken to ask the right questions when booking
Most toilets in public parks are closed, or, in some cases the parks themselves. (toilet in centre of Stornoway open)
Sports activities, museums and swimming pools are closed
Don’t jump off the island on the Saturday ferry, just look for the alternatives that are available . Beaches, some wildlife excursions, walks, and of course the wildlife itself doesn’t stop for Sunday. Some of the larger pubs and hotels in Stornoway are now open, as is the Doune Braes Hotel in the West near to the Callanish Stones. The stones are open, although the visitor centre is closed. A little planning is required, so look at things objectively. Perhaps visit Callanish Stones on Sunday morning, Doune Braes for lunch and a beach in the afternoon.
Use this Sunday feature of the Lewis lifestyle to enhance your ability to see life differently, and to enjoy old recreations.
The future of Lewis and its position on Sundays is unclear. A few years ago, a case with the Western Isles Licensing Board resulted in several Hotels on the island now having more flexible licenses. Tourism is a strong ‘economic driver’ and Sundays may well change over the next few years. Some argue that this would help the economy of the island. On the other hand, I would hate to see people forced into work against their religious beliefs and this quiet aspect of Lewis culture disappear.