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The Isle of Harris and Tweed

Jul 16, 2008
Scotland is only a small country in the United Kingdom of Great Britain. For much of it's history the nation and it's people have been incredibly poor but from this impoverished society some of the most influential people came forth to make their mark upon our world. There are few countries in the world that have not been directly influenced by the hands of the Scottish but few consider this when asked to think of Scotland and most of us would rather bring to mind the likes of Tartan and Harris Tweed.

Strangely much of what we consider to be traditionally Scottish, such as Harris Tweed and tartan is something of a Victorian invention created by the likes of Sir Walter Scott. Scott wrote incredible novels which romanticized Scotland and went to great lengths to introduce the British Royal Family to the country they ruled. Queen Victoria fell in love with Scotland and spent much of her life at Balmoral. Throughout her rule new tartan patterns were developed and much of the traditional Scotland we know today grew from this time.

Sir Walter Scott stimulated the Royal Family's interest in Scotland who, in turn caused the English upper classes to become interested. During the reign of Queen Victoria Scotland became more accessible through the building of railway lines and it was not long before the upper classes of England began to visit. Indulging in the pursuits of hunting and fishing these early tourists did much to start the Scottish tourist industry.

To this day the railways have not reached the Isle of Harris in the Outer Hebrides and few in the Victorian era visited this remote island. However, in 1844, the Earl of Dunmore asked the weavers of the island to create a cloth for him. His wife encouraged the weavers to create other patterns and did much to promote the product. Due to the incredible properties of the cloth, Harris Tweed, it was the perfect material for the sporting clothes of the new visitors and very quickly it became the choice cloth of the upper classes.

Harris Tweed is still produced today and the methods used have changed little. It can only be made in the Outer Hebrides and this fact helped to protect the trade from competition. Creation of the cloth is labor intensive as it is hand made. Using local wool and local natural colorings the material was tough but, eventually, materials produced abroad became popular and it's production decreased.

It is still incredibly common to see somebody sporting a Harris Tweed Jacket and the material remains popular. Today it is increasingly common to see the cloth used in any number of diverse products ranging from handbags to running shoes from manufacturers such as Nike.

While depopulation continues to be a problem in the Hebrides much has been done to stimulate industry. Today one of the most important industries is the tourist trade which continues to grow year by year and is now a major element in the local economy. Crofting and the weaving of Harris Tweed continue to have a role but, unfortunately, the tweed industry suffered a major set back with the closure of the main mill. While the future of the industry is uncertain it is likely that there will be an enormous effort to regenerate it.

There is plenty to attract the visitor to the Isle of Harris, the rich Gaelic culture, the incredible number of archaeological sites, the unique flora and fauna and, last but not least, some of the most astounding landscapes to be seen in Scotland and the United Kingdom. Getting there is now easier than ever and while there are airports most travel by road across to the Isle of Skye and then by ferry to the village of Tarbert or Lochmaddy in Uist.
About the Author
Why not visit the island and stay in a Isle of Harris Hotel or in Harris bed and breakfast?
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