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Tweed and the Isle of Harris

Jul 17, 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.

While virtually all of the Victorian tourists wore Harris Tweed few visited the island which produced it. The Isle of Harris is a remote island in the Outer Hebrides and it was there, in 1844 that, under instruction of the Earl of Dunmore, the local weavers first produced the incredibly hard wearing material. Such were the qualities of the cloth, and the promotional work of Lady Dunmore, that it quickly became the height of fashion.

Hand made from local wool and colored using unique natural dyes there were few other materials that could compete. However it was not to last as cheaper materials became available from abroad. At an early stage the weavers of Harris ensured that only cloth produced in the Outer Hebrides could bear the name "Harris Tweed" and this has meant that the material is still produced today.

In many ways Harris Tweed has remained a popular material with many and the typical Harris Tweed jacket still sells extremely well. In recent years use of the material has diversified greatly and has been used in high fashion on a number of occasions. It is now possible to find a wide selection of product made from it and companies, such as Nike, have recognized it's qualities and used it in their products.

The Isle of Harris has, for many years now, seen an incredible increase in the number of visitors which continues to grow each year. In fact tourism now accounts for a major part of the Hebrides economy and it vital to the future of these unique islands. However the Harris Tweed industry has, very recently, hit something of a crisis point as the main mill has closed. Though the local Council and other bodies will be working hard to find a solution the future of this important industry is in a state of flux.

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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