778: Bernera, Lewis

From “Placenames of Lewis and Harris” by D Maciver F.E.I.S.

Berneray : ey, island; bjarnar, gen. of bjorn, a bear, a common Icelandic personal name. The Gaelic for bear is mathon, sound is maon, but Anglecised Matheson. This is one of the very few personal names that crop up in Lewis toponomy.

The Island of Great Bernera is reached by a road bridge, opened in 1953. It is called Great to differentiate it from Little Bernera, the smaller island to the North. It lies within Loch Roag, a large sea loch which is more sheltered from the worst of weather and offers safer anchorages for boats. Bernera is roughly 5 miles long and 3 miles wide. The land is divided into croft land, in-bye and common grazing. The crofts vary in size from 5-49 acres. The island and its outlying islands comprise the Bernera Estate.

The District of Bernera includes the villages on the south side of the bridge, Earshader, Crulivig, Lundale and Linshader. This area is known as Tir Mor (mainland) and is part of the Grimersta Estate, which is owned by a fishing syndicate. At one time the Grimersta river was the finest for salmon fishing in Scotland, and employed many local people as ghillies.

There are five townships within the island of Bernera itself: Hacklete, Breaclete, Kirkibost, Tobson and Croir. The population is now about 300, but at the time of the 1899 Census it was over 600. There have been periods of extensive emigration, some enforced by the landowners, and some by economic necessity. Breaclete is the ‘capital’ of Bernera and is where the two churches, manses, post office, school, shop and Community Centre are located.

Bostadh Beach is one of the most beautiful beaches in Lewis and is also where an Iron Age village was excavated in 1996. Bostadh was inhabited from time immemorial until 1878 when the peat – a basic necessity for life – was exhausted. Other historical sites are a restored Norse Mill, a Cairn commemorating the Bernera Riot, Lobster Ponds, Standing Stones, ruined Duns. The best preserved of these is Dun Bharabhat.

Bernera is unusual in Lewis in having many stone boundary walls or dykes. These were often built by local people on the order of the Ground Officer and usually to his advantage rather than to the ordinary people, and their payment would often be in kind, perhaps a bag of oatmeal.

Although Bernera has been connected to the mainland of Lewis by a road bridge since 1953, it still retains the character of a small island. It contains examples of all the attractions of its larger neighbour, standing stones, duns, the Norse mill, beaches, hills and moorland, but on a more accessible scale and the hills are only a gentle climb.


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Also Known As:
Great Bernera; Bernera Island
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