The Hebrides are an archipelago of islands off the North West Coast of Scotland, in the United Kingdom. They are one of the last areas where the Gaelic language is spoken. They are generally subdivided into the Inner Hebrides (parts of which are included in Argyll and Bute & Highland Council Areas) and Outer Hebrides (also known as the Western Isles or Comhairle nan Eilean Siar). The two parts are separated from each other and the Scottish mainland by the Minch and the Sea of the Hebrides.
The major islands of the Inner Hebrides are Skye, Rhum, Coll, Tiree, Mull, Iona, Colonsay, Islay and Jura, as well as a large number of smaller islands.
Centres of population are at Portree (Skye), Tobermory (Mull) and Bowmore (Islay). The islands are served by CalMac ferry services, and most also have small airports. Whisky distilling is an important local industry, especially on Islay and Skye.
The largest of the Inner Hebrides (and the Western Isles) is Skye, sometimes referred to in Gaelic poetry and song as Eilean a' Cheò (The Misty Isle). It is renowned for its natural beauty, history and wildlife. The spectacular and rugged Cuillin Hills of Skye are the highest British mountains not on the mainland. In common with many of the Western Isles, Skye is a very traditional and deeply religious community.
The main islands of the Outer Hebrides (Gaelic: Na h-Eileanan Siar, "Western Isles") are Lewis and Harris (two parts of a single island), North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, and Barra. The archipelago of St Kilda and occasionally even the distant islet of Rockall are also sometimes included amongst the group. The two Uists and Benbecula are connected by bridges and causeways and are collectively known as 'the long island'. The administrative centre of the Western Isles is Stornoway. The islands, formerly divided between Invernessshire and Ross & Cromarty, became a region of Scotland in 1975 and a county in 1996.
The islands are a stronghold of Gaelic language and culture, the last part of Scotland in which Scottish Gaelic is still widely spoken, and are among the most strongly religious areas in the United Kingdom. In Lewis, Harris and North Uist Protestantism is the predominant faith; in the other islands, Roman Catholicism.
The largest town is Stornoway on Lewis.
Benbecula (Gaelic: Beinn na Faoghla)lies between the islands of North and South Uist and is connected to both of them by causeway; the three conjoined islands are colloquially known as 'the Long Island'. Benbecula has a small airport-cum-RAF base; as well as providing domestic air services this services the missile tracking base on Hirta, largest island in the St Kilda Group in the North Atlantic.
The sole town on North Uist (Uibhist A Tuath) is Lochmaddy (Loch Na Madadh), from where ferries run to Uig on the Isle of Skye. The Sound of Pabbay and Sound of Harris separate it from Harris to the north. The topography of North Uist is largely flat and boggy, with numerous small lakes; the hills North and South Lee, rising sharply from this terrain, help to make an arresting landscape.
South Uist (Gaelic: Uibhist a Deas) lies towards the southern end of the archipelago, between Barra and Benbecula. Its population is mainly Roman Catholic (the island was one of the very few areas in Great Britain where the Reformation never gained a foothold) and Gaelic-speaking. The main settlement is Lochboisdale (Loch Baghasdail) at the southern end of the island, which has a ferry terminal with services to Barra and to Oban on the Scottish mainland.
Lewis and Harris, the largest island in the Outer Hebrides, is a single island which has been divided into two parts of land by Loch Seaforth and the hills of Harris. It is linked by ferry to the island of North Uist and to Uig on the Isle of Skye. It has given its name to the rugged woven woolen cloth known as 'Harris Tweed', the term tweed being a corruption of tweel (twill) and nothing to do with the River Tweed in south-eastern Scotland. The land is flat and relatively fertile, much being divided into crofts (smallholdings). The main town, Stornoway (Steornabhagh), is also the administrative center of the Western Isles. The megalithic standing stones at Callanish on Lewis are one of Scotland's major cultural monuments.