Nis, or Ness, is the most northerly parish in Lewis. It has the highest proportion of Gaelic speakers in Scotland, over 90%. It was settled by the Norse and its story since then has been closely tied to seafaring and to the sea.
Port Nis, or Port of Ness, is where the A857 up the north west side of Lewis ends. Here you find an intriguing little harbour, the entrance to which is through the gap between a cliff face and a large rocky islet. One end of the harbour merges into an extremely attractive east-facing beach.
Also in Port Nis is the Harbour View Gallery, where you will find some of locally-based artist Anthony J Barber's works on view. These evoke the spirit and the scenery of the Western Isles (and beyond) in a remarkably alluring way.
Settlement in Nis is very dispersed, and you can think of Port Nis as being at the end of a single linear settlement that extends for over three miles back down the main road to Swainbost, Cros and beyond. It also extends south of the main road and, to the north, to Europie or Eoropaidh. Here you find the beautifully restored St Moluag's Church, on a site believed to have been consecrated since the arrival of St Moluag in the 560s.
North from Europie a minor road runs the mile to the Butt of Lewis lighthouse. This 121 foot tower was designed by David Stevenson and first lit in 1862. The tower is made of exposed brick, a surface that gives it an oddly unfinished air, but one which has served it well for over 140 years.
Cros, or Cross, is perhaps the most distinctive of the settlements on the main road south of Port Nis. Here you find an inn constructed in an attractive style that looks slightly out of place in North Lewis, plus one of the brightest and most cheerful looking post offices you'll find anywhere. On the east coast south of Port Nis is the smaller and less well known harbour at Port Sgiosgarstaig.
Perhaps because of their Norse origins, residents of Nis have long had a reputation for being fearless seamen, and more recently for being widely travelled. Many worked on hydro schemes in the Highlands in the 1950s and 1960s, while others took up work at the Loch Kishorn oil fabrication yard that for a time brought employment to Applecross. More recently men from here have departed for several weeks at a time to the Sullom Voe Oil Terminal in Shetland.
And each Autumn men from Nis still make their traditional journey to the small island of Sula Sgeir, 40 miles north of the Butt of Lewis. There they capture young gannets to help supplement the larder during the following winter.
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