There are more than 790 offshore islands in Scotland, many of which fall under the three significant archipelagos: the Hebrides, Orkney, and the Shetlands. At least 200 of these islands are more than 40 hectares in area, and 89 of the islands are inhabited, with a total population of about 103,000 people. The largest of Scotland’s offshore islands is Lewis and Harris found in the Hebrides archipelago.
The Hebrides is a group of islands found in Scotland mainland’s west coast. There are about 200 islands in the Hebrides which cumulatively cover an area of 2,800 square miles and a population of about 45,000 people. Human settlement on the islands of the Hebrides goes back to the Mesolithic era. Tourism, fishing, and livestock agriculture are some of the leading economic activities practiced in the Hebrides. The Hebrides are further subdivided into two groups; the Inner and the Outer Hebrides. The waters of Sea of the Hebrides and the Minch act as a boundary separating the two.
The Outer Hebrides
Situated west of Scotland’s mainland is an archipelago known as the Outer Hebrides. There are about 100 islands, which covers a total area of 1,181 square miles. Cumulatively, the 15 inhabited islands that make up the Outer Hebrides have a total population of about 27,000 people. The island of Lewis is the most populated of the Outer Hebrides islands, with a population of over 18,000 people. There are also about 50 uninhabited islands in the Outer Hebrides, many of which are small in size.
The Inner Hebrides
The Inner Hebrides is an island chain situated off the west coast of Scotland’s mainland, near the Outer Hebrides. A total of 79 islands make up the island chain, which covers a combined area of 1,594 square miles. Of the 79 islands in the Inner Hebrides, 44 of them are uninhabited while the remaining 35 are inhabited. The island of Skye is the largest in the Inner Hebrides regarding population and surface area, covering an area of 639 square miles and with a population of about 10,000 people. Other large islands in the Inner Hebrides are the Jura, Rum, and Islay islands.
The Shetlands is a group of islands in Scotland situated 110 miles northwest of the mainland. There are about 100 islands that make up the Shetlands. In total, the islands cover an area of 566 square miles and are home to an estimated 23,200 people. The largest of the islands is the Mainland Island that covers an area of 373 square miles, making it Scotland’s third largest island. Other large islands in the chain are Whalsay, Unst, Bressay, Muckle Roe, and Yell. There are 15 islands in the Shetlands that are inhabited. The islands have been inhabited since the Mesolithic era.
Another archipelago in Scotland is the Orkney archipelago. There are about 70 islands that make up the Orkney archipelago, 50 of which are not inhabited. The archipelago covers an area 380 square miles and has a total population of about 21,300 people. The Mainland Island is the largest in the archipelago, which covers an area of 202 square miles. The other islands are grouped into two; the North and South Isles.