Visitors to the Western and Northern isles notice the differences: the Hebrides’ vibrant Celtic culture, Orkney’s productive farming, Shetland’s lavish infrastructure. Britain’s Atlantic islands used to share much more in common, with similar folk practices that continued for centuries.

This exhibition examines three customs that some folk today might think weren’t “politically correct” – hunting seabirds and eggs, killing whales, harvesting peat. How did islanders use these resources? Why did they abandon traditions, and what’s to stop their return?


People in the island groups hunted whales whenever the chance came; these were at Weisdale.

“Last year there came in great store of young whales in to one of their lochs which the inhabitants enclosed with boats, and killed more than one hundred of them.”

John Dymes,Hebrides, 1630,
WhalingView Exhibition


Hunting auks in Westray, using the same technique seen in all the Atlantic islands.

“The common people are dexterous in climbing the rocks in quest of eggs and fowl; but this exercise is attended with great danger, and sometimes proves fatal.”

Martin Martin,Shetland, c.1695,
FowlingView Exhibition

Peat Cutting

The only one of the three island traditions still thriving is peat-cutting, as in here at South Uist.

“Peats are the ordinary fuel they use, which they have very good and in great plenty, except in some places, as in Sanday; they are obliged to bring peats from adjacent isles.”

John Brand,Orkney, 1700,
Peat CuttingView Exhibition