The landscape of the Islands is rugged and very varied. It includes high cliffs, caves, sandy beaches, rolling moorland, heath and peat bogs. Strong winter winds result in there being very few trees. The varied terrain is home to thousands of seabirds – whimbrel, skuas, puffins, gannets etc. Seals, otters and whales frequent the waters immediately around the Islands.
The severity of the winter winds is reflected in the structure and location of the homes of the people. The small croft or farmstead, often painted white, is a small single storey cottage, usually built from stone and located in the shelter of a hillside, as in the picture below. Small pockets of population are scattered throughout the Islands in places least exposed to the elements.
The prosperity of the Islands diminished considerably over the centuries and in the years after World War II was at a very low ebb, but the establishment of the Highlands and Islands Development Board in 1965 and the presence of North Sea oil nearby has led to a period of growth and prosperity.
Even so, the strong community spirit and the importance attached to cultural skills and traditions is still evident in the many festivals and group activities.