Tolsta Chaolais (pronounced ‘Tall-stah-HOOL-ish’) is a crofting village on the Isle of Lewis, Scotland. It consists of about fifty houses, clustered around Loch à Bhaile, about a mile from the A858 road, between Callanish and Carloway.
The name has a Norse element, Tolsta, combined with a Gaelic element, Caolas, and means “Farm by the Strait“.
Recognised as one of the prettiest villages on the island, Tolsta Chaolais is nestled between a sea loch, Loch Roag, and a freshwater loch, Loch A Bhaile.
This traditional crofting village, where croft animals and livestock roam freely, provides an ideal base for immersing in island life and touring Lewis and Harris.
Tolsta Chaolais is within the Carloway district, and within Comann Eachdraidh Chàrlabhaigh’s area. The village is off the main road about two miles to the south of Doune Carloway and is one of the most picturesque in the Western Isles.
There are 29 crofts in the village (we are croft 16) but most of them are sub-divided. There are 53 houses of which 13 are unoccupied. The population is around 85.
An interesting feature of the village is its War Memorial. It was erected in memory of the eighteen men and women who were killed in action or died as a result of the Great War. The six names of those who died in the Second World War have since been added. The memorial, unveiled in August 1921, is one of two outwith Stornoway that were erected shortly after the Great War. There are many war memorials throughout the islands now, but Tolsta Chaolais is the only village memorial as distinct from district memorial.
The village also has a very old building which is now used mainly as a venue for funeral services, but which was originally a Gaelic School. The school was open until 1882, at which time the children began to attend Doune Carloway School. In 1907, the building was given to Tolsta Chaolais as a place of worship for all denominations.
Tolsta Chaolais also has its own cemetery, although most of the burials are now to the district cemetery at Dalmore. The cemetery was opened in Jan 1908 with the first two burials being on the same day – Angus Morrison 1b Tolsta Chaolais (Aonghas Thormoid Aonghais) and John Macleod 19 Tolsta Chaolais (Iain Iain Nèill). Both men had been drowned in Loch Hamnaway when the coble of their fishing boat the “Boys Delight” capsized. The body of the third crew member, Kenneth MacAulay 7a Tolsta Chaolais (Coinneach Iain Bhig) was never recovered.
Like most other crofting villages, Tolsta Chaolais has seen a decline in its traditional way of life and employment, but the setting of the village makes it attractive to house buyers, and it has been able to sustain its population (and crofting activity) more successfully than many of the other townships in the area.