Generally Speaking

The Outer Hebrides – 2 – The Isle of Barra

After a full cooked breakfast at the hotel I went out to put the car on a charger. The Chargeplace Scotland app showed two in Castlebay, one, just across the road outside the Council Offices, looked pretty tatty and although it recognised my card the instructions just took me round and round in circles. I may have been doing something wrong but a member of staff arriving for work said that people did seem to have trouble with it, so I went down to the more modern-looking one at the ferry terminal and that started charging fine. It said it would take 50 minutes to full, so I left it going and walked up the hill to pick up Lesley from the hotel.

She had selected the Vatersay Beaches Circuit for us from the superb website – this is the actual walk but you may have to create an account, which is free, to go that deep in the site.

Vatersay is a causeway-linked island at the Southern extremity of Barra only a few miles from Castlebay. It is the starting point for the Hebridean Way footpath which extends the length of the entire Island chain, 156 miles, 10 islands, 6 causeways, and the two ferry crossings we are doing – the only point of similarity between our journeys!

Getting there gave us our first experience of the wonderful, winding and undulating, largely single-track roads with which we were to become so familiar (I’m writing this a week behind – from Harris as it happens, think tweed). With passing places at frequent intervals drivers tended to be courteous and cooperative in giving way as appropriate, with the discreet gestures of appreciation threatening an overuse syndrome in the waver’s wrist. A refinement was to give way promptly to a local vehicles coming up behind, sometimes earning a horn-toot acknowledgement. And, of course, these roads are stunningly beautiful.

Approaching the causeway to Vatersay

Contrary to advance-reports of endless horizontal rain (which we were determined to enjoy anyway) the day became beautifully sunny, so we parked at the Community Centre as instructed, donned our boots and set forth along the beach. It was a long time since we had done anything like this and we were unsure how well we would stand up to it, but in the end we had a brilliant walk, seeing Lapwings (Peewits), lots of gulls and lots of sheep, and returning after a couple of hours to the cafe for ice-creams.

Pics will enlarge if you tap them

After the walk we drove right round the island back to Castlebay, which took about an hour. Then we rested, had another meal at the hotel, and settled down for the night. Not tough at all.

Wednesday 10th

The pattern for our trip was to have two nights in each of five places, all the way up to the top of Lewis. So the second day in Barra was the one in which we were to move on – but we had until 4pm when the ferry left for South Uist from the top of the island.

So we had another walk, this time on the South West coast of Barra, out to the remains of a two thousand year old iron-age fort, Dún Bán. We were feeling desperately intrepid, stepping across the sodden, resilient machair peatland with its outcrops of ancient gneiss – the oldest rock in Europe – especially as there had been a short rain squall soon after we set off. But we felt secure in our waterproofs, hats, and the boots which were proving to be both waterproof and completely secure against the slightest slipping.

But as we gazed down on the waves and the grassy fort, with its rings of long-ruined walls, thinking ourselves entirely alone in the landscape, we suddenly noticed we had been joined by a party of young people, some of whom were in shorts and T-shirts, and all of whom were carrying full packs. It turned out they were final year St Andrews students who were celebrating their graduation by camping up the Hebridean Way. Respect! Extremely nice young people.

Coming down we agreed that it was the best coastal walk we could remember.

Back in the car we went up to the top of the island, had a look at the vast flat beach used as the Barra Airport, put the car in the ferry queue and walked a little way along looking, unsuccessfully, for otters. But sitting peacefully on a rock we saw a lot of seals (lying peacefully on rocks).


The relatively short ferry journey across the Sound of Barra takes you to the tiny island of Eriskay – site of the wrecking of The Parliamentarian, loaded with Scotch and immortalised in the film Whiskey Galore, and more evocatively, home of the Eriskay Love Lilt, of which Sir Hugh Roberton said, in this recording by his Glasgow Orpheous Choir made at least two generations ago, “There is no lovelier tune anywhere”:

And from Eriskay a causeway takes you to the island of South Uist, our next stopping point.


2 thoughts on “The Outer Hebrides – 2 – The Isle of Barra”

  1. We are not going to disagree with that, Cath! Just wait till you see the journey north (I must f make the effort to do it) it is incredible, and we are blessed with such amazing weather.


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