Five hours sail from Oban on the West coast of Scotland lies the compact island of Barra near the south of the chain of islands known as the Outer Hebrides. The sea, the sand and the people make Barra what it is, special, and Dunard Hostel completes the holiday.
As you sail into Castlebay Kisimul Castle, the seat of the ancient Scottish Clan Macneil stands in the bay as a lasting symbol of times long past. The big Calmac ferry manoeuvres round it to dock and depart. The ship dwarfs this solid stone monument which now hosts weddings and visitors who reach it by small boat, sea conditions permitting.
My party of eleven enjoyed relaxing days shared between Barra and Vatersay, an island to the South joined by a causeway.
Vatersay has three big beaches. One faces the Atlantic ocean and has big rollers crashing in from the West. Another faces East and looks out to the Sound of Vatersay and the Sea of the Hebrides. The third we have yet to explore. Maybe the next time.
One special thing about Barra is its airport. Small, Twin Otter, passenger planes land and take off on a cockleshell beach splashing through a few inches of sea as they do so. The landing is dramatic enough to attract an audience of visitors and tourists who gather well in advance of the scheduled landing to enjoy the spectacle. The three runways are under the sea at high tide. The beach looks so amazing it is worth going to see. Cockle pickers and other beach users know to keep away from the landing area when the wind socks are flying.
One gem in Barra must not be missed. The Cafe Kisimul is a small restaurant overlooking Kisimul Castle which makes delicious curries and Italian dishes. A curry at the Kisimul is a must and comes highly recommended by all who have indulged. Do book in advance and avoid disappointment.
Local heroes are the Vatersay Boys, a band much in demand in the Islands and the West of Scotland. Every December they fill Barrowland in Glasgow when folk from islands and highlands use the occasion to meet and have a good time. The band has it’s own sound, songs and unique style and plays in the bar at the Castlebay Hotel at the weekends when not on another engagement. If space allows you could enjoy a quick fling on the floor or even a Strip the Willow. You can be sure of a lively birl with your partner as things become a wee bit blurred as the night wears on! Or you could just spectate and enjoy the music and the dancing.
You can be sure of a friendly welcome in Barra where Whisky Galore was filmed and many of the local folk rose to the occasion and acted their hearts out drinking Scotland’s favourite drink … no it wasn’t Barr’s Irn Bru. Of course it was usquabae, the Water of Life. Raise your glass to Barra. For many it is paradise found.
Copyright 14 06 15 Brian Sutherland