westerly inhabited island in Great Britain, population about 1300, highest point
Ben Heaval - 1260 ft, only airport in GB at Traigh Mhor ( Cockle Strand) to be
washed by the tide – enjoy a beach landing, 11th Century Kisimul castle in Castlebay,
plus over 150 bird species and 400 plant species – don’t forget to see the machair
in spring. I visited with my son in August 2000 when we were blessed with mainly
clear and sunny skies. We arrived at 7.30pm on the ferry from Oban - a calm crossing
under sunny skies. Keen to explore the island we quickly made our way to Vatersay
just in time to catch the sunset over the Atlantic Ocean. The orb was visible
right to the horizon but shortly after the temperature dropped several degrees
very quickly. In the twilight of dusk we drove to the Bed & Breakfast at Ocean
View, Borve where we were greeted by the Beatons. I had tried to fly to Barra
the previous year in July - however this was not to be. The plane from Glasgow
was delayed by bad weather and on arrival the weather closed in again and the
pilot could not see cockle strand - all I remember was seeing a few waves crests
through the clouds as we tried to land - one attempt only as the plane did not
carry enough fuel for a second attempt. Then it was back to Glasgow and then back
home to London totally dissappointed!! Hence the choice of the ferry this time
- I was determined to make it and did!!
is mostly owned by the MacNeil of Barra – Ian MacNeil, an American who teaches
law at Northwestern University, Chicago. The Scottish Office owns the crofts in
the North of the Island and Vatersay now linked to Barra by a causeway. Bar was
a 6th Century Saint – an Irish missionary and disciple of St Columba
who is reputed to have been sent to Barra because his predecessor had been eaten
by the inhabitants. The medieval fortress of Kisimul Castle which includes a keep,
hall and castle is built below the town of castlebay on a rocky outcrop in the
bay.The castle is normally open to the public on Wednesday and Saturday. One of
the world’s most exciting airfields is found to the north of the island at Traigh
Mhor or cockle strand. In the 18th Century up to 200 cartloads of cockles
were collected from this famous beach every day during times of famine. The wind
sock is removed when the airport is closed and then the beach is popular for learner
drivers ( and responsible adults… ) to practice their skills on this flat and
wide expanse of sand – as my son will testify!! Apparently speeds of over 60 mph
can be reached…..
scenic flight is available to Benbecula which takes 20 minutes each way plus a
30minute stop-over at Benbecula airport. The cost was £30 return. I took a number
of aeriel shots en-route which are displayed in the South
Uist Album. The views from the air were truly magnificant – make sure you
sit on the right hand side of the plane on both legs of this trip or all you will
see is sea!! The new causway to Eriskay was underway which will remove its island
caught the Barra ferry from Eoligarry to Eriskay
via South Uist one day passing the causeway currently under construction.
beaches are mostly deserted . I sat on the deserted beach at Halaman Bay on a
sunny day with my son whilst we inflated a small dinghy ( stamped on the side
-"for fun use only not a life saving device" ) that we had bought along
– within minutes several canoe’s appeared and about 12 people in the latest outdoor
designer gear came ashore and decided to occupy "our space" on this
wide and sandy beach – by then the dingy was inflated so we set sail rowing furiously
hugging the coast for about a mile before landing again – the sea was very calm
but there were a few rocks and one or two waves accompanied by a faint "hissing"
sound from the dinghy……. but we made it!!!
west coast beaches are of white sand and crystal clear waters – but very cold!
I did not see anyone swimming at all!!Beaches
to visit ( basically any / all of those on the West Atlantic Coast):
Bay – wide sandy beach by the Isle of Barra Hotel where we ate most nights watching
the sunset - excellant fare only a short walk from Ocean View.
Eais – on the west coast opposite the airport at Traigh Mhor reached by a short
walk through machir and sand dunes some of which are very high. I took several
photographs here early morning keeping a watchful eye for many species (oyster
catchers, fulmar etc ) of birds not too happy at my early morning visit! One feels
rather vulnerable when surrounded by a vast expanse of beach with no cover… an
umbrella or stick becomes very useful!!
Beach – Here a river enters the North side of the main beach creating some interesting
photographs at sunset where the river meets the sea.
bay – a short drive from Castlebay across the narrow causeway completed in 1990,
brings you to East and West coast beaches joined by a narrow strip of fertile
land. Vatersay Bay to the east is mostly tranquil whilst the atlantic rollers
plague the west coast at Bagh Siar. Here there is a monument to victims of a shipwreck
which occurred in 1853 when the Annie Jane left Liverpool bound for Quebec with
hundreds of emigrants. The ship was swept onto the rocky Vatersay coast and the
majority of the passengers were drowned. A pebble cairn with a wooden cross was
next to the monument and inspired a rather creative sunset picture - see main
photo-page. A walk north and upwards quite steeply provided great views of the
isthmus and the islands of Sandray, Pabbay and Mingulay beyond. Did not quite
make it to the top ( had just had a rather large evening meal at the Barra Hotel
!! ) of this hill where no doubt the reward would have been fine views to Castlebay
are specactular views from both of the highest hills Ben Heaval and Ben Tangaval
where one can see the rolling hills of barra to the North and the wide sweep of
the Borve Valley dropping down to the sandy west coast. There are many enjoyable
walks on this wonderful island – guides are available. Take care when walking
in the hills as mists and sudden climatic changes have given rise to many ghost
stories and mysterious disappearances! It is possible to walk around the island
in an afternoon - the main road loops 12 miles around the island. In fact every
morning I did a circuit ( in the car) looking for photo opportunities around sunrise.
We walked to the top of Ben Heaval early morning on the first full day on the
island, after a rather large ( too large for walking) and hearty breakfast and
were rewarded by clear blue skies and views to South Uist in the North and as
far as Mingulay to the South – I took several photos of Castlebay and beyond.
We completely missed sight of the white marble statue of the Madonna and Child
"Our Lady of the Sea " as we had decided to take the "direct"
route which on reflection was very tiring and rather disappointing!! I had imagined
an image with castlebay in the background taken from above the statue but I will
have to come back for that! Two days later we were on Mingulay having taken a
2 hour boat trip from castlebay – see Mingulay
Album for further details on this remote island which I consider to be a mini-rival
to St.Kilda with 800 foot cliffs – sheer cliffs!!
holiday over, with only one day of poor weather we headed back to Oban catching
sight of several dolphins on a clear and sunny crossing. Who ever said it always
rains in Scotland??