Barra is a full stop at the end of the Outer Hebrides. Its hilly core slopes down to sea kayaks, surf and Vatersay’s cliffs. Carved into dinky bays by the Atlantic – as it dashes from America to Scotland – its white, sandy beaches are the perfect retreat from technology, speed and bustle. It’s a place to watch seals and sunsets and make angels out of sand. Somewhere to run through wind, then cosy up in front of a log fire blanketed in perfect darkness.
What We Liked
Locals work together on Barra, combatting the elements and corporations with conversation. Companies are run from living rooms. You can phone to book a taxi and speak directly to the driver. When our return ferry to Oban was cancelled, Hector (at McNeil’s buses) flagged down the lady from CalMac ferries to help us make onward travel arrangements. That’s the way Barra works. Everyone knows everyone and, if you’re friendly and polite, they’ll find you a solution to any problem.
When the tide’s out, a couple of planes a day land and take off from the beach. You can watch them from the airport cafe, or adjacent strip of beach, or just lean over the car park fence. It’s quite exciting seeing the plane getting bigger and bigger and then glide across water, kicking up spray. The airport’s about 8 miles from the main town, Castlebay. Locals can tell you bus times to get there and back. Behind the airport, a very lovely beach is a short walk away. Great for chasing waves and scampering in and out of dunes.
The Oban ferry drops passengers here which makes it a great base. There’s a small supermarket, post office, Indian restaurant, bike hire and kid friendly Dunard Lodge and Hostel. Kisimul Castle is anchored just off-shore in full view of the Lodge’s window. When the tide’s in, it looks as if it’s floating in the water.
How We Got There
From April to October, the Calmac ferry meanders between Mull and the mainland for a couple of hours, then sways across open seas before using Barra as a windbreak for an hour. It’s at the mercy of winds, waves and mechanics so don’t arrange a job interview on your planned return date. It’s better to book vehicles on in advance but foot passengers can buy tickets an hour or two before boarding
We planned to take bikes by train from Glasgow to Oban, then ship them across to the Outer Hebrides. But we couldn’t: there were only two bike spots (out of six) left and the train was being replaced by a weekend bus service which wouldn’t take bikes.
We could have hired bikes on Barra but this meant cycling them back to the shop. Too much like hard work. So we drove Sahara’s small bike to Oban, & shipped it across. The kids shared it & the grown ups walked. On our way home, our cabbie (from AMPM) told me that they could return bikes to Barra. So that’s an idea for next time. Barra’s pretty hilly for kids on bikes but Eriskay and the Uists are flatter and roads are quiet.