Aug 052013

The first leg of our self-drive tour of the Outer Hebrides was on Barra, and its neighbouring island of Vatersay. Our arrival on Barra was spectacular, to say the least. We travelled over from Glasgow International Airport on a De Haviland Twin Otter aircraft, specially adapted for landing on a beach – yes, a beach!

Barra Airport is one of the few places in the World where scheduled flights land on a beach. The airport is situated in the wide shallow bay of Traigh Mhor at the north tip of the island. The airport has three runways, marked by concrete poles at their ends. This allows the Twin Otters to land into the wind from almost any direction. At high tide, these runways are submerged.

Barra Airport

Barra Airport (Photo credit: Alan Rowley Photos)

Our short flight from Glasgow lasted just over an hour and as we descended through the clouds, the island came into view and in a few minutes, we were on the beach. The tiny airport terminal was nothing more than an arrivals desk and café. Our baggage was offloaded in a 4×4 and taken to the baggage reclaim area under the control tower.

English: Barra Airport Terminal Building. Barr...

Barra Airport Terminal Building. Barra is believed to be unique in the world in having an airport which is simply a beach – called Traigh Mhor, Gaelic for “Big Strand”. Flight schedules vary with the tide! (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In a few minutes, we were in the car park awaiting the arrival of our hire car and as this was delayed, we had the opportunity to see our airplane boarded and take off on its return to Glasgow. A great way to start our holiday.

The island is only five miles wide by eight miles long and has one ring road all the way around. We chose the west route on our way to Castlebay at the southern end of the island. The road was mainly single track with passing places, and the scenery was amazing. We didn’t realise that, although beautiful, Barra was just a taster for some fantastic scenery that awaited us around every corner and on every island.


Castlebay (Photo credit: KC2000)

After a journey of about half an hour, we arrived at the Castlebay Hotel, our base for our two night stay in Barra. We got settled into our sea view room and freshened up before we made the short journey over to Vatersay, a small island that is situated across the bay from Castlebay.

Vatersay Bay, Vatersay.

Vatersay Bay, Vatersay. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After returning to Castlebay, we had afternoon tea in The Deck, a harbourside café with outside seating. The weather had been sunny since we arrived, but after tea, an eerie mist slowly descended on the town from over the hills. It was a sight to see.

The Castlebay Hotel had a lovely conservatory on the front of the hotel which I sat in to watch the ferry dock and leave on its journey to Oban. The first day of our Hebridean Hopscotch holiday had seen us leave the hustle and bustle of the mainland for the peace and quiet of island life.

Castlebay Harbour

Castlebay Harbour (Photo credit: Alan Rowley Photos)

On day two of our Barra stay, I had a pre-breakfast stroll around the town and took a few photos of the mist, which was still clinging to the hills. After a hearty breakfast, we headed back around the western side of the island to the airport where I took some photos and video of the midday flight from Glasgow landing and taking off. The flight was delayed because of the mist, which made the experience even more magical.

As soon as the delayed flight had taken off, the mist disappeared in minutes and we were left with a bright sunny afternoon. We continued our drive around the island, taking the eastern route back to Castlebay.

Petrol station in Castlebay

Petrol station in Castlebay (Photo credit: Alan Rowley Photos)

After we arrived back at the hotel, we went to the mobile chip van which visited Castlebay on Friday and Saturday evenings. We had a very large portion of freshly made fish and chips which we ate at the side of the harbour, in glorious evening sun.

We finished our day watching the Sun set and the Moon rise on the west coast of Barra. Being further north than home, the Sun didn’t set until an hour later than it did in Nottingham, around 22:10. As we watched the Sun go down, the only sounds we could hear were the waves breaking on the rocks and the sea birds squabbling on the beach.

Castlebay Hotel

Castlebay Hotel (Photo credit: Alan Rowley Photos)

Our last day on Barra greeted us with clear blue skies and blazing sun. After another stroll around the town, and another hearty Scottish breakfast, we headed to the ferry terminal for the 11:00 departure to Eriskay and part two of our Hebridean adventure.

Barra had been stunning, but we didn’t realise that we were going to be thrilled by some spectacular scenery as we made the long drive through the Uists on the second leg of our journey.

Outer Hebrides: An introduction | Eriskay to North Uist | Harris and Lewis

  3 Responses to “Outer Hebrides – Barra and Vatersay”

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