Paradise Found on Barra.
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.
What is creating all this interest on Barra? Can you see it?
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.
The ferry from Oban dwarfs Kisimul Castle Castlebay Barra.
Prominent along the front and enjoying a great view across the bay is Dunard Hostel. It is bright and cheery with a variety of rooms including family and twin rooms. The kitchen is spacious and enjoys the great view. The sitting room combined dining room is definitely colourful and also looks out across the bay.
If you are thinking of going to Barra and Dunard Hostel I recommend you to book well in advance if you want to be sure of a bed. We booked months ahead for a two night stay and 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.
Well did you guess what was causing all the interest in the first picture? The Pilot even show boats his plane right up to the assembled spotters before continuing his run along the beach to the airport!
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 play 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.
Dunard Hostel is a great place as a base for your visit to Barra. If you are island hopping from Barra to Lewis it is also a super place for a one night stay. Rochelle is a super Hostess and makes a special point of making everyone feel welcome to the hostel.
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.
Copyright 14 06 15.
Visit the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.
Hints and Tips for Travellers.
Scotland is a most beautiful country. The scenery is magnificent. The fresh air is plentiful and bracing. The islands are isolated and amazing and the hills and mountains are out of this world. Here are some tips and advice to help you make the most of your time hostelling in this wonderful country.
This information is not intended to alarm. People have coped with many of these challenges in the past and come out smiling at the end of their holiday. The information is intended to help you get the best out of travelling and walking in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland!
Advice is freely given. However like all advice you can take it or leave it. You can pick the bits you like and leave the rest. It's entirely up to you!
Travel light. Take only sufficient clothing, for example, for the number of days you are away. Be careful not to overload your transport. The reason is weight is expensive to move and more difficult to stop. Make sure that everyone has comfortable space for all travellers on what will be a long journey. Avoid packing the luggage around the passengers. They wont want to go with you and next time.
Carry a First Aid kit which is made available to all. If one or more of the party is a qualified First Aider all the better. First Aid is as it says. The first response to an accident or injury which can help save a life. If the condition is serious call the Emergency Services immediately and let them take over as soon as possible. Time is of the essence.
Wear suitable clothing and be prepared for cold and/or wet weather. There is nothing more demoralising than being cold and wet. Stay dry. Stay warm.
Wear walking shoes or boots when travelling and walking. Your feet need good support in all terrain and all weather conditions. The trainers or shoes you feel comfortable in when walking down Sauchiehall Street in Glasgow are not the ones to give you dry well supported feet on a Scottish hill or even a mountain. Boots are the order of the day for the mountains.
It is recommend that you bring a pair of simple flip flops with you to use when you need to go outside to reach toilets during the night. This is a good idea for some Hostels e.g. the Bunkhouses at some of the Black Houses in the Western Isles for example.
Bring a small torch and keep it by your bed so that you can navigate around the dormitory in the hostel without switching on lights risking waking your friends. I spent some time in a broom cupboard being attacked by broom handles in the Slocht Hostel, near Aviemore. A fellow hosteller switched on the dormitory lights and let me out at three in the morning. I made a quick dash to the loo!
Avoid keeping items in super market bags which rustle excessively as you search them for your bits and pieces … when all around are trying to get to sleep. Alternatively do all your rustling before everyone retires. Be aware that mountaineers on places like Skye go to bed very early so have a though for them.
Carry or buy Midge Repellent to combat midge attacks. Hope for breezy weather. They don't like wind. Fortunately on the islands of the Outer Hebrides there are winds in excess of eighty miles per hour. Thankfully mostly in winter! If the midges are really bad and they are after your blood then a midge net might be just what you need. You will look like a bee-keeper dressed in black. It might be worth it.
Ticks can be a problem where there are deer or sheep. Check your body for ticks and get a friend to check where you cannot see. I carry tick tools in the first aid kit and these can be borrowed by members of the party. I have picked up three ticks in the past ten years. Don't burn ticks or use whisky (God forbid you waste the Water of Life) to get them off. Anything which could make the tick regurgitate it's stomach contents into your blood stream should be avoided as you could end up with Lyme disease.
I hope that you all have a lovely time and that there are no midges, no rustling, no ticks, no flops or flips and no boggiemen in broom cupboards to trouble you on your travels. May the sun always shine on you and those who travel with you.
Oh yes and then there is sun protection. Don't forget!
Copyright Brian Sutherland 2015.