Should we go out to the castle today? Hmm, no – the weather was too dreich again. Instead, we headed out of Castlebay for a short walk. Starting at Loch Tangasdale, we first passed MacLeod’s Tower, built in 1430 by the son of Marion of the Heads. She was the widow of the chief of Clan MacNeil and had her two stepsons beheaded so that her own son would inherit.
Loch Tangasdale and MacLeod’s Tower
Further on, in a small glen, are the ruins of an old settlement inhabited by another MacNeil, Roderick the Dove, in the 18th century. His name suggests he was much nicer than Marion!
As the path climbed, we could see down to Halaman Bay at the side of which perches the Isle of Barra Hotel – this is where we stayed during our 1990s trips to Barra.
Isle of Barra Hotel
The climb to Dun Ban, the 2000 year old remains of a fortified broch, was rugged but worth it. I liked the way the stones had been taken over by nature.
At Dun Ban
At Dun Ban
At Dun Ban
At Dun Ban
At Dun Ban
On our return, we dropped down onto the beach at Halaman – probably a mistake! As the rain and the wind built up we got soaked through and the sand whipped into our faces. As we struggled to stay upright on two feet, hopping on one leg to don the waterproof trousers wasn’t an option. It was still beautiful though, and I don’t think you can tell from the pictures how bad the weather was. (As a bonus, I’ve included a picture of me on the same beach on a better day in 1992).
We have rarely been so pleased to reach the car. When we got back to the hotel, we just had time for a quick change of clothes before we caught last orders for lunch.
A relaxing afternoon with a book followed. Amazingly, the sun came out later and it was a lovely bright evening. We watched the ferry dock from our room and managed to bag a window seat at dinner. Not a bad day overall, despite the weather doing its worst – slàinte!
It was time to move on to the last port of call in our Hebridean Hop. After checking out of the Lochboisdale Hotel we had a couple of hours to kill before the ferry, so decided to explore the most incongruous building we had seen on the island, Our Lady of Sorrows RC Church. It was built in 1965 (architect Richard McCarron – nope, me neither) so was obviously there on our previous visit, but I have no memory of it and was quite shocked the first time we drove past it this year. I’m not a fan of brutalist architecture anyway, but here it seemed particularly out-of-place – though it was much more attractive inside.
Next, a short walk – a plethora of signs, some (almost) free-range pigs and some seaweed. I love how it looks monochromatic orange from a distance, but close up is completely different.
Just time for a quick coffee in the Kilbride Café, then it was over the causeway to Eriskay for the Barra ferry. In 1989, we left the Outer Hebrides after South Uist and took a ferry to Skye. However, we have been to Barra twice before for long weekends in 1992 and 1993 with our friends Pat and John. On one of them we took the small foot ferry to Eriskay for the day.
The harbour and ferry have changed a bit!
On our previous visits to Barra we arrived by air. Tràigh Mhòr (Big Beach) is an airport like no other, the only one in the world where scheduled flights land on the beach. The timetable therefore varies according to the tides.
In the early 90s, the facilities were little more than a hut, but now it has a café, which our guidebook recommended, so we headed straight from the ferry port to the airport. As we approached we could see quite a crowd lined up along the fence, many with huge camera lenses pointing at the sky. We guessed the plane was due – here it comes!
For any aviation buffs out there, the plane is a 19-seater Twin Otter, the same model that we flew in, though not the same aircraft. For anyone more interested in the food – yes, the café was excellent!
From the airport, we headed south to Castlebay, Barra’s largest settlement and our home for the next five nights. We stopped in the car park at the base of Heaval, Barra’s highest hill, from where we looked down on the village – see why it is called Castlebay?
We also looked up to Heaval and the white marble statue Our Lady of the Sea.
I know this is a terrible picture – visibility was very poor – but I wanted to include it for comparison, because on our previous visits we climbed Heaval both times. Not this time – the weather and dodgy knees were against us.
We checked into the Castlebay Hotel – a room with a view! Every night we watched the ferry dock.
The weather had improved before dinner so we had a quick stroll round. The church and the main street:
The bank wasn’t looking it’s best, but it has had its glory days in the past, “playing” the Post Office in the film Whisky Galore:
The Herring Trail commemorates what was once a major industry on Barra:
A mosaic of Barra landmarks and a lime-kiln:
Kilns like this one were used throughout the Hebrides to produce lime for mortar and limewash, in some cases as late as the 1930s. This one was built more recently by Historic Scotland to replicate the mortar which holds the medieval walls of Kisimul Castle together. That was one place we would definitely be visiting in the next few days. We couldn’t wait – but we had to! And so will you, dear reader. Having kept a couple of posts ahead for the last few weeks, this is the last I have prepared and I have a busy week coming up. More on Barra as soon as I have time …
If you read my post I is for Inner Hebrides, you might have guessed what O was going to be! In my opinion, the outer islands are even more beautiful than the inner ones – they’re the orange ones on the map. My favourite is Barra, to which I have travelled twice in a tiny plane and landed at the airport on the beach – a magical experience, but not if you’re frightened of flying. However, they are all lovely with ancient monuments and pristine beaches. Don’t be fooled by the sunshine though – the sea is freezing!
The pictures below show Lewis, Benbecula, South Uist, and Barra. The figure in pink is me – 20 years ago! We must go back.