There is no landing in the world quite like Barra, but then there is no island in the world quite like Barra. Flying in low over the Atlantic in the vintage Flybe Twin Otter there was nothing but cobalt blue water below. Then suddenly a gaggle of rocks appeared. Then a blindingly white sand beach, followed by a rugged a hill. Next minute we swooped down towards the ‘runway’, which actually turned out to be a sweeping Atlantic beach. We thumped down and taxied to the tiny terminal, where the captain nipped in for some garlic cockles freshly plucked from the runway. Welcome to Barra.
When I say there is nowhere quite like Barra there really isn’t. I think I spent about a third of my time there repeating this mantra. I’ve travelled to 94 countries, but the Outer Hebrides remain my favourite place in the world and for me Barra is a microcosm, a sort of Outer Hebrides in miniature with all the best bits crammed into one stunning island.
I wandered straight from the airport across the road and over to the island’s opposite coast. Just ten minutes after landing I had another epic sweep of pristine sand all to myself. Not for long as I was soon joined by Chris from Clearwater Paddling. He is pretty much a one man band, but what a tune he plays. Soon we were out on the water sea kayaking around the rugged coastline on the search for wildlife. We didn’t have to wait long. First it was a pair of eagles swooping high on the thermals. Then an otter scurrying by the water’s edge in search of his lunch, before the waters broke to reveal a seal bustling just by my kayak.
Swapping my kayak for two wheels I set off to circumnavigate the island by bike. Barra is ideal for cycling with quiet roads that are unremittingly scenic. Every turn seemed to reveal another beach. Then there was the flower-studded machair rising in from the surf. Little hillocks pushed inland to meet the rounded peaks of some pretty decent hills. There are no Munros on Barra, but plenty for hikers to explore.
Before descending into the ‘capital’ of Castlebay I parked my bike and galloped off up the hillside to tackle the highest peak, Sheabhal. Passing the Virgin Mary as I went – Catholicism is strong on Barra - I took a breather at the trig point. Barra unfolded before me like a map, my very own treasure island, with the neighbouring isles of Vatersay and mythical Mingulay tempting in the distance. To the West was a whole lot of nothing with the Americas lying thousands of miles away across the Atlantic.
By now I reckoned I deserved a pint and there are few better places in Scotland to enjoy a pint than in the legendary Castlebay Hotel. The atmosphere here is brilliant with regular live music and locals who more than welcome new arrivals to their perpetual party.
Sadly I couldn’t stay too long as I had a long anticipated appointment with Kisimul Cafe, the Indian Restaurant just down the hill. I’d heard they bizarrely offer huge king scallop pakoras here with some of the bountiful local seafood. Stick with me, but scallop pakoras rock! Only in Barra, but then again there is nowhere else in the world quite like Barra.
Thanks to Castlebay Hotel for some of the stunning photos.