Flying to Barra – an aviation nerd’s dream came true on 7th September 2019, when I visited the Scottish Island on the Outer Hebrides. Between the inbound and the outbound flight, I had some five hours time, arriving at 11:00hrs and scheduled to depart at 16:30. I felt it is too short for a rental car, I am too unsportsmanlike for renting a bike and the area just around the airport might be too limited for a stay of that duration. Thus, I went for a private tour around the island with Rob, who is driving the Barra Island Tours company. Here is my experience of a day on this very special island.
I selected this experience as my best (Road) Trip in 2019.
Barra Island Tours – About the Company
Barra Island Tours is a tour operator in Barra. They are specialized to tailor-made trips around the island, also daytrips. If you book tours with them, they also offer transfer services to and from the airport and the ferry ports on the island. Rob is driving the company, he is not Barra-native, but decided to settle there some fifteen years ago after having had Barra as his summer vacation place for several years. He knows a lot about the island. I was driven around in a Kia Sportage, which was very comfortable. Rob also offered me water during the trip.
A Trip Around Barra
I arrived at Barra Airport at about 11:00 and left Barra again at around 16:30. I had a some four our trip with Rob, which included some 1:20 hrs in Castlebay on my own. The price for the tour, excluding my expenses in Castlebay, was 100 GBP. You have to note that the flight times at Barra are linked to the tides. A time span of 5 1/2 hours between the flights is comparably long and thus allowed me a very detailed tour. The tour is presented as chronological as it makes sense. Some of the pictures are taken out of the driving car.
Amazing Weather – First Impressions and Saint Barr’s Church
I have been really lucky with the weather on that September Saturday trip. The conditions have not even been close to what you see on the pictures for some two weeks. From the airport, we first headed North towards Eoiligarry. There are a lot of place which are made to make people smile, two of them are in the pictures below.
The first stop of our trip were the ruins of Saint Barr’s Church. This is place where Saint Barr is narrated to put is bishop stick in the ground and by that found a fountain. The chapel next to the ruins is not used for worshiping, but contains some interesting artifacts.
The most interesting item, a cross which has a Christian and a Nordic side, is a replica, though. You can see the original piece at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh. In general, there is unfortunately just a very small historic collection on the island, though there is a lot of history there.
Queen Victoria & Seals
We headed South and passed the airport again. Next to Loch an Duin, there is the Queen Victoria Rock, which the locals say to look a bit like the former UK Queen.
From there, our tour more or less headed straight to the West. Around the village of Borgh, there is a beach where you can spot seals. Very lovely scenery.
Memorials & Legends
We drove towards the main city of Barra, Castlebay, but turned right before the city borders. The next stop was the Barra War Memorial, reminding the fallen of Barra in both world wars. Barra has a relatively high number of war victims, as many locals were experienced at sea and thus served the British Navy.
The Barra-Vatersay causeway is relatively modern, it was completed in 1991 in order to prevent that Vatersay is loosing even more population – before that, they were dependent on ferries, which could not make even that short distance in adverse weather situations. We also passed the house (and studio) of former Simple Minds member Mick MacNeil.
Another fascinating memorial was the visit of the remains of the Catalina wreckage, which hit the hill of Vatersay close to the beach due to navigation failure. Only six out of nine crew members survived this event. Quite some wreckage is still lying hat these grounds.
A Touch of Thailand
We stayed on Vatersay. By mistake, pictures of the beautiful Traigh a Bhaigh beach have once been used to promote Thailand holidays.
The village on Vatersay once hosted the world smallest post office, but it is no longer in operation.
Castlebay – The Main City of Barra
Rob then took me to Castlebay, where I had some 80 minutes on my own. I had a stroll around the city. Apart from the castle (see below), the Our Lady, Star of the Sea chúrch is likely the most iconic landmark of the city. There are a couple of hotels and also a shop selling Hebrides products in short walking distance.
I had a quick snack in the lovely Kismul Cafe, having an awesome smoked salmon sandwich.
If you do not count the airport, Kisimul Castle, which is only accessible by boat, is likely the most prominent tourist attraction on Barra. The small boat to the castle leaves every 30 minutes on the hour and half hour. The trip to the castle is some five minutes – the boat stays there and leaves five minutes before departure at main land. The whole package, boat transfer and visiting the castle, is roughly 5 GBP and is paid in the castle.
I loved the trip to the castle. It is having lovely views of the castle, but also of Castlebay.
The castle itself is not that spectacular. Some rooms are even closed as the walls are quite wet. This unfortunately also applied to the tower at the time of my visit.
Barra East Coast
The exciting day at Barra was more and more coming towards an end. We faced Barra’s East Coast Northbound. There are some interesting historic places on top of the hills, I just could not make it with the camera I used.
Around Bayherivagh, there are again some items reminding of the legendary forefather of Barra, Saint Barr.
Towards The Airport
On one of our very last stops, we halted close to the minor ferry terminal in Ardmanhor.
We were already facing the airport now, enjoying the view of the terminal behind all the low tide sand. Lovely view and ice finish of a great day.
A Trip Around Barra – My View
My personal view of this trips is of course split in two pieces: my experience with the island of Barra itself – and the service provided by Barra Island Tours and Rob. The good news – to make it short and easy – is that the result is the same: it was outstanding.
Barra is a really interesting place, the people are really friendly and compared to its size, there is a lot of history and interesting places. I would love to visit a Barra Historic Museum – bad luck that there is none. Rob is an excellent guide, he feels to know everything and adjusted our tour perfectly to my time between the flights. We had a lot of good conversations and I always felt save driving around the island with him, despite the challenging narrow streets. Thus, I am very thankful that I could do that experience.
A Trip Around Barra – The Gallery
There are 211 major size pictures of my tour of Barra in a gallery:
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