Barra of laughts (2) ?

Awoke to a far better day, with clear skies overhead and visible signs that the weather front had passed over, with the remnants hanging over Beinn Mhor. Cooked breakfast whilst Rog packed and got ready for the short journey down to Lochboisdale. The XL however didn’t want to start so a quick push down the road got it running and he headed off into the fine morning.

Stoneybridge

Matt and I were heading to Barra and had the 10h15 Eriskay to Barra ferry to catch. Nice run down, including passing through Stoneybridge, a much pariodied location on 90’s TV sketch show, Naked Video [[about 3 minutes in on the Outer Hebrides Broadcasting Corporation (OHBC) slot]. Eriskay is famous for the wreck of the SS Politician duting WWII, when it sank for lots of Jamaican currency and a large load of Whisky. This event was fictionalised by Compton Mackenzie and made into the 1947 film ‘Whisky Galore’ (which was filmed on Barra).

The weather was looking good for the day, as the smallest ferry of the trip so far came across the Sound of Barra. No need to strap the bikes down and with no lounge as such we stood on the deck, watched the bikes on the deck and the scenery around. After a pleasant 40 minutes we arrived in Barra. Its a small island and the main road (the A888) circumnavigates the island in around 12 miles. It is described as the Western Isles in minature and has a mountain and great beaches.

First stop from the ferry was the airport. Barra Airport (BRR) is infact Traigh Mhor, ie the large cockle beach in the north of the island. There are not too many airports which can claim to be as laid back as this, though there is a control tower, fire services and security. It’s also a great attaction and has a good cafe that is reasonably priced. We timed it well and saw the 11h30 flight from Glasgow land superbly on the wet sand and roll up infront of the airport building. Next to the airport you can wild camp (as you can anywhere on Barra), but there is plenty of ground here with the added interest of the planes taking off and landing.

Barra Arrivals Hall

With the weather improving all the time, we set off on the road round the west side of the island stopping at one of its less glamorous spots next to the scrap heap to go looking for a geocache (the Barra Fun Box), which turned out to be an easy find. Had planned to do more on this trip but had left my ipod in the van, along with the cache information.

A run round the west coast didn’t take too long, though the beaches (some with cows on) were spectacular. Round into Castlebay, before turning off south towards Vatersay (Bhatarsaigh in Gaelic) , which is the southern most inhabited island in the Western Isles. Vatersay is also now connected via a causeway and leads to the hilly northern have of the island. There is a memorial to a Catalina flying boat crash from 1944 and remarkably some of the original aluminium wrekage is still there. 3 of the flight crew died.

We then continued round the road to east beach at Vatersay and spent a pleasant couple of hours cooking and eating the remainder of the food (bacon, tuna, 3 scotch pancakes and a tin of fruit salad). Nice.

Vatersay: cooking on the beach

Then walked over to the windward, western beach, which was an impressive place. There were a number of fearsome cows grazing on the machir behind the beach, along with a memorial to the wreck of an emigrant ship bound for Toronto.

Vatersay village marked the end of the journey south, notable only for a very small Post Office complete with washing line. Back round the single track coast road, passing the faded red bus on the last part of the school run. Castlebay itself is not unpleasant, but to some extent sums up the typical Hebridean small town (or village). Small, but everything is there. The grocers is also the petrol station, where supplies reflect what came in the last boat from Oban.

The castle of the clan MacNeill sits in the bay and after a quick tour of the town, Matt and I retired to the hotel for a pint on the balcony. A hour or so to kill before the ferry arrived from Oban and indeed not a bad way to finish the tour of the islands.

Castlebay

No bike brakedowns (well none that could be classed as serious) with the most useful tool the lockwire pliers (my stove and tent fixed with them). Onto the ferry, which was pretty empty for the 5 hour journey back to Oban. Pretty uneventful except for consumption of food, attempting to get a phone signal off the coast of Mull and arriving on time at 23h40.

We’d booked to stay at Oban Backpackers which at £13.50 is pretty reasonable and quiet and comfortable in the dorms. We’d negiotiated a couple of one-way-streets, the wrong way on the ferry, but soon crashed.

A reasonable breakfast (for £1.90) and we set off in the rain heading east past Loch Awe. Matt swung off towards Inverary and south towards home, whilst with improving weather I went to Crianlarich, Crieff and then Perth. The bike was running well and as the road dried, it seemed it was beginning to enjoy itself. Excellent finish to the trip. Rog had packed his bike and it was a case of loading up and hitting the road south for the 6.5 hour drive to Hereford.

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