Today I’ll be filling you in on the start of our hopscotch trip from Oban to Ullapool. This took us 10 days but the flexible nature of the Calmac Hopscotch ticket means you have a month to use the sailings on your chosen route!
The crossing from Oban to Barra takes about 5 hours, and once you get out into open water after passing the Isle of Mull, can be quite rough depending on the conditions. The conditions weren’t too bad, but that didn’t stop me and Mr B (and seemingly quite a few others) from feeling nauseous, so a lot of time was spent outside, keeping an eye on the horizon and trying to stave off the horrible sick feeling. After what seemed like forever, finally we could see a faint outline of Barra ahead. We were also distracted briefly by dolphins appearing, so that helped too!
We arrived on the Saturday night, and Castlebay was deserted on account of everyone being at a ceilidh celebrating the Barrathon that had been completed earlier that day. Our B&B was about 4 miles out of Castlebay (bear in mind that you can drive round the whole island in about 40 minutes – it’s really not that big!) so we decided to head there Going on the Barrathon weekend also meant that it was a struggle at first to find accommodation, but we found Aros Cottage run by a lady who had lived in Barra all her life. It was fine for our two nights and her breakfast definitely set us up for the morning!
On the Sunday morning we had scouted out the local CofS, but as it was an 11.30am service, we had time to explore. Seeing blue skies at the south of the island, we headed to Vatersay beach. You could be excused for thinking that these pictures are from some caribbean beach somewhere, but no, this is Scotland! Like all of the beaches we visited, we either timed our visits really well or they are always deserted!
On the Sunday afternoon I walked round Barra golf course while Mr B played a round. Unfortunately the concept of a fairway is not one well understood on Barra, and we traipsed up and down hills, dodging cattle that were grazing and trying not to get electrocuted! (All of the holes were surrounded with electric fences and a gate, though one comically didn’t have a gate, so Mr B had to do a commando style roll under the fencing which was very amusing!)
On Sunday evening we ate in the Heathbank Hotel. While I didn’t take any pictures, don’t take that to mean that we had a bad meal – it was very good. It seemed very busy and we were glad that we had booked ahead of time as people were getting turned away on the door.
(We encountered this more in Lewis the following weekend, but it is worth remembering that a lot of shops and restaurants on the Outer Hebrides don’t open on a Sunday. We planned ahead by buying water, fruit and snacky bits for lunch from Oban before we left the mainland although we did visit the local community shop in Castlebay and bought a lovely locally made quiche to share.)
On Monday morning we packed up and said our goodbyes to the B&B, and drove up to the north of the island. After a walk around Eoligarry, we headed to the airport. Barra is the only place in the UK (and only a few in the world) where you can land in a commercial plane on the beach. Tiny Flybe planes from Glasgow land there twice a day and it’s quite something to see as the plane engines don’t sound much more powerful than a lawn mower! I imagine it would be equally exciting and terrifying (though thinking back to our ferry crossing, if I went to Barra I would probably fly!). Here’s an amusing picture of the baggage reclaim area.
Then it was time to catch our ferry over to Eriskay, which is linked by a causeway to South Uist. There were lots of playful dolphins on this crossing as we came nearer to docking!
Come back on Wednesday for more photos and information about our next stage of the journey to South and North Uist!