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Barra & Vatersay

Western Isles Day 2

There is a reason Barra is often called Barra-dise and Barra-bados!

The most beautiful white sands reflecting clear turquoise water could convince you that you are in the Caribbean or the South Pacific on a remote Atoll.

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On our second morning, I had to get up at 04:30 for a comfort break and was met with broad daylight and this beautiful view. It was a tranquil morning, peaceful while everyone was still sleeping, the water was flat calm, and the wind was still – although I have still to find the knack of quietly openly and closing the VW campervan sliding door!

I slipped quietly back into bed for another hour or two until a more reasonable hour to get up, freshen up and ease into the day with a breakfast of porridge, berries and bananas and some fresh coffee.

We reviewed our plans for the day based on two essential factors: low tide at Barra Airport and the tide range and flow for paddleboarding, as the conditions were perfect.

We packed up the campervan and travelled up the west side of Barra, where the waves roll in from the Atlantic. The views were amazing, with blue skies and a distant watery horizon bathed in sunshine.

We passed the much-photographed house with the wee red roof and headed onwards towards the airport. As we arrived, we were pretty surprised to be met with an already busy car park with cars, campervans and motorhomes and even a single-decker bus.

The airport is a popular place with many people arriving from the island to see the planes arrive and depart again. It is a daily tourist attraction where 2 Loganair flights from Glasgow arrive and depart with passengers most days. The aircraft can only land and take off again when the tide is out, as they land on the flat sandy expanse of sheltered beach. This is the only scheduled commercial beach landing in the world.

I’ve been to airports in Scotland, England, Ireland, Wales and Europe, but none of them has baggage reclaim quite like Barra! We watched the morning flight arrive and depart again before carrying on our island tour along with all the other spectators. It was quite a spectacle.

As we head north, we pass through North Bay, carry on past the small church, capture a photo of the few boats in the tiny harbour and see some more boats further around the corner on mooring lines attached to the shore. It is all stunning and picturesque.

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On the green and rugged east side of the island, there is a good view of Heaval (which I still haven’t managed to climb) before arriving back in Castlebay. The town is well serviced with a bank, post office, petrol station, and of course the CalMac ferry terminal. There is also the Barra Gin Distillery and shop, where we pop in to purchase the local Gin and then cross over to top up on fresh supplies from the Co-Op, which also has very accessible toilet facilities.

Our destination after our airport experience is to head south to our next island, Vatersay, which is joined to Barra with a causeway. A plane called Catatalina crashed here in May 1944, and the wreckage can be seen between the road and the shore. There is a fantastic view of the wreck from the passenger seat as you approach the beach on the island’s west side. The water is a beautiful mix of blue, green, and turquoise colours, framed against some rugged and very green but turning slightly autumnal grazing land.

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Arriving across the causeway into Vatersay, we find a parking space close to the beach to have lunch before organising our paddleboards, wetsuits and the 2 seater kayak for its maiden voyage! The day is perfect – there is a beautiful blue Hebridean sky and crystal-clear water, there are a few yachts anchored in the bay, there are quite a few people already in or on the water, and others walking, playing and picnicking on the beach.

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As we prepared our paddleboards and kayak, we began chatting to a lovely young couple in the campervan parked up next to us from “our next trail”. They had already been for a swim and planned to relax on the beach for the afternoon after lunch. As we sorted out our various toys, we invited them to join us and use the kayak whilst we paddle boarded and then swap over later to give them an opportunity to try paddleboarding. We were grateful to them for helping sort out the kit, pump up the boards and kayak, we change into our wetsuits and carry it all down to the beach.

Although I am lucky enough to have been here five times before, it is just as stunning this time as I remember from my previous visits. My friend and our new chums were just speechless at the beauty around us at this spot – and the tropical weather!. We spent the rest of the afternoon and into the early evening at the beach, mainly on the water and chatting to others, enjoying this perfect Hebridean spot.

There are two main beaches on Vatersay – the one we chose was sheltered, calm and still with no wind. However, on the opposite side, the conditions are ideal for surfers enjoying the waves and a more bracing Atlantic experience.

As the sun began to sink, we traipsed back up the beach and back to the Campervans, where we rinsed and packed up the kit, used the thermal showers to rinse the salt and sand from ourselves, and changed back into clothes from the wetsuits.

We still had time to take the short walk up to the Annie Jane memorial. This was a ship with over 450 people aboard which was sailing from Liverpool to Canada in 1853 when it crashed onto the rocks of Vatersay, and over 350 people sadly perished.

Before leaving this magical spot, we use the Vatersay Community Facilities before jumping back in the campervan to drive back to the island’s north to our campsite for the night.

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Later than planned, we arrived at Barra Sands campsite, we already had a pitch booked, and we were last to arrive on-site, where our pitch was at a bit of a jaunty angle. We were just in time to wander across the grass to watch the sun go down on the west. We chose this campsite as it meant we were nice and handy for getting the morning ferry to Eriskay the following day. Our day was complete with a late dinner of mince & tatties, a taste of the fabulous Barra gin, and time to relax before preparing for bed. There are good toilet, shower and washing up facilities at Barra Sands Campsite.

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