Road Trip through Barra and Vatersay

Vatersay Bay

Yesterday was a wet day in the Western Isles: Probably the one area of the UK where it hasn’t been hot and Sunny! I am enjoying being in a little pocket of the country with no mobile signal.

I started my day with a full Scottish breakfast at the hotel; bacon, egg, sausage and black pudding.

Shortly after breakfast I got in the car and set off for the Isle of Vatersay, the Southernmost inhabited island in the Outer Hebrides. It was cloudy but dry when I set off from the hotel in Castlebay, but was raining by the time I made it to the beach in Vatersay.

So it was not going to be a beach day – I couldn’t even get the chair out and sit with a book. So I made it a leisurely drive around the island with regular photo stops. This is a small island so driving round the island doesn’t take long at all!

West coast of Barra – near Allasdale

Driving in the Outer Hebrides is a bit different to elsewhere in the UK; It is single track lane most of the way round the island, with frequent passing places – to allow traffic behind to overtake, and to allow you to pass oncoming traffic.

The convention here seems to be that when you pull in to let traffic overtake of pass in the opposite direction, that you stick the indicator on to signal what you’re doing.

There are motorhomes everywhere, some British, some foreign (I’ve saw the same 2 German motorhomes multiple times at various points across the day).

Traffic volumes are low. It makes Crowle and Bredicot Lane seem like the M25 in comparison!

It doesn’t take long to get used to this style of driving. By the time we got to the evening I was the traffic doing the overtaking…

There is just one rule on the roads here: Sheep have right of way. Some of them know their highway code and keep left. Others just cross in front of you without a care in the world.

One of my strangest stops of the day, was at the island’s airport. Located on the beach in the bay of Traigh Mhòr, it is the only commercial airport in the world where the runway is on the beach, and disappears under water when the tide comes in.

Passengers disembark shortly after landing; Loganair fly to Barra from Glasgow

The terminal building is small – inside a small café, where on this wet day there were more people there who weren’t flying than there were genuine passengers!

Although I missed the plane landing by a couple of minutes I did watch it take off on the beach and disappear fairly quickly in to the mist, then I went to warm up by grabbing a drink and a snack in side thee terminal building.

I think of Greek airports as being small but this is a small airport on another scale.

“Baggage Reclaim” – it’s just a bus shelter with a bench inside

Cold, wet, and in need of a rest I continued my journey round the island – It didn’t take long to get back to the hotel where I got my book out and read for a while.

Later in the afternoon I got back in the car, needing something for lunch. The rain still coming down, a picnic on the beach wasn’t an option…but I could have a picnic in the car parked up in sight of a beach.

With this in mind I stopped at the supermarket to get myself a drink and a sandwich. This morning I drove clockwise round the island. This afternoon I went anti-clockwise. I drove up to the North of Barra, beyond the airport, to and parked up to eat my sandwich.

The Sea on this exposed bit of coast looked rough

While sitting and eating my sandwich I scrolled through the radio stations in the car. No signals from any of the BBC national stations. BBC Radio nan Gàidheal, the BBC’s Gaelic language service, has the best signal round the island; Even BBC Radio Scotland has a patchy signal here.

The other stations I could pick up included an unidentified signal from Ireland, a patchy signal from Rás (the Icelandic broadcaster) and another from the Faroe Islands. Perhaps the strangest 2 stations though were France Bleu Gascogne from South West France, with a signal so clear the name BLEUGASC appeared on the car’s RDS display… as well as a signal from a Spanish radio station. I don’t speak any Spanish but when adverts gave out website addresses ending “punto es” it was fairly obvious where the signal was coming from.

How strange (and fascinating) that in this part of the country I can’t get Radio 2 in the car on either FM or DAB, but I can get something from the other side of the continent.

On the way back I passed the Airport…after the tide had come in.

Traigh Mhòr

On the way back I stopped once more near Allasdale…

Today I’m leaving Barra and going North. This afternoon I’ll be getting the ferry to the Isle of Eriskay and then going on to Lochboisdale on the Isle of South Uist where I’ll be staying for another 2 nights.


Fred Hart

Stock Controller and Radio Presenter/Producer

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