If you ever head out to Scotland, it’s important to take a trip out to the Western Hebrides. It’s an excellent experience. The people are really nice and the non-touristy, authentic, small town vibe is everywhere. I have a particular soft spot for Barra, at the southern end of the island chain; not only does it have one of the most amazing castles in Scotland, it’s also the ancestral home of the MacNeils. Phoenetically the spelling of my name has become McNeill over time, but my roots are here.
They have the world’s only scheduled commercial flights that land on a beach. The fee for the flight is set, so it’s always the same price, about $140 from Glasgow. It’s definitely worth it for the experience and the views that you get of the islands.
But, if you’re going to be working your way up the island chain, I would recommend taking the car ferry over from the mainland because it’s a bit of a hassle trying to rent a car at each island that you stop on. And I highly recommend having your own car for touring, (unless you have a lot of time since the buses don’t run very often) and particularly if you’re trying to do some photography. If I recall, the last bus is at 5:30pm, not great for sunset photography excursions! If you’re just visiting Barra you can rent a car from Hugh MacNeil, awesome guy and great cars. Just ask for him in town or visit the tourist info shop, they’ll find him.
Be sure to try some seafood, and I had the best curry of my life at the Indian restaurant at the port. You can also find a restaurant at the airport at the northern end of the island, but everything else is pretty much at Castlebay on the southern end.
Don’t forget that it’s an island, with island weather, and be prepared for rain.
And don’t forget to explore the ruins on the island. This is stuff that’s thousands of years old. Find a map and be ready for some exploring since things are very well sign posted; actually, there basically aren’t any signs. This is something the tourist office there might want to look into. Some ruins are easy to see but some are only visible when you know they’re in the area and you really look for them. It’s really amazing to find an old hill fort ruin that you would have missed if weren’t for a map telling you it’s there. You’re really off the tourist trail when you find that stuff.
Don’t forget to check out the beautiful coast line and beaches. The feature image for the blog post is a hidden beach at the northern end of the island. Apparently, during the Whisky Galore event, the caves where they hid the whisky were there. Vatersay, the island to the south of Barra, has amazing beaches and is connected via a causeway, so it’s easy to drive out there.
That’s about all I have to say for now. The seafood is great, the castle and ruins are amazing, the people are super friendly (if you have a car you’ll get tired of waving every time you pass someone), and the beaches are beautiful. It is a real hidden gem and well worth a visit if you want to get off the tourist trail. Here’s a shot of the northern beach to finish things off…
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