Back on Barra

I’m back on the Isle of Barra in the Outer Hebrides for a bit, visiting friends and renewing my acquaintance with this rather wonderful corner of the world. Some folk may remember I spent a summer out here working as a sea kayak guide for local operator Clearwater Paddling ( It is a world class sea kayaking destination and that summer was one of the happiest I can remember – a combination of wild camping and lodge-based trips with terrific people in stunning locations (hint – if you’re looking for a holiday idea for this summer do check Clearwater Paddling out, you’ll have an awesome time… they’re also running a tall-ship based paddling trip out to the mystical St Kilda archipelago this summer, a quite unique experience… and I know that’s a shameless plug but they’re a really super bunch that I feel extremely lucky to have been able to work for and to be able to count as friends).

It’s a long drive up from Cornwall, the road to Oban for the ferry took me past Loch Lomond.. it began to snow.

Anyway, I digress.. this time it’s a visit with no particular goals other than to spend time with friends, enjoy the island.. do some biking (I brought one …) and some sea kayaking. Tomorrow i think I’l pedal north up through the Uists to the Isle of Harris for a few days and next week is looking good for a few days kayaking down to Mingulay with camping gear. Today a storm is raging… the ferries are cancelled and so I have time to write, do some reading and drink coffee :-)

By the time I arrived in Oban for the ferry the snow was thick and the surrounding hills white…
… it reminded me very much of another raw, snowy day boarding a ferry.. a world away on my bike… the overnight crossing from Quellon to Chaiten in Patagonia. I love ferry rides.
Barra is far enough out that its weather is largely independent of what is happening on the mainland… and sure enough we left the clag behind and emerged into bright sunlight with a few scattered snow showers. The light was stunning.
The west coast of Barra is fabulous, rugged bays with deserted white sand beaches and crystal clear waters…
The island has a palette that is very much governed by the tones in the ocean.. this van probably a bit past it, the atmosphere is quite corrosive being salt-laden.
Cloudscapes can be spectacular…
.. as weather systems sweep through. Every day has been marked by glorious sunshine with the occasional fast moving shower. Conditions change rapidly, it’s interesting. This view looking north towards the mountains on South Uist.
The island itself is picturesque..
..with rugged mountains..
..and small communities.
Barra is also the only place in the world where scheduled flights arrive on the beach… flight schedules dictated by the tides of course.
Tràigh Mhòr, (means ‘Big Beach in Gaelic).. the airport beach..
In between flight arrivals sheltered Tràigh Mhòr is also the island cockle-picking spot
Tràigh Mhòr
a wonderful pastel palette …
when weather systems sweep in the coast has a very elemental feel..
Huge swells pile up on offshore reefs.
when conditions are right there are some super breaks. Ben is about to eat some sand ;-)
I have fond memories from my last visit of the slightly out of context experience of getting changed into my wetsuit at the airport terminal before jumping over the dunes into the surf :-)
super colours to the waves
..and a great setting
Tony, riding a board he shaped himself.
The ferry MV Isle of Lewis moored in Castlebay.. she’s been here a couple of days now waiting for the storm to abate :-) It’s still early season so weather disruption can happen from time to time.
The small ferry terminal. In summer there is a sailing to/from Oban every day. It’s not expensive.
That’ll do for now. It’s handy having a bike here for exploring. This is the causeway between Barra and Vatersay. Just for info there are a couple of bike hire places on the island.

3 thoughts on “Back on Barra

    • haha, thank you. I could picture the same…. ;-) I’d need an entirely plastic bike were I to live on Barra I think, judging by the rate at which surface corrosion is appearing on my bike on parts that were considered ‘stainless’ and/or anodized!

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