Friday, 27 July 2012

Top 10 best British islands: No. 3 – Barra

Barra was the one island we had always wanted to visit before we began A British Island Adventure. Drawn as we were by its tropical white sands and the very idea of landing a passenger plane on a cockleshell beach. When we finally reached Barra, it wasn't by aircraft but it didn't disappoint. We sailed from Oban to Castlebay on the CalMac ferry, taking around five hours to reach our destination after sailing through the Sound of Mull, and into the Sea of the Hebrides with glimpses of Coll, Skye and the Small Isles along the way.

In many ways Barra is the ultimate Hebridean island – remote from the mainland it has a strong independent community that speaks Gaelic as often as not, and still fills the local churches. The size of the island seems just right, striking a satisfying balance between a 1,000 strong population and the wild, empty landscape of mountain and moor. It offers the experience of being apart from the world, yet without too much of the hardship that can be found on smaller islands.

The 383m summit of Sheabhal is perhaps the best place to understand Barra. From here you can see how Barra lies at the southern end of the Outer Hebrides, linked to Vatersay by bridge. How the north and west sides are edged with sandy beaches and the east coast frays away, giving in to the claim of the sea in the form of ragged inlets and hidden bays. Looking south, the chain continues way beyond Barra in a submerged mountain range of uninhabited islands: Sandray, Pabbay, Mingulay and Berneray to finish.

Barra is in the top 10... for being the epitome of a Hebridean island


Anonymous said...

Hi Folks. I just stumbled across your blog and it might well be that our paths have crossed as I was visiting some of the Scottish isles from 2009 to 2011 at the same time as you guys. When does an island count to be "visited" by you?


Sam said...

Yeah, we also wondered what your criteria were? Our criteria is setting foot on a piece of land cut off from the mainland at some point by the sea. The piece of land must have a variety of vegetation and be able to support at least 2 sheep. If the island has a name, it's a bonus! Just wanted to check we are on the same playing field! sticking-out-tongue-smiley

TC + DC said...

Agreed, but it's just one sheep for us! We set out with the intention of trying to set foot on every island but as soon as we started we realised it would be beyond us, especially as we don't have a boat. So we've settled for landing on as many as we can and photographing the rest. If it's been photographed it's on the list and on the map with a pink marker. Those we've set foot on are blue, and interesting islets/rocks are yellow but not included in the island counter.

Sam said...

We thought as much! Still a pretty awesome total, we count it as 160 set foot on?

Our total is 82, and we're planning a lot more next year, so it looks like you might have some friendly competition to keep you on your toes!

TC + DC said...

Ha ha! Who knows, we might bump into you on a distant rock somewhere.