I rocked up at the very scenic ferry port of Eriskay and parked the camper at the front of the standby queue. Nice time to get a little break whilst waiting for the next ferry to arrive. The ferries have not been too busy thus far. I guess it’s a bit later on in the year, which has worked in my favour in terms of getting a space on board.
Catching the ferries is not just a way to get between islands. It gives you a whole new vantage point to see some of the smaller uninhabited islands en-route as well. It’s a very relaxing way to travel. The journey is not too long, so arrived at Barra with a few hours of daylight left, which is always nice.
Seemed a shame to waste the last few hours of daylight, so I thought I’d make the most of it by heading over to the small island of Vatersay just off Barra. No ferry is needed this time, I could simply drive over to it.
‘Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations. The best is yet to come.’
— Zig Ziglar
I’m so glad I made the effort. A great drive around the single-track coastal road ending at a stunningly beautiful beach. The pink-tinged twilight perfectly complimented the crystal clear turquoise sea gently lapping the white sand shore. Another one of those moments where it was hard to believe quite what I was seeing or experiencing. What a fantastic way to end the day!
One of the reasons why I wanted to visit Barra, is that it has a pretty special airport. Yeah, I know, not something you normally have on a wish list of things to see! However, this is something a little different to what you might normally expect. Barra Airport is a short-runway airport that was opened in 1936. The airport’s only destination is Glasgow. What makes it so special, is that it is located in the wide shallow bay of Traigh Mhòr at the northern tip of the island.
When you first arrive, you notice some unusual looking buildings for a beachfront location. I parked up and went in to have a look at what was the airport terminal beside the control tower. The airport is unique, believed to be the only one in the world where scheduled flights use a tidal beach as the runway. Yes, you read that right, the beautiful sandy beach is also where the planes land and take off!
More runways than Heathrow
I asked which way the planes come in when they land? I was reliably told they have more runways than Heathrow! It just depends on which way the wind is blowing and where the tide is as to which part of the beach they use to land or take off! I was told when the windsocks go up, keep off the beach as there is a plane coming into land.
I checked to see when the next plane was due in? Happy days for me as there was one due to land a bit later on in the morning. I was thinking of catching a morning ferry, but I really wanted to see the beach airport in action. I could always catch a later ferry…
Right on time, I could see a small flashing light in the distant sky as the LM451 from Glasgow began its final approach to land on the beach at Barra airport. The passengers disembarked and walked over the sand to the terminal building. What a way and place to fly out to. One of the coolest little airports out there.
With all the passengers safely cleared, the plane refueled then taxied out across the sand towards the sea. Ready to make its own unique takeoff runway across the beach for its return flight back to Glasgow. So glad I stopped and got to see the tiny beach front airport in action. It really made my day!
Whilst working my way down the Outer Hebrides, I have seen quite a few cyclists touring the Islands. Waiting for the ferry, I meet some interesting people taking on the 185mile cycle route that is the Hebridean Way. The official route starts on Vatersay and ends at the Butt of Lewis lighthouse on the Isle of Lewis.
Cycle touring has always seemed like one of the best ways to travel and explore a country. It was fascinating to see the changes in the development of both the bikes and lightweight camping kit since my time on a bike! The cycling kit and technology has certainly moved on a bit since I used to cycle around a bit. Full respect to the people I chatted to. I hope you really enjoyed your journey cycling from top to bottom of the Western Isles.
Seashells on the seashore
One of the many unique things the Outer Hebrides has in its landscape is something called ‘Machair’. This is a Gaelic word meaning ‘fertile plain’. The word is now also used in scientific literature to describe the dune grassland unique to Western Scotland and northwest Ireland. In the summer months, the area comes alive with some incredible wildflower flora. I need to come back again to try and see this, it’s supposed to be pretty spectacular.
One of the key ingredients for the formation of this fertile land type is broken shell fragments. These are rolled by the waves towards the shore, where they are broken up further and added to the soil mix. It creates an interesting beach sand texture during the process. I always find it interesting how things that have broken can be turned into things of amazing beauty. Much like the Japanese art of Kintsugi that has often inspired me.
Being broken doesn’t mean something can’t still be beautiful. Its all a matter of perspective. Like this abandoned colourful vintage wooden fishing boat on the beach. I’m sure it will continue to deteriorate over time. I like to photographically capture things like this as a frozen moment of beauty in time.