Author Topic: Extremely friendly BARRA islanders  (Read 513 times)

Dyffryn Ardudwy

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Extremely friendly BARRA islanders
« on: 12:14:58, 10/06/17 »
Ive just returned from a hugely successful trip to the Outer Hebrides, staying first on Barra, and then island hoping all the way to Stornway on Lewis.
The people on Barra were so friendly, that i found it a little unnerving, but in a most pleasant way, as most of them wanted to stop their cars and get into conversation with me, where else in the Uk, would that happen.


Its was very moving to see their flag at half mast in Castlebay, knowing that two young members of their community had died in the Manchester bombing.


With only a population of around 1100, everyone knows each other, so crime is almost unheard of.
Even the local police stopped their car, to have a chat to a friend of theirs, and as i was passing, they greeted me, asking me what i thought about the island, as it was obvious i was not a habitant of their community.
Hearing most of the locals speaking Gaelic, was a real treat, and as i walked around the island, the various wildlife was interesting, especially the several cuckoos that i saw and heard.


Its a good thing that the islands are so remote, as secretly i envied their gentle way of life, with everyone knowing each other, and for Police officers to be non confrontational, THAT WAS A RARE TREAT INDEED. :D


Its not often that a police car stops, and the officers welcome you to their community, that will live long in my memory.
« Last Edit: 12:27:12, 10/06/17 by Dyffryn Ardudwy »

barewirewalker

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Re: Extremely friendly BARRA islanders
« Reply #1 on: 10:30:17, 12/06/17 »
What a heartwarming post, even in a time of such community grief their openhearted welcome is so reminiscent the way strangers were treated in the countryside in my youth. There would always would be a extra place set at mealtimes for a visitor to the farm in my grandmothers kitchen. A leftover from the true values of hospitality. So different from my last walk on the outskirts of Wellington, Shropshire, where the president of Shropshire's Country Landowner's Association as good as accused me of being a potential child molester.
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Sarah Pitht

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Re: Extremely friendly BARRA islanders
« Reply #2 on: 08:44:03, 24/06/17 »
Lovely to hear of the warm welcome, Dyfrryn Ardudwy. i think you do,find that friendliness in more remote communities.

We are planning an island hop of the Outer Hebrides next year so if you would be willing to share any tips, your route etc etc I'd be really gratefll. Thanks.
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Dyffryn Ardudwy

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Re: Extremely friendly BARRA islanders
« Reply #3 on: 13:19:32, 24/06/17 »
My biggest suggestion, is to book a coaching trip to the islands, as this would certainly make your holiday a lot more affordable.
These are the main suggestions that i think you should consider

1, Contact Caledonian MacBrayne, the main ferry providers to the isles, (www.calmac.co.uk), and ask them for their Go Explore brochure.
Currently it costs £132 to take your car over from Oban to CastleBay on Barra, and as public transport is fairly scarce on the island, it would make a lot of sense to take your car.
I was surprised to discover that it was a five hour journey from Oban to Barra, and luckily the Atlantic was calm, but the views of the inner Hebrides were pretty special.

Travelling South to North also makes more sense, as the main highlights of your visit, are to be found on the Isle of Harris and Lewis.

2, If your lucky enough to own a bicycle, take it with you, as cycling around the islands is a real must.
Cyclists almost outnumbered motorists on the ferries, and as virtually all the islands are flat, its a cycling paradise.

3, As i had booked my accommodation through the coach company, i was not aware how costly it was to stay on the isle of Barra.
I stayed in the magnificent Isle of Barra beach hotel, which is only around a mile up the road from the ferry terminal in CastleBay, and its view was incredible.
The wonderfully situated hotel, is only around 80m from the shores of the Atlantic ocean, and from early November, they regularly get winds topping 120mph.
On my return, i discovered that their tariff for staying the night, was a rather expensive £165, but the food and accommodation was excellent.
When a coach company group books a hotel, i suppose the rates are so much more affordable, but as the weather in early June was excellent, i really enjoyed my stay, and in hindsight, i would certainly stay there again, and save my money to afford another visit.


Throughout my seven hour walk, following the main road encircling the island, i saw a few B&Bs, but not many, so it would not surprise me that the Barra beach hotel was one of only a handful of hotels on the island.


If you can budget for a stay at the hotel, it was certainly worth it, but this is where a coaching holiday makes financial sense.


My seven day holiday, one night in the hotel overlooking Loch Long, above Loch Lomond, two nights at the Barra beach on Barra, two nights in the large 4star hotel (forgotten its name) in Stornway, and a final night in the hotel in Aviemore, was £865.


Had i done everything under my own steam, cost of fuel from Dyffryn to Loch lomond, ferry trips, cost of taking my car, accommodation, food, services of two highly experienced guides living on the isles, and admission charges for the various attractions, it would have cost me considerably more than £865.

When on Barra, i walked around the entire island, a distance of just under fourteen miles, and heard and saw several cuckoos, otters, seals, and possibly other rare visitors.

You must see the famous airport at Barra, and planes arrive from both Inverness and Glasgow, but without your own transport you will be stuck, but you could budget to hire a car for your visit.

There is a short ferry journey of just under the hour, from Barra to South Uist, but there was not a lot to see or do on South Uist, Benbecula, and North Uist.

I cannot imagine what the winter months would be like on those parts of the Hebrides, it was incredibly flat, offering no protection from the Atlantic winds, and the houses were dotted around the landscape, and there was no nightlife to speak about.


It was very similar to the Orkney's, but a lot flatter, and fewer buildings, and not a single tree in sight, all the way to Stornway.


Barra had lots of trees, but once you were on South Uist, you had to reach Stornway before you saw another tree, even Harris was treeless.

The second ferry trip, was from North Uist to Harris, and this is where the real Hebrides starts for the tourist.

Up until reaching Harris, there was not really anything to do, other than admire the views , as long as the weather was kind.

For us walkers, Harris was mouth watering, a dream landscape, very similar to the highlands on the mainland, but more gentle, and no mountain was a challenge, but the scenery was beautiful, and all in a very compact space.

The Isle of Lewis is joined to Harris, and the cut off point is a small road bridge, so one could easily have one leg standing in Harris and the other in lewis.

The biggest area of population, Stornoway, is at the top of Lewis, and is the only area of the entire Outer Hebrides, where there are significant number of trees.

You must visit the Standing stones of Callanish, as they left a huge and lasting impression on me.

Slightly older than both the Pyramids and Stonehenge, and aligned to the phase of the moon, and has nothing to do with the rising sun at Mid summer.

From Stornway harbour, the ferry ride back to Ullapool was only two and a half hours, one of the shortest routes.

There is also a ferry from Skye to Tarbet, which is on Harris.

My biggest suggestion, is to plan your visit with a coach provider, so all your accommodation and food will have been pre booked, and all the main attractions are to be found mainly on Lewis.

If you plan to do it under your own steam, sale from Oban, and then drive up from Barra and base yourself in Stornway.

Everything is very accesable by car, but be warned, EVERYTHING CLOSES ON A SUNDAY, as the whole Hebrides still observe the sabbath, and the islanders are very religious.


About the only thing that moves or are open on Sundays, are the ferries, but even their timetables are limited on Sundays, every shop, and attraction closes, so tourists be warned.


If you have a bike, take it with you, especially on Barra and Vatersay, and if you do not plan to take your own vehicle, arrange to hire one for your entire trip, as it will make getting around so much easier, as i saw few buses on Lewis.


First thing, contact Caledonian MacBrayne, and try and visit in late May early June, before the midges arrive, and your almost guaranteed a fabulous holiday.

I hope my essay will be of great help for you, and have a great time.
« Last Edit: 13:52:38, 24/06/17 by Dyffryn Ardudwy »

Sarah Pitht

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Re: Extremely friendly BARRA islanders
« Reply #4 on: 20:55:59, 24/06/17 »
Wow, Dyffryn Ardudwy, what an amzingky detailed reply. Thank you so much. Plenty of information to digest. And plenty that I wasn't aware of eg relative flatness meaning cycling would be a good option; plus the knowledge that the hills on Harris aren't too much of a challenge cf to the typical highland offering is certainly encouraging.


We had been wondering about hiring a campervan and mixing it up between campsites and wild camping. Did you spot much in the way of a camper culture there.


It sounds like you had a great time - the wildlife and views sound delightful.


We will def have to cost it all out. Thank you for the advice. 
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Islandplodder

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Re: Extremely friendly BARRA islanders
« Reply #5 on: 21:47:13, 24/06/17 »
You will find lots of people with camper vans travelling through the islands. There are a few campsites, but especially in the Uists lots of people park in the dunes on the west side of the island. Don't write off the Uists, there are some great hill walks, the machair flowers are lovely, and there are miles and miles of white sandy beaches which you can often have to yourself.  And in S Uist and Benbecula shops are open on Sundays.  A lot of people cycle through the islands, there is a waymarked route. There are also plenty of hostels and b and bs but they can get booked up.  And you will find most Islanders pretty friendly and helpful

Sarah Pitht

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Re: Extremely friendly BARRA islanders
« Reply #6 on: 22:19:12, 24/06/17 »
Thanks Islandplodder. Now that I think about it, does your forum name indicate that you have especial knowledge of the Hebrides? I love the thought of wild camping in the dunes...
The Sunday island differences - i assume dépend on the religious bent of the area...?
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Islandplodder

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Re: Extremely friendly BARRA islanders
« Reply #7 on: 22:39:49, 24/06/17 »
I do know the area pretty well, yes. You will find everything gets more sabbatarian as you go north, but even Lewis isn't as bad as it was. You can wild camp pretty much where you want, but in Harris they may charge you a bit for parking a camper. Bear in mind, though, that the weather can be awful at any time of year!

Sarah Pitht

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Re: Extremely friendly BARRA islanders
« Reply #8 on: 22:53:51, 24/06/17 »
Re the weather. Thanks for the warning. Luckily I am v familiar with the vagaries of the Scottish west coast having spent many holidays there. Just back from Knoydart which had typical West Coast variable weather.
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