Barra bound (reader feature)

Danny Scott and friends enjoy four days of glorious weather on a slightly haphazard walking trip through the Western Isles.

Barra boundSouth Uist emerged from a palette of gun-metal greys and charcoal as rain began to fall on the Prince of the Isles. On its decks were three nervous ‘walkers’ about to embark on a planned holiday on the Western Isles. The crossing from Oban had been a pleasant five hours. Time flew aided by a mix of beautiful scenery, a tarmac-like sea, quiz machine high jinx and a sea eagle that navigated itself over our ship (including a German camera lens that stretched far enough into the air to almost kneecap the poor bird’s pinnate legs).With only one driver’s licence and no cars between us we had made it all the way to Lochboisdale – South Uist’s main village – by public transport and planned to walk south all the way to the deserted village of Mingulay on the South East tip of Vatersay. This all seemed fairly straightforward. Walk from Lochboisdale to near Pollacher on day one; cross the South Uist–Eriskay causeway and explore the latter on day two; take the Eriskay–Barra ferry on day three and walk the length of the island to Castlebay on the south coast; on day four we would then just walk on to Vatersay for high-fives and much back-slapping.A last-minute realisation that there were no bothies on this route, however, threw a spanner in the works. Wild camping was pitched as a fairly exciting alternative. A small gas cooker gadget, two canisters and a basic three-man tent was deemed sufficient equipment to cover this change of plan.

A quick read through Martin Coventry’s Hebridean Island Hopping told us of a couple of Co-ops on our route and by the time we emerged from the shop in Daliburgh with lots of water and a robust looking Stornaway black pudding (“the best black pudding in the world”) we began to feel quite confident, if a bit laden down.

Barra boundAs a warm midday sun burnt off the grey we strode out towards the reputedly incredible beaches of South Uist’s west coast. After a pitstop on the machair and a quick nap to the songs of scores of different birds we eventually scrambled up the impressive, unspoilt dunes. On the other side a huge, white sand and turquoise blue sea belter of a beach revealed itself to us. Breathtaking. By late afternoon we were still happily trekking along hard sand next to crystalline waters clean enough to cook pasta in, waving at seals lounging in the late afternoon sun.

As the sun began its long descent into the Atlantic, and our hunger grew, we decided to find a good pitch for the night, of which there were plenty. Crowding round our gas hob many cooks decided upon Moroccan couscous with black pudding. Outdoor fusion cooking at its best.

Many great memories were formed over the following days (apart from the black pudding and porridge meal on the second night) as we hit our stride. During four days of stunning weather we climbed to some of the smaller summits on Eriskay, Barra and Vatersay, enjoying panoramic views including the dramatic looking Cuillin ridge on Skye, and Rum.

Barra boundAs first-time visitors to the Western Isles we were totally blown away by the windswept beauty of the place. The variety of wild and plant life, from otters to a kaleidoscopic carpet of wild flowers on Barra, kept evolving the views of both land and sea. Admittedly, we were pretty lucky to get four days of sun and beautiful blue skies but returning back to the day job less than a week after leaving it felt as if layers of stress had been shed.

There is no better tonic than nature for a tired and stressed mind. Living in Edinburgh one has more access to it than most city dwellers but often it can feel like man’s interpretation of nature – handrails on Arthur’s Seat and tended sections of Craighouse and Blackford hills.

The Western Isles offers nature and the outdoors as it is and should be. Something that appears unaltered. It provides an altogether more nutritious experience for the soul (much more nutritious than black pudding). The Bens don’t have paths and the beaches rarely have any footprints other than your own, which are then washed away by the tide. It leaves you feeling wonderfully isolated yet it is all so accessible, even with a little bit of poor planning.

About the author

Danny ScottDanny Scott lives in Edinburgh, but escapes the city as much as he can. He is living proof that you don’t need a driver’s licence to explore Scotland’s more faraway places.

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