Sitting to the south of Eriskay, from where a ferry sails to the northern tip of the island, Barra’s appeal lies in its breathtaking natural surroundings and well preserved Hebridean history and heritage.
Sail here from the mainland and one of the first sights you’ll see is Kisimul Castle at Castlebay. Perched atop the rocky Bagh a Chaisteil islet, the historic seat of Chief of the Clan MacNeil, this is the last remaining complete castle in the Outer Hebrides. Open to the public, the castle was restored in the 1930s and also serves as a site of pilgrimage for descendents of Barra emigrants, including those who shipped out to Canada from the village of Boldnabodach during the clearances of 1848.
Abandoned by its last inhabitants in the 1920s, Boldnabodach deserted village is now an attraction in itself as the foundations of abandoned homes still stand on the settlement site that dates back as far as Neolithic times.
Other Neolithic attractions include the island’s last remaining monolithic monument - the Brevic standing stone and the burial cairns of Dun Bharpa, Dunn Scurrival and Dun Cuier.
Such is the importance of the island’s archaeology that TV series Time Team chose Allasdale as a dig site for an episode - turning up evidence of settlements, roundhouses and graves. Another significant site is Allt Chrystal (known locally as Allt Easdail) on the southern slope of Ben Tangaval where surveys carried before the building of the Vatersay causeway revealed a evidence of occupation spanning five millennia - ending with the departure of the last traditional kelp burner in the 19th Century.
Artefacts from across the ages are displayed at the Dualchas Heritage Centre in Castlebay, alongside photographs and records charting the history of Barra and a tea room offering visitors a warm welcome.
Fly to Barra and land on the beautiful white sand beach of Traigh Mhor (Barra is the only place in Europe where flight schedules are dictated by the tides!) there are more than eight wonderful sandy stretches backed by rich machair grasses interwoven with wildflowers in spring and summer.
Notable beaches include Seal Bay - home to many of the island’s seals and Halaman bay – perfect for surfing and swimming. While sightseers who enjoy the natural environment can visit the Great Rock of the Glens – left by a melting glacier 10,000 years ago (although local legend assures us it was thrown from Eriskay by an angry giant)
Another remarkable geological feature is the Queen Victoria Rock on the A888 Barra ring road, which, when approached from the east, looks like the profile of the famous monarch.
A more manmade stone attraction appears in the form of the white marble Our Lady of the Sea statue on the slopes of Heaval - the island’s highest peak with views to neighbouring islands of Vatersay, Pabbay, Mingulay and Berneray and the mainland.
This virgin and child look over the oceans and carry the prayers of this proud seafaring community, fishing boats still sail from Castlebay today and at the turn of the last century the harbour was home to 400 herring boats. During the two world wars, the island community suffered heavy losses due to the high number of men serving in the merchant navy, with a fatality rate four times higher than the armed forces – a memorial to them was erected in 1993 overlooking Castlebay.
Christian faith has been important to the people of Barra since the arrival of St Columba in the 7th Century, and visitors today can even see the remains of the Celtic Christian church where a gravestone speaking to the island’s rich heritage with both a Celtic Cross and Norse runes engraved was discovered before being sent to the National Museum in Edinburgh.
Visit Barra and the island will leave an indelible impression – which perhaps explains why it has inspired many artists, from Whisky Galore author Compton MacKenzie who set his novel Whisky Galore on Barra to Tintin creator George Remi (Herge) who is believed to have holidayed here while creating his legacy of children’s literature.
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