July 23, 2008

Outer Hebrides: Best ‘Don’t Miss’ Experience


1 BARRA AIRPORT http://www.hial.co.uk/ Terrific fun to see the planes land and take off on a beach, which - just hours later - is covered in water. The future of the Twin Otter service may not be 100 per cent secure but for now, this is a fabulous and unique piece of aviation lore. Have a bacon butty and a coffee in the friendly cafe-cum-waiting-room. We saw Nicola Sturgeon in there waiting to fly back after going to the islands to celebrate 60 years of the NHS. All flight times are subject to tides.

2 SKOON ART CAF, 4 Geocrab, Isle of Harris, 01859 530268, www.skoon.co.uk Well-established and widely-known but still a surprise to find, in the middle of the incredible moonscapes of East Harris. Only eight miles from Tarbert but feels a million miles away from civilisation as you drive up to a whitewashed house with a lovely cafe serving yumsome cakes and snacks with bright seascapes on the walls (all for sale). Great place to break your journey with lots of books to peruse as you settle on comfy sofas. And 4 Geocrab is a great address.

3 BUTT OF LEWIS/PORT NESS Wild and windy peak of Lewis once described as "where Europe ends and the ocean begins". Port Ness was wild and spectacular but the lighthouse at the Butt was wilder still - and I felt it necessary to usher the kids back into the motor home when I realised there were no barriers to stop them falling off the sheer cliff edges onto the rocks below. Dramatically beautiful and scary in equal measure.

4 VATERSAY: It might be easy not to bother, but the causeway to Vatersay is very close to Castlebay in Barra and it's worth spinning around the single-tracks to the glorious white sandy bay just before the main settlement - and worth checking out the history of the island and the Vatersay Raiders.

5 SEAL BAY, BARRA Poorly signposted (in fact, not signposted at all!), but worth the effort. The nearest place to park seems to be close to the cemetery just beyond Allathasadal (Allandale on the signs, I think) as you head north-west from Castlebay. Walk back towards Castlebay for a couple of hundred yards, go through the gate and head over the dunes. Locals say they have never been there without seeing a dozen or more seals. Tread carefully and you'll see them pretty close up on the rocks, and if you sit and watch, heads will start to bob up out of the water all around. Great place for collecting shells too.

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