Southern Outer Hebrides November 2009

Helen Rose Hill Diary

During the summer, I paid a return visit to the Outer Hebrides and toured around the more southern islands. Once again, the weather was clear and sunny and within the fairly short visit, I visited five islands all connected by causeways. The most southern island in the Outer Hebrides is Barra and I visited it nearly thirty years ago during the Feis ( the annual local cultural Gaelic festival) . One of the highlights of a visit to Barra and Vatersay is the small plane lands on the sandy beach in Barra. However on this visit I travelled by ferry from Oban to Lochboisdale on a very calm day and spotted basking sharks from the boat.

From Lochboisdale, it was a fairly short road journey to the Polachar Inn on South Uist.   The hotel was comfortable with well appointed rooms. We drove up to the island of Berneray at the north end of the island group. From here it is a short boat ride to Harris which I wrote about in the Diary last month. On Berneray, we did a circular walk around the island taking in beautiful sandy beaches then up to a chambered cairn and finishing near the Giant MasAskill monument. On the way we passed an interesting looking little hostel overlooking the beach built in the traditional way with a thatched roof.

The following day we travelled to Benbecula and climbed Rueval Hill, the highest point on the Island at five hundred feet. It is not very high but gives good views all round to the other islands and out to sea.  We then had a tour of the island where the local population is increasing due to the availability of houses as the Army base is vacating the settlement. In the afternoon, we drove down to South Uist and over to the west coast at Askernish. It was another opportunity for a walk on a beautiful sandy beach. Although the beaches may look like a South Pacific island, it is too cold to go swimming in the sea although I did have a little paddle! The beauty of these islands is that they are fairly quiet despite their beauty.

On the last full day, we walked across the causeway from the Polachar Inn over to Eriskay made famous in the film Whisky Galore based on the SS Politician sinking and bottles of whisky being washed ashore. On the walk over the causeway, we noticed seals basking on the rocks in the sunshine. We walked over to Prince Charlie Beach, where Prince Charles first landed in Scotland. From the beach we climbed Ben Scrian, the highest point on the island and with panoramic views around the Hebrides. It was then a descent to the Am Politician Bar for lunch and to see the relics from the SS Politician.

In the evening we were welcomed at a ceilidh on South Uist to mark the start of the Feis where visiting professional musicians were coaching the local talented young people in music. The fiddle band from the school was excellent. It was a real local cabaret with many people performing. This wa s followed by dancing where I managed to dance a ‘Strip the Willow’ without injury. The last time I danced at a ceilidh in Vatersay in the Outer Hebrides, I dislocated my shoulder but that is another story.

The following day the boat to Oban called at Barra and we had fine views of Kismul Castle in the bay as we sailed into Castlebay. This castle is unusual as it is surrounded by the sea. We had some time at Oban before the bus to Glasgow and managed a fine afternoon tea!  I was tempted to buy the fish and shellfish freshly caught and for sale on the pier.

Coming attractions; Ben a’Bheithir and Pitlochry

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