A Fishy Tale From Barra

There are more than twenty of us travelling by minibus from the Outer Hebridean isle of Eriskay over the causeway to South Uist…

Peering out of the window, the view is obscured by rivulets of driving rain, the moorlands bordered by wire fencing. There is little to see – an occasional kamikaze sheep lazily venturing into the middle of the road, random houses, and, out of the murky nowhere, a small mobile home in a field – headquarters of the South Uist Clay Pigeon Club.

I was not meant to be here, being ferried to Benbecula via ferry from Barra to Eriskay and South Uist, to a waiting plane for a forward journey to Glasgow. I should have jetted off hours earlier from the white sands of Traigh Mhor, the beach-based runway of Barra airport (recently rated fourth in an international poll of the most scenic airports in the world).  However wind and rain, then the impending tide scuppered any chance of take-off on that wet Friday morning.

barra1The Barra flight is one of those tourist things you must try and do if you are in that neck of the woods. Or, at least endeavour to catch a take-off or landing. It is quirky – the baggage reclaim is only a little larger than, and has more than a passing resemblance to, a bus shelter.

But airport regulations are the same the world over. First, flights are diverted in bad weather – the reason we’re in the minibus now. And second, at my luggage weigh-in, I appeared to be teetering on the edge of the baggage restriction of 6kg for this flight… Ah yes, that would be my gently sweating piscine purchases: this morning’s fishy haul.

By now, I am conspicuously avoiding delving too deeply into my backpack at any point on this unplanned, onward journey. Nestling in the bottom is a very squashy (and by now, quite warm) carrier bag containing eight fat, fresh scallops, two packs of hot smoked salmon and two monkfish loins. These were innocently purchased (only this morning?) from Barratlantic – the fish processing plant at Ardveenish, which nestles on the coast of the island. I am fervently hoping to make it home before the other passengers start complaining about any fishy smells emanating from my luggage.

The wind is windy, the bumps are bumpy and the fish is fishy; I look around – am I the only one wondering if it had been wise to sample so many of the splendid offerings from the Barra airport café menu? The café doubles as departure lounge and while delayed, breakfast meandered into elevenses, then gently segued into lunch, and I felt compelled to try the home baking.

Hot chocolate with cream, Victoria sponge cake and then home-made lentil soup with a warm, freshly baked bread roll. It would have been rude not to…

barra2Loganair, who fly the Government-owned Havilland Canada DHC-6 Twin Otter propeller planes, make the 75-minute journey to the picturesque beach. There are normally two return flights between Glasgow and Barra per day, with each timed to coincide with low tide. When plans go awry, as they did that day, Loganair makes alternative arrangements for passengers: on this occasion to fly from Benbecula airport. It is a more traditional departure from tarmac, but requires a ferry and bus journey to get up there.

So it is, that by early evening and without further mishap, we arrive at Benbecula for the flight to Glasgow and then onwards home to Edinburgh.

With regret, my flight from the glorious sands at Barra will have to wait for another day.

But the fish was delicious.


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