Today on Barra was about as close to perfect as you can get. The sun was shining, the sky was clear and I saw sights I’ve dreamed of seeing since I was a kid. The pace of life on Barra is slow. And that is a wonderful thing! No one is in a hurry. Ever. Everyone you meet is happy to linger and talk about the amazing weather Barra is enjoying (they really TALK about the weather here…it’s not just to pass the time, it’s serious conversation). I took the boat over to Kisimul Castle this morning then took the bus down to Vatersay, a small island south of Barra. The two islands are now connected by a man-made causeway. “You’ve just crossed the Atlantic by car!” a woman exclaimed to me (in her wonderful accent) as we rode the bus over the causeway to Vatersay. How could I not get excited?! In Vatersay, I wandered the white, sandy beaches, saw dolphins in the bay, had tea at the cafe, and dreamed of moving there immediately if not sooner.
The pace of this island and it’s people is something I long for at home. I went the whole day without seeing anyone put their face into a smart phone (maybe because there’s no service on the island…or just maybe because the view is so much grander than anything on facebook or twitter). No one ever got huffy. Even when the island cafe was full of tourists fresh off the ferry who could not seem to understand “table service”, the waitress gave only kind (repeated) reminders to “please have a seat and I’ll come to you dearies” as she weaved her way through the crowd with a tray full of hot fish and chips and tea to serve to those already seated. Maybe it’s the delightful accent that keeps them cheerful or maybe it is the bountiful sunshine pouring itself out on land that is usually rugged and cloudy. Perhaps it’s that these folks understand their history of hardship and challenge well so everything else really isn’t a big deal. Maybe it’s that many are still speaking Gaelic (60-70% of Barra is fluent) and must slow down to do some translation to the Americans like me. Even when speaking English, they speak drastically slower than their mainland compatriots. Whatever it was, these folks understand taking it slow in every way possible. Oh how I wish I could pack that trait in my suitcase and take it back with me.
The Kisimul Castle, home to the McNeill Clan is just outside my bedroom window. Amazing!
Kisimul Castle. Naturally, first on the list of things to see today. A little boat takes you over from the main island. Kisimul means “castle on the rock”. Pretty accurate. The castle was fun to explore but I had to ‘mind my head’ many times since the passages were tiny. Surely the original McNeills weren’t 4 foot 2! Why they didn’t make bigger doorways is beyond me. It was great fun to explore it though. Saw the room where the clan would have entertained visitors and could just imagine having a grand party there myself.
Baptismal font at the chapel inside Kisimul Castle. The Castle has a small chapel that is serving as a burial site and memorial room for some prominent McNeills and those who have worked to keep Kisimul Castle in good repair.
The Castlebay, Barra bus stop (with my hotel on the hill in the background) complete with local lady who has always lived on the island. She mentioned that Barra has had terrible weather for the past few weeks. “So glad the sun’s oot. It’s been raining non-stop, as if we need more water ’round here.” she said jokingly. I’d have to agree with her. There’s water everywhere you look. The bus dropped her off at her little house out on Vatersay complete with her own sheep.
The beautiful white sandy beaches of Vatersay. I’ve never seen a beach like this! Can’t believe I’m still in Scotland! If you get all the way to the Motherland without making the effort to get out to Barra and Vatersay, then I think you’ve made a wasted trip. Granted, this weather is PERFECT but I’m certain nothing else in Scotland can compare!
Rocks and kelp back in Castlebay on Barra. Over a hundred years ago many folks made a living by selling Kelp. When the price of kelp dropped suddenly once, it caused great economic turmoil for the people of Barra.