Saturday, November 8, 2014

A Barra Walk

On a foggy Barra day in 2012 I drove to the north end of the island and parked near the old chapel and burial ground of Cille Bharra. My little car looked a little lonely in the little empty lot; little did I know, that while I would be out hiking, the car park would fill up and block access to my car.

My goal was to walk up to the high ground at the north end, and spend some time watching airplanes land on the beach of Traigh Mhor. The first photo shows the two amazing beaches that sit astride the northern peninsula: Traigh Mhor and Traigh Uais. I wonder if this sandy isthmus qualifies as a gigantic tombolo.

Looking south from Beinn Eolaigearraidh
From Cille Bharra I hiked around the old walled garden of Eoligarry House. The house was demolished quite a while ago, and in its place there are several blocks of non-descript apartments. All that's left of Eoligarry House are the garden walls, and inside them is the RC Church of St Vincent DePaul. My wife and I attended Mass there once, as it was advertised as being in Gaelic. But, disappointingly, it was 'anns a' Beurla' (in English).

I found a gateway through the old wall, and then headed north-west to the summit of Dun Sgurabhal.

Traigh Mhor and the airfield terminal buildings
Dun Sgurabhal is an Iron Age galleried dun that sits atop the hill. It is sadly dilapidated, so I did not linger for long.

Dun Scurabhal
A cave is marked on the OS map just to the south of the summit of Dun Sgurabhal; ever the cave lover I decided to pay it a visit. I found its small entrance below the lip of a short cliff, and as I stepped into the dark cave I got quite a fright as a whole flock of pigeons suddenly took flight from the back of the cave.

Cave below Dun Sgurabhal
From the cave I climbed to the top of Beinn Eolaigearraidh. At 102 metres it's the highest bit of ground at the north end of Barra, and provided some amazing views.

Looking north from the summit of Ben Eolaigearraidh - Dun Sgurabhal (left), Ben Sgurabhal (right)
I made myself comfortable at the top of the hill and cracked open a beer. While waiting for the plane to fly in from Benbecula I noticed the ferry from Eriskay on its way south to Barra.

The ferry from Eriskay traverses the Sound of Barra
Below me lay the vast beach of Traigh Eais. Wondering what the name means, I just looked up 'Eais' in Dwelly's Gaelic dictionary. Nothing was listed. So I dug out my favorite book on Barra, AA MacGregor's Summer Days Among the Western Isles. There was no definition of the name there, either. However MacGregor spelled it 'Traigh Uais', and 'Uais' is listed in Dwelly's as relating to the word 'Uasal; a word that means something noble. So perhaps the name of the beach comes from its location near Eoligarry House, where the MacNeil's lived after abandoning Kisimul Castle: i.e., The Beach of the Noble-Man. Or perhaps it simply means 'The Noble Beach', for it is quite grand.

Traigh Uais - the Noble Beach?
Right on time I heard the buzz of an airplane, and looked up to see the Twin Otter descending across Traigh Uais.

Flight from Benbecula on the approach to Traigh Mhor
After finishing the beer I descended the hill to return to my car, parked down at Cille Bharra. When I got there I was surprised to see about 30 cars in the small car park; my little hire car blocked in at the rear of the lot. A funeral was in progress, and so I sat to the side as the mourners slowly departed. It was an interesting way to spend the end of an interesting hike on one of my favorite islands. 

Full car park - Cille Bharra
Funeral at Cille Bharra

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