I’m on Barra, at the southern tip of the Western Isles. There are a handful of islands further south - known as the Bishop’s Isles - but they’re uninhabited now. When I first visited Barra (about 40 years ago), I stayed at a b & b. The lady said she had been born on one of these islands, Mingulay. A fisherman dropped me on the island, and picked me up a few hours later, so I had time to explore. The island’s community was built around a sandy bay. All the houses had fallen into ruin, and filled with sand, though you could see where they all were. The only building standing to its full height was the two-storey schoolhouse. It must have been a tough life, though the lady remembered her time on the island very fondly. When life on the island proved to be unsustainable, the islanders were evacuated to the ‘mainland’: ie Barra. No-one has lived on Mingulay since 1912.
The lady’s husband was a builder, and he was working on a house. He worked on his own, and was able to do all the work himself - everything from laying the foundations to tiling the roof. It just took him a long time! He said he didn’t need his van during the working day, so he drove me out to the house he was building, and left me with the van. My only instructions were to put some petrol in and pick him up at 5pm sharp, so we could go back to the guesthouse together.
I don’t need to switch the satnav on when driving around Barra. Start from any point and drive for 12 miles… and you’ll be back where you started from. There’s a sign at a road junction near where the ferry docks from South Uist. Go left and you’re heading for Castlebay; go right and you’re heading for… Castlebay.
The sun is out - briefly, fitfully - between the rain showers (which caught a couple unawares as they were eating their lunch on a table outside Kisimul Cafe, forcing them to retreat inside with their plates). The temperature has crept into double figure, I’m taking a few pix, and all’s well with the world. I’ve decided to get the ferry to Oban this afternoon. It will call at Coll and Tiree as well: opportunities for more pix, or, at the very least, time to relax with a book…