Due to Covid restrictions on travel, we decided to take our family holiday in Scotland this year. This gave me the opportunity to experience the ‘famous’ beach landing on the island of Barra in the Outer Hebrides. It wasn’t cheap, the flights are operated by Loganair from Glasgow, and the cost was about £75 each way and for a family of four it was a bit of an indulgence for a day trip. But, as we hadn’t travelled anywhere all spring and summer we decided it would be an adventure and it was soon booked.
We overnighted on Friday at the Premier Inn at Glasgow Airport which was a bargain at £35 for a family room, and early on Saturday morning we were in the deserted terminal and through security in no time. Not much was open in the terminal but we found a place selling breakfast and then made our way to the gate. Lots of British Airways narrowbody aircraft are stored here at the moment, mainly A321’s. There were a few domestic services operating but not much else, a stark reminder of the impact that Covid 19 is having on the travel industry.
We were soon onboard Viking DHC6-400 G-SGTS wearing a striking blue colour scheme to represent the Scottish flag, and after a short taxy out we were soon airbourne. The weather in Glasgow was low cloud, but the weather en-route improved allowing views of the stunning landscape below. 1 hour and 15 minutes later we were descending into the airfield at Barra beneath beautiful blue skies.
The terminal is a small building and there isn’t much here. A stunning beach is to the west over the dunes, but to get to the main town, Castle Bay, you need to take a 30 minute cab ride as there isn’t any busses running. There were 6 of us wandering around debating how to get to the town when a kind local called his brother-in-law who had a 7 seat cab to come and get us all. The trip cost £20.
The weather on the southern part of the island was overcast, and not a lot was open. Kisimul Castle is visible out in the bay and is normally accessible to the public but unfortunately the shadow of Covid has temporarily closed it.
We had a great lunch at the Hebridean Toffee Cafe (then only place open) and before long were back in the cab heading to the beach for our return afternoon flight. After an hour or so on the beach to the west of the airfield we wandered back to the terminal to await and photograph the arrival of our aircraft, however the weather was closing in and we heard it make a low pass above the low cloud base which was causing problems. We heard the aircraft make another low pass and then the sound of the engines faded away. It was then that we heard the first murmurs that the aircraft had in fact returned to Glasgow. My stomach lurched. We had a tight itinerary brought and paid for on the mainland and needed to get back to Glasgow tonight. We were packed for a day trip and only had the camera bag and credit cards on us. We joined the gaggle in the terminal only to be told that the flight would not return today and that the following days flights were full. It seemed that would be the end of it but we made a fuss. It is the airlines duty to put you up or find you alternative transport in this eventuality. The Loganair rep offered us two alternatives. Both involved at least one night in the Outer Hebrides. Either stay on Barra for the night then take a 5 hour ferry to Oban and 2.5 hour cab journey the following evening back to Glasgow, or take a Ferry to South Uist, stay overnight , then fly back to Glasgow from Benbecular arriving into Glasgow just before 6pm. The latter was the only option for us to minimise the disruption to our travel plans. And with that, a cab took us to the Ferry Terminal for the crossing to south Uist. The sea was calm and lots of seals were spotted during the 45 minute crossing which made this unscheduled addition to our trip quite enjoyable.
After an hour in a cab we arrived at the Borrodale Hotel which was home for the night, with mixed emotions. We were supposed to be in a lodge on loch Lomond tonight, the cost of which was lost.
The following afternoon we made it to Benbecular and boarded SAAB 340B G-LGNB for the 1 hour flight back to Glasgow, finally arriving at Fort William at about 9pm with 2 days lost from our itinerary. If anyone chooses to take the flight out to Barra, be prepared for the worst and take at least an overnight bag with you – just in case! Our thanks to Loganair for arranging and meeting the cost of the cabs, ferry and overnight stay in South Uist for us.