Another bright start to the day and Peter thinks he spotted a Skylark through Bessie’s windscreen this morning (apologies for poor quality photo!).


Today we are going to the Heritage Centrre in Castlebay but not before our customary detour to the jetty.  This time we were rewarded with a pair of Black-Tailed Godwits in the field nearby.


The little harbour is looking as pretty as ever and the sea looks fantastic this morning.


We decided to take a walk along the beach for a change and, as usual, the Dunlins have the same idea.  After a while, they rise as one and fly to a different part of the beach to forage once more for food.  I find them the most delightful of little birds and have now a vast quantity of photos of them!

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There are so many different shades of blue and green in the shallows – this really is a magical place.

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We reached the far corner and, turning the bend, saw in the distance the place where we are camping (the field to the left of the house in the centre where Mary and Angus live).


We walked back along the beach to the jetty and drove to Castlebay in time to visit the Heritage Centre.  It has a small café attached to it and holds much of interest to the visitor.  The displays are well laid out, with plenty of photographs of times past and Morag is justifiably proud of her Centre.  It seems the Highland Clearances were a fact of life also for the islanders in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when rich landlords ruled the roost and turfed people out of their crofts, with many sent forcibly to Canada in appalling conditions.  The island was run as a fiefdom from Eoligarry House, which saw regular visits from the English aristocracy, including the Duchess of Bedford, who brought her own yacht.  Despite the way they were treated, many of the islanders who were permitted to remain still felt loyal enough to fight for their country in both world wars, many losing their lives or being taken prisoner.  The second half of the century gradually saw the population grow again and the people once more took control of their beautiful island.

The café is beautifully run and we enjoyed home made cakes and scones before we left.

The boat was running to Kisimul Castle today as the weather had improved so we took the opportunity of going over.  As members of English Heritage, we were delighted to find that we didn’t have to pay as the Castle is now looked after by Historic Scotland, a sister organisation.


The two-man crew take the boat over at half-hour intervals and it was waiting at the slipway to the Castle when we arrived.  It wasn’t long before it returned with its single passenger.

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We were the sole occupants of the boat and the boatman told us that in the old days you were rowed across, although we don’t remember this from our previous visit years ago.  It was a quick trip and we stepped out onto the slipway and made our way through the gateway.  I was surprised to find that inside the ancient curtain wall was a strange mixture of stone buildings with dormers and sash windows.


The castle, probably built in the 13th century had been a stronghold of the Clan Macneil up until the decline of the clan system and the bankruptcy of Macneils of Barra in the 19th century.  Barra was then bought by the notorious Highland landlord we had learned of in the Heritage Centre when the last of the old chiefs, Roderick the General, 41st Chief, died.

With his death, the succession passed to a branch of the family that had emigrated to Canada and Robert Lister Macneil was pronounced Macneil of Barra in the Court of the Lord Lyon in Edinburgh.  In 1937 Robert Lister reaquired the Estate of Barra and the ruins of the Castle but most of the work was carried out between 1956 and 1970, the year of Robert Lister’s death.

Inside, the buildings you can see part of the Listers’ private apartments, including their bedroom and bathroom.  This is quite weird.


Elsewhere, the only room that I liked was the Great Hall with its coat of arms (Vincere vel Mori or Victory or Death – the Clan Macneil war cry) and odd display of English pikes and muskets from Culloden (a gift from the Duke of Argyll) which is ironic considering the Macneils had always been loyal Jacobites!

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Apart from that I found the Castle to be quite grim and very tricky to walk around.  We only stayed for half an hour and got the next boat back to the jetty.  We had to laugh at these two Cormorants on board a little rowing boat, taking it easy while fish-spotting!


We had made a booking for a meal at Café Kismul near the jetty.  It is run by a Scotsman of Indian descent and his Italian wife (at least that’s what we surmised) and serves a choice of Indian and Italian dishes.  It was a great meal – we decided to go mostly Italian in the end – and the café was busy all evening.  Apart from the three hotels on the island and a couple of daytime cafés, I don’t think there is anywhere else to eat on Barra so they are very popular.


There was an interesting juxtaposition of the ferry with the Castle in the background as we drove out of Castlebay…


And the sun was setting over Traigh Mhor as wended our way back to the campsite after a very busy day.