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A day on Vatersay: One of Scotland’s most remote islands

A day on Vatersay: One of Scotland’s most remote islands

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On a misty summer’s day, we spent a blissful day exploring Vatersay, one of Scotland’s most remote islands in the Outer Hebrides. What we discovered will forever be etched in our minds: the machair dressed with wildflowers billowing in the light breeze, azure waters lapping at the white sands, and the bright pink honesty box bearing an abundance of delicious home baking. We walked the circular route around the island exploring its beauty and its history.

Connected to the Isle of Barra by a manmade causeway, Vatersay is simple enough to reach via car. Back in the 80s, the island could only be reached by boats tied at either end of the crossing.

Before the causeway was constructed in 1991, Vatersay almost lost its inhabitants due to its remoteness, as more and more of its residents moved across to Barra or elsewhere for an easier life.

For such a beautiful place, it’s easy to forget the island has experienced its fair share of disaster and hardship. Evidence of this can still been seen on the island; the wreckage from the WWII Catalina seaplane that crashed on the island, the remains of a deserted village, and a memorial dedicated to the Annie Jane shipwreck, where over 350 emigrants sadly perished.

Bagh ADeas beach on vatersay

Cows resting on Bagh A’Deas beach

Spending a day on Vatersay

As soon as we stepped out of the taxi we were greeted by wildflowers blowing in the breeze on the machair. Our taxi driver, Cursty, bid us farewell, agreeing to pick us up in a few hours.

We decided to do the Vatersay beaches walk– a circuit around the island, which would take us past many of the main attractions. Beginning at the Vatersay Community Hall (also home to a cafe) we headed west to our first beach: Traigh Shiar.

Eight-month-old Alex was strapped to Craig’s back in his baby carrier.

things to do on vatersay
Traigh Shiar beach

As soon as we broached the lip of the hill, turquoise waters spilled onto a white sand beach, provoking an ‘oh wow’ to escape my mouth. We’d landed in beach heaven.

We walked along the beach rather than the path along the machair, as it was too pretty not to. We arrived at our first (and toughest) climb of the walk; a steep 40-metre incline to reach the dun, an Iron Age fort, which stood on the top of a hill.

Multiple swear words escaped my lips as I trudged up the hill with my pack loaded with too many baby supplies, but the view from the top, as it always is, was worth it.

We swapped packs, and Alex was strapped in snuggly to my back. We descended the dun to reach boggy moorland, and wound our way around the craggy landscape to reach a standing stone, which, according to my research, no one knows anything about!

vatersay outer hebrides

Yay- we made it to the top!

We were now on the southern part of Vatersay, and had unobstructed views across to Sandray, an uninhabited island. We passed an unnamed beach, and I was about to go down and explore it when another sight caught my eye: about 30 cows lying on a beach further north!

Bagh A’Deas is a secluded (and lesser known) beach- and perhaps why this herd of cows chose this as their spot! At this point, Alex had fallen asleep on my back, and was snoring softly.

A wet mist crept over us, and so we decided to forfeit the walk around Bagh A’Deas to the deserted Eorisdale village. A shame, but we wanted to make sure Alex was comfortable (and dry) on his first-ever hike.

eorasdail deserted village vatersay outer hebrides

The Eorisdale village

The village was occupied up until the 1970s when the last resident died. What is left of it will remain a mystery to us until we return, but from images I’ve Googled, several croft ruins surrounded by craggy hillsides sit where the land flattens out before a small bay.

Had the causeway been built many years earlier, would folk have stayed on?

We found the bright pink Piece of Cake honesty box and we greedily filled our pack with a Malteeser slice, Rocky Road slice, and a Galaxy caramel slice.

piece of cake vatersay

Piece of Cake honesty box

We passed cows grazing along the road, and we headed towards our final beach: Traigh a Bhaigh.

Many will recognise Traigh a Bhaigh as the setting for the famous image of the rusted old gate hugged by sand dunes opening out to dusty white sands with islands dotted around the horizon. I took a photo of the famous setting, although the misty, moody sky certainly cast a different effect to the usual bright, sunny images you see on postcards.

the beach gate on vatersay
Traigh a Bhaigh

We played on the beach until we could no longer stand the rumbling of our tummies, and we headed across to the cafe at the Vatersay Community Hall for lunch.

Soon Cursty arrived in her taxi, and she stopped at the Catalina Memorial so we could take a look.

The Catalina Memorial is what is left of a World War II aircraft that tragically crashed into the hillside after getting lost in low cloud during a training exercise. Islanders rushed to free the soldiers from the wreckage, but sadly three of the nine men died.

catalina memorial vatersay outer hebrides

The Catalina Memorial wreckage

It’s a little astonishing that the wreckage sits here on the hillside after all this time, the wings still clearly visible. It was a humbling way to finish our time on Vatersay, an island so beautiful, yet has witnessed its share of disasters.

Back at our accommodation, I died and went to heaven upon my first bite of the Malteeser slice from the honesty box, somehow perfectly crunchy yet the chocolate so smooth. My only gripe was that I had to share it with the Haggis. Damn it, I should have bought two!

It was a perfect way to end a perfect day.

Tips for visiting Vatersay

things to do on vatersay
  • We enjoyed a car-free journey when we visited Barra, and so we made use of taxis to get to and from Vatersay. The journey from Castlebay to Vatersay is around 10 minutes.
  • There are three buses a day from Castlebay to Vatersay, and the journey takes 20 minutes. Click here for the bus timetable.
  • You can also walk or cycle to Vatersay from Castlebay- it’s just 5.3 miles. From Castlebay on foot, it takes just under 2 hours. To cycle this route, it takes 30 minutes.
  • The start of the Vatersay beaches circuit is at The Hebridean Way Start Point which is opposite the Vatersay Hall Cafe. Both are marked on Google Maps.
  • If you have flexibility in your schedule, I would definitely plan your visit to Vatersay on the sunniest day possible. Most people who visit Vatersay will include it during their visit to Barra. I think Vatersay has some of the better beaches, so plan your best weather day for Vatersay!
  • Take some cash with you to buy goodies from the Piece of Cake Honesty Box and buy more than you need- trust me, the tray bakes are delicious!
  • The Vatersay Hall Cafe also serves food including homemade soups, sandwiches, toasties, paninis, scones, cakes and drinks! Be sure to check their Facebook page for opening times before you visit.

Have you been to Vatersay, or do you plan on visiting?

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