The small Isle of Barra sits just Southwest of it’s more famous cousin, the Isle of Skye, in the North Atlantic ocean off the coast of Scotland. It’s barely more than a blimp on a paper map, but this small isle that I’m sure almost none of you have heard of, is the one place in Scotland I want to visit above all others. It’s the place where my family is from, or to be more accurate a branch of my family.
Like most multi-generational Americans, my heritage as Scottish-Irish-German-English means I’m more mutt than thoroughbred and have a lot of blood lines coursing through my veins. Since I’m sure none of you are interested in my long and complicated (not to mention well documented) Scottish family tree, I’ll skip right along to my Great-Great Grandmother Laura McNeill Duncan, whose family line leads directly to the McNeill (MacNeil) clan that has been very prominent on the Isle of Barra for centuries.
They’re so prominent in fact, that the clan MacNeil is said to still own Kisimul castle which sits on a small rocky island in Castle Bay on the south side of the island. According to multiple tourism pages, the castle is said to be currently on lease to Scotland for 1,000 years (yes they did actually say 1,000 years), while a government page states that the castle was handed over to the government in 2000 with no explanation listed. Despite the obvious discrepancies, every site I visited stated that the castle is open daily for tours priced at around £5. This means that although I’ll have to pay for the privilege of seeing a piece of my family history like every other tourist, I can in fact see it.
Now since pretty much all of you reading this post don’t share a family history with me, it’s probably a good time to tell you that the Isle of Barra is a small picturesque little piece of Scotland very much worth the trip. You can reach the island by taking the ferry which arrives daily in Castle Bay or by flying into the small airport and landing on the beach. There are plenty of hotels, and b&b’s to accommodate your needs, and all the old buildings, pubs, and sheep you’re probably expecting from a trip to Scotland.
The major draw to Barra (besides that whole family angle I have working for me) is the sweeping views of lush green land, beautiful sandy beaches, and glimpses of the sea from almost every angle you can imagine… trust me… I’ve toured it many times on Google Earth. There are also multiple “archaeological” monuments and sites around the island to explore, and a list of outdoor activities that includes golf (because this is Scotland after all), fishing and surfing among others. If you’re strapped for time or simply don’t like venturing off on your own, island tours are offered at a price and will eat up the majority of your day. No matter what you choose to do, I’m certain that you’ll walk away believing the earth is a mighty beautiful place and that Barra was very much worth the trip.