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10th Nov 2012 12:56pm | By MIke Maceacheran
There are not many airports in the world where a stray cow can disrupt the flight path of a scheduled plane landing.
There are also not many airports that can be closed for the day because an unexpected high tide has left the runway submerged by the sea. In fact, there’s only one.
It’s the airport on the Isle of Barra, a tiny spot of Hebridean perfection, off the coast of western Scotland.
Here the planes take off and land from Traigh Mhòr, a wide shallow bay at the northern tip of the island, a glorious crescent of golden-blonde sand.
Standing with luggage in my hand on a beautiful summer’s day, with turquoise, crystal-clear waters lapping the sand, it feels almost Caribbean.
You might not believe it, considering I’m in Scotland which is far more notorious for extreme weather at the other end of the spectrum, but the Western Isles and neighbouring Inner Hebrides are some of the sunniest places in all of Britain.
Located at the very tip of the Outer Hebrides archipelago, below its northern siblings Lewis, Harris and Uist, Barra is the last in this unruly chain of quiet, rural farming communities.
Yet this remote corner of Britain is the perfect place for a cycling, kayaking or walking break, a weekend away from the drain of city life, or a great introduction to what Scotland does best: wild scenery, world-famous hospitality, golden ales and the odd wired-hair ginger cow.
I arrive in Castlebay, the island’s biggest town, population around 800, to be greeted by the island’s most famous sight – floating in the middle of the bay on a rocky islet is Kisimul Castle, a granite-grey stone fortress that was once home to the Clan MacNeil.
More famously, the medieval castle is rumoured to be the inspiration for Tintin and Snowy’s Scottish adventure in Herge’s The Black Island.
In good weather, kayak tours are possible around the castle, but I opt for the more straightforward five-minute dinghy ride from the village’s pier to its briny steps, which tumble down into the sea.
Stocking up on a bag of sticky, chewy fudge from The Heart Hebrides toffee factory – its shop is one of only a handful in the village, so can’t be missed – I rent a bike for the afternoon to explore the island further and escape so-called ‘civilisation’.
It’s not long before fields of fuzzy sheep and orange Highland cattle outnumber people and after a couple of kilometres I cross a causeway to the neighbouring island of Vatersay.
Up a steep incline, the road curves to reveal a wind-blown islet, dotted with church ruins, romantic hideaway cottages and a vast blanket of wild, rolling sea that stretches all the way to the rugged frontier of Newfoundland in Canada.
Famed for its remote landscapes, Vatersay is really an extension of Barra and home to healthy populations of otters, seals and herons and a number of glorious strips of shingle and sand.
So with the wind at my back and an empty, single-track road ahead of me, I freewheel across the island.