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.

I then linger for a while at a couple of empty beaches, dipping my toes into the icy Atlantic waters with not a soul in sight.

Back on the bike, I find myself drawn to the southernmost tip of the island to Vatersay Bay, regarded as the most beautiful in the country. It does not disappoint.

For a moment I stand at the westernmost point in Britain and feel like I am about to step off the edge of the world.

As is typical for a balmy Scottish summer, the clouds start to gather and the sky glooms over. Ever the optimist, I’m dressed in shorts and T-shirt, so I hobble back onto my bike for the 40-minute trip back to Castlebay.

The woolly clouds on the horizon mean it won’t be too long before it’s time to head indoors.

But it’s a blessing in disguise, especially when the island’s famed hospitality consists of peaty single malt whiskies, roaring fireplaces and any number of amber-hued Hebridean ales.

I know what my next sentence will be: “A dram of your finest please, landlord.”

Bike hire: £12 per day, from Barra

Cycle Hire:
29 St Brendans Road, Tel. 018 7181 0284

Getting there

Take the train from London Euston to Manchester Piccadilly with Virgin Trains from £37

Fly from Manchester to Barra from £200 with flybe

Eat, drink, sleep

The Sea View restaurant at The Isle of Barra Beach Hotel has floor to ceiling views of the windswept coast and serves up a fitting buffet of the morning’s catch. Mains from £10.

Cafe Kisimul does a strange hybrid of Scottish, Italian and Indian cuisine – there’s not many places where you can get a hand-dived scallop pakora. Mains from £7. 

Favoured by the locals, The Castlebay Hotel overlooks Kisimul Castle and the bar has some serious top shelf whiskies. Pints from £3.60.

The Halaman Bar has a great selection of Scottish ales, including some rather tasty Hebridean tipples. Pints from £3.80.

The Isle of Barra Beach Hotel is the most westerly pub and hotel in Britain and each room looks out onto the Atlantic. Rooms from £48pppn, including breakfast.

Dunard Hostel is a five minute walk to the main shops, bars and the ferry terminal in Castlebay. Room rates start from £16pp for a bunk bed. 


Photos: Visit Scotland, TNT, Mike MacEacheran, Getty, Thinkstock