My third day on the islands had the best weather forecast, so I took my chances with the beach circuit around Vatersay; as the photos hopefully suggest, this gamble more than paid off! Located to the South of Barra (linked by only a thin causeway), this island takes the themes of its northern partner and pushes them to the limits. There is only a single settlement, and (at this time of the year) precisely nowhere to buy anything; the bus service is even less frequent; and there is probably more livestock than people.
At the same time, the scenery is even more impressive, with wider beaches and corresponding expanses of crystal clear water framing the machair. These coastal grasslands are unique to the shores of the western isles and their counterparts across the sea in northwest Ireland – and make for much more forgiving terrain than the previous day’s hills! They’re also ideal for cattle grazing, so don’t be surprised to find your route shared by a herd: keep a sensible distance (with dogs on leashes) and pace and they’ll largely ignore you, though.
I deviated from the suggested route at the base of the west beach to get some photos from further out on the rocks; missed a turn and took in a bit too much of the shoreline; and chose to clip off a chunk towards the end as I realised I might not otherwise make a convenient bus time back. But generally the path is easy to follow, through combination of technology and the posts which can usually be spotted to guide you to the next waypoint. In the end, I covered about 6km in a leisurely couple of hours, including a lunch break in the shade of the ruined fort (Dun).
- As mentioned, there is a bus service, but only just. Realistically you have two or three options for getting there, and a similar number back. Departure times should be treated as approximate, and there’s no meaningful concept of bus stops on Vatersay. The end of the route is ideal for starting the walk, and to get back you can just flag the driver down from anywhere along the (only) road. Beware that the last service is a little before 4pm, and it’s a long hike back without it!
- There’s a small village hall which wasn’t open when I visited but looks like it might have some food offerings when operating (summer season apparently starts in June); better to make up a picnic in Castlebay, though.
- Fortunately the public toilet is available year round (although under threat from the council).
- You won’t get mobile phone signal anywhere, so if you prefer electronic mapping, prepare it in advance.
- It might be Scotland, but you can still get sunburnt – there’s no shade to be found on the route, so be prepared (I wasn’t, and suffered).