When it comes to bucket-list trips in Scotland, taking a flight to the Hebridean island of Barra usually ranks pretty highly. Yet nothing could be simpler.
Just 40 minutes after leaving bustling Glasgow Airport behind and you are landing at remote Traigh Mhor bay. Its airport, which has just celebrated its 80th birthday, is the only one in the world to boast scheduled beach flights, which attract dozens of visitors to its café and car park to watch the tiny planes come and go.
Seven miles away, perched above the equally breathtaking Tangasdale Beach and Halaman Bay, is the Isle of Barra Beach Hotel.
Budget or boutique?
Dating back to 1973, the hotel was originally designed to look like the upturned hull of a shipwreck and it appears somewhat incongruous. But with prices starting at £165 a night for a twin room, it is definitely not at the budget end of the scale and the hotel has the feel of a mini-resort, albeit one that is unmistakably Hebridean.
Its end-of-the-world location, quirky 1970s design, contemporary decor and furnishings, and a paradise beach theme mark it out as very different from a typical island hotel.
There was a distinct nautical theme to my room, including anchors on the cushions, a seascape painting above the bed and a “welcome aboard” life ring on the wall opposite. A stick of Barra rock and a pale blue beach bag completed the effect.
It was easy to understand why owners Guy Adams and Teresa Jenkins have decided to embrace the hotel’s enviable location. From my bedroom window, the stunning beach and bay felt within touching distance and were a constant draw down the private path from the hotel.
Wining and dining
The floor-to-ceiling windows in the split-level restaurant and lounge certainly make the most of the hotel’s spectacular location. Both are ideally positioned to watch the sun go down – or the storms come rolling in off the Atlantic.
Seafood platters groaning with fresh haddock, scallops, mussels and prawns were served up during our visit. Other regular options were “surf and turf” and grilled Barra cod with lemon butter sauce, minted potatoes and peas.
Both morning coffee and afternoon tea is available in the lounge, where you can also unwind with a drink from the bar which has an impressive selection of single malts from around Scotland, as well as Islay, Harris and Shetland gins.
Worth getting out of bed for
Only two miles away from Tangasdale Beach is the main settlement of Castlebay, named after the medieval Kisimul Castle, the historic seat of the Clan MacNeil, which can only be reached by boat.
On a fine day, a hike up Heaval, the highest peak on the most southerly inhabited island in the Outer Hebrides, is rewarded with unbeatable views of the Barra Isles, including Mingulay and Pabbay. They can be properly explored on trips with Barra Fishing Charters, which not only caters for sea anglers but family outings to see porpoises, seals, otters and seabirds.
For the more energetic, there is a hill race up the 1,257 high hill each summer, as well as the Barrathon, a half-marathon starting and finishing at Castlebay.
Although Barra is a haven of peace and tranquillity, it can get surprisingly lively in the bars of the Castlebay and Craigard hotels – especially if local heroes The Vatersay Boys are in residence.
Barra is something of a magnet for cyclists heading up the Outer Hebrides. For a 12-mile spin around the island, or a trip across the causeway to neighbouring island Vatersay’s own Caribbean-esque beaches, the hotel offers free bike hire. Kayaks, body-boards and wetsuits are also available to guests.
And no visit to Barra is complete without exploring its starring role in the silver-screen Ealing caper, Whisky Galore!
With a claim to fame as the most westerly hotel in Britain, its spectacular location offers the chance to not only gaze for hours at the Atlantic, and also ponder life on the very edge of Europe.
Isle of Barra Beach Hotel, Tangasdale Beach, Isle of Barra HS9 5XW, 01871 810 383. www.isleofbarrahotel.co.uk
Rates range from £165 for a twin or double room to £275 a night for the hotel’s “bolt hole cabin” which sleeps six.