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Nov 18 2014

Barra Airport: The Beach is a Runway

While writing about my time on the Isles of Barra and Vatersay, I mentioned Barra Airport.  I had initially intended to write about the airport as a Foto Friday, but I didn’t think that would do it justice, using only one photo.  In the end, I decided to give it the airing it deserves.

Before I even got to the Outer Hebrides, someone mentioned the uniqueness of Barra airport, which sounded interesting.  Then, when I was on the island, some of the locals suggested I go, so I did.  I was not disappointed.

Prior to that, like most people, I had only ever been to an airport to go somewhere, or to pick up or drop someone off.  This was different.  This was the first time I was going to an airport to just hang out.  It did seem a little strange, but I’m not averse to doing unusual things.  I am so glad I listened to everyone and went because it turned out to be one of the highlights.  This airport was like nothing I had ever seen before.

Someone from the caravan park I was staying at gave me a lift to the airport, which is close to the ferry terminal where they were headed.  They also wanted to see the planes landing and taking off on the beach before leaving Barra.  However, when we arrived, we walked into the airport building and asked the women in the cafe when the first plane was due to arrive.  They told us that the first flight wasn’t scheduled until the afternoon because the airport relies on the tide.  That was fine by me because I had the whole day.

If, like me, you have the time, there are a variety of things you can do while waiting for the first plane to land.  If the weather is bad, you can sit in the airport cafe, enjoy the fabulous sea view and make use of the free WiFi.  After catching up on things, while having a coffee, breakfast, slice of cake etc., you can go for a walk if the weather is fine.  There is a lot to explore, so I found out.  The beaches are fabulous and, if you have time, you can follow a walking trail.  If you go, walk across the road, so you are on the opposite side of the road to the airport building, and go up to the top of the sand dune.  On the other side is an incredible, smooth, sandy beach.  It was practically deserted the day I was there.

Beautiful Beaches of Barra

The airport is small.  It is basically one big room, divided into sections.  Most of it is a seating area and there is a great, little cafe that sells all sorts of tempting snacks, meals, and drinks.  To the left is a small check-in desk and the baggage reclaim is outside.
Barra Airport
It really is the cutest airport I’ve ever seen.  The runway is the beach, which is why the flights are dependent on the tide.  There are generally two flights in and out per day.

Barra Airport Runway

I thought the ferry would be more reliable, but one of the locals told me that the planes are more reliable.  So, apart from the fact that it’s a quicker journey and probably a lot more fun, although I haven’t tried it yet, it is the most reliable way of getting from the mainland to the island and vice versa.

When a flight is due in, it’s like a show.  If the weather is good, take a pew outside on the grassy bank with other onlookers and watch the planes landing and taxiing on the sand, before they take off again on their journey back to Glasgow.

Waiting for the show to begin

Be warned: It is a bit addictive.  I thought that once I had seen one, I would be happy to head off, but no.  Having seen one, I hung around to see the other plane arrive and take off.

If the weather isn’t so good, you can sit inside, providing you can find a seat.  It gets packed in there with people waiting for a plane to take them to Glasgow, while others are there for the show, or to enjoy the facilities the airport offers (refreshments and free WiFi).  It might be small, but it’s a busy airport.  I was surprised at how busy it got.  If you want to stay warm and dry, watch from inside the airport building.  I’d advise you to get there early and bag yourself a window seat, so you will have the best view and wait for the show to commence.

The one thing I have yet to do is fly into Barra Airport.  I have added that to my ever-increasing list of things to do.

 Location

This is where Barra Airport is located:

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About the author

Teresa Keane

Teresa has been to almost 60 countries. She started travelling independently at the age of 38 when she gave up her job, rented out her house, put her possessions in storage and spent a year travelling the world. It changed her life. She now creates, publishes, & promotes online travel content and is an experienced freelance trainer & EFL teacher.

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