South Uist To Barra By Eriskay

By Road

Follow A865 into South Uist. Turn right and follow road to Iochdar and Clachan. Return to A865, turn right and follow south to Howmore on your left. Afterwards, follow A865 again, then turn right ontoa road marked ‘Bornais (Bornish)’. The church will be on the left at the end of the settlement.

Follow A865 south, which will pass through Kildonan and then split at Dalpadar. There, move to the right onto B888, then turn right at the next turning and follow to Kilphedar. Then return to B888 and follow south to Pollachar and the causeway to Eriskay.

In Eriskay, follow road, and then turn right, then left onto St Michael’s Drive. Then take the Eriskayferry to Barra.

On Barra, turn right to Cille-Bharra, then turn back along A888 and follow to Castlebay. Follow the road and then turn left onto Vatersay. After visiting here, return to Castlebay and take the ferry to Oban on the mainland.

By Cycle

Ride the bridge (A865) onto South Uist. Turn right and follow this road to Lochdar and Clachan. Then return to A865, turning right onto it and riding south. Our Lady of the Isles will be on the left. Soon you will find Howmore on the left. Turn onto the road and enter the settlement, and you will find both churches at the end of the road. Afterwards, follow A865 again, then turn right onto a roadmarked ‘Bornais (Bornish)’. The church will be on the left at the end of the settlement. Follow road, and return to A865, on which you will find Kildonan and its museum. The road then splits at Dalpadar. There, move to the right onto B888, then turn right at the next turning and follow to Kilphedar. Then return to B888 and follow south to Pollachar and the causeway to Eriskay – thechurch is on St Michael’s Drive, accessible by turning right then left. Afterwards take the Eriskay ferryto Barra.

On Barra, turn right to Cille-Bharra, then turn back along A888 and follow to Castlebay. Follow the road and then turn left onto Vatersay. After visiting here, return to Castlebay and take the ferry to Oban on the mainland.

By Public Transport

To reach Eriskay, continue using the southwards Uist Connections buses. On Barra, take the Airdmohr to Castlebay bus, accessible close to the ferry. At Castlebay take the ferry to Oban, from which buses and trains go to major destinations in Scotland.

To check times go to Traveline Scotland and click on Plan your Journey on left side of page.

Crossing into South Uist, again by causeway, the crofting townships are more on the fertile west side, with hillier ground to the east. It is worth turning right towards Iochdar and Clachan for the lie of the land and sea, though the old chapel ground at Cill Amhlaidh has few visible remains. In general South Uist shows religious continuity with early chapels replaced on the same sites, and then succeeded often in other locations by the present Roman Catholic parish churches, all of which merit a visit. Back on the road south the Catholic identity of South Uist is dramatically marked by Hugh Lorimer’s monumental lighthouse of a statue- Our Lady of the Isles. Fine views can be had from the statue.

We soon arrive at Howmore, perhaps the most important medieval religious centre in the Western Isles. There were two churches here, St Mary’s and St Columba’s, and three chapels. Significant remains of four of these survive along with the current Protestant parish church. It is an evocative place in which the grouping of these buildings within a protective cashel remains largely intact. Communication by land and sea was the basis of widespread influences and connections. Howmore is witness to the medieval civilisation of the Western Isles which was fostered by the Lords of the Isles and in this area by the succeeding MacDonald Clan Chiefs.

South of the ruined clan castle of Ormaclete at Bornish, there is a substantial Roman Catholic parish church which has on older feel than its nineteenth century date. A walk from here onto the shoreline is an attractive option on a good day. Curious seals investigate close to shore. A little further on the Museum at Kildonan is an excellent account of local life in past times. Lochboisdale is less interesting than its capital status might suggest, but continuing on the west side is more rewarding with fine outlooks south and out to sea. Kilpheder was the historic parish centre and has a present day Roman Catholic Church of St Peter. Pollachar has a traditional inn at what was originally the ferry crossing to Eriskay, but there is a now a causeway to that intensely beautiful little island. Ferries run to North Barra from Eriskay and also from Lochboisdale to Castlebay, Barra’s mian harbour.

Above the Eriskay causeway sits St Michael’s Church, the work of Father Allan MacDonald and his devoted parishioners. Father Allan was a model latter day priest, who devoted great love and energy to gathering the traditions and language of Eriskay and South Uist. He is an important figure in that continuing relationship between culture and religion in this region. Eriskay heralds the larger but equally beautiful Barra.

The premier pilgrim destination must be Cille Barr, St Barr’s Chapel, half a mile north of the airport beach. This is a sheltered and often sunny enclave containing a fine medieval church with remains of a south and north chapel. St Barr is likely to be the same person as Finbarr of Cork, a big player in the Irish church. The weathered carvings along with evidence of continuing devotion makes this a fitting culmination to the whole journey. Tobar Bharra, a pure flowing well, is east of the burial ground.

There is much else of interest in a circuit of the island including the centrally situated Church of Scotland parish church, and fragments of St Brendan’s Chapel on the shoreline at Borve. Castelbay is a culturally lively and attractive location where good music is often to be found in the hotels and pubs. There is a handsome Roman Catholic Church above the little town looking out to the impressive Kismul Castle, stronghold of the McNeil Chiefs. To the south lie the now largely uninhabited Bishop’s Isles each with a distinctive history and evocative chapel sites. Vatersay however was the occasion of an important land raid in 1908, when protesters occupied the island to restore crofting. Eventually, despite fines and imprisonment, they won and Vatersay is now connected by a causeway to Barra. The voyage from Castlebay to Oban is a satisfying conclusion- we have really travelled by land and sea.

Look ahead to the north east
At the mighty sea, home of living creatures,
Dwelling of seals; passionate and fine
It is on the flood tide.
Bitter is the wind tonight
It tosses the ocean’s white tresses,
I have no fear of Norway’s wild raiders
Sailing on the Irish Sea.

Pilgrim Journeys

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