Vatersay is the southern most inhabited island in the Outer Hebrides. It is joined to Barra by means of a causeway. The island is shaped like an apple core with a thin bit in the middle and a chunkier section at each end. The middle bit has a glorious white sandy beach on either side. There are several other smaller white sandy beaches dotted around the island, several of which can be seen from Barra.
The day I did this walk was hot, sunny and almost cloudless. I parked near the Annie Jane memorial and started by walking up to the memorial. This is situated on the cliff by the right hand (east) beach on the middle thin bit. The Annie Jane was a ship taking emigrees from Liverpool to Canada which was wrecked just off the coast in 1853. Three quarters of the people on board, more than 300, lost their lives that day and many are buried on Vatersay.
Climbing over the stile by the memorial I crossed the dunes down to the beach. There were only two other people on it, despite it being a long beautiful beach, easily accessible, and such a nice day in the school holidays.
I walked to the far end and examined a low sea cave then backtracked a little to get up on the dunes and machair for the uphill trek towards the remains of Dun Bhatarsaigh, a 2000 year old fort. There wasn’t much to see of the fort, but the views of the surrounding area were magnificent.
The descent on the other side of the dun was decidedly boggy and I was glad of the footprints left by the man walking some way ahead of me. There were waymarker posts but these were not always in the driest of spots. Up over another hill and I was looking out for a standing stone. I went through what seemed to be the remains of a gate – one post remaining with a smaller rounder stone supporting it, and carried on up onto some flat high rocks with great views of Sandray to the south. I sat here for a while, enjoying the weather and the view and trying to work out where the stone was. I realised that it must have been the gatepost I’d seen. Not the most impressive standing stone I’ve seen but I went back to take a photo of it anyway.
The path continued over machair and down to another wonderful beach. This one was so nice even the cows agreed and they’d all come down to spend the day on the beach. Some were standing, others were lying around – all they were missing were beach towels and sun umbrellas.
As I climbed back up the other side of the beach I came across the man I’d been following and a couple who were walking the opposite way and had stopped to chat. It was the couple’s first visit but for the man, who turned out to be a very fit octogenarian, it was his twenty-fifth time. He’d retired at fifty and started leading tours to the islands. He only stopped when he turned 80 and the company he was working for said it had got too expensive to insure him. His tours were mainly with older people and fairly sedate, but he liked to get out walking whenever possible. He was knowledgeable about the islands and I walked with him a short way to the abandoned settlement of Eorasdail. There were only about four houses so this had been a very small settlement indeed and life must have been very hard. Now the cows treat the houses as their own and looked at me very suspiciously as I poked around them.
I walked to another small beach just past the settlement before heading up and inland across the slopes of Am Meall. I could see the modern day village which shares its name, Vatersay, with the island. About 120 people currently live on Vatersay, most of them in this village. I circled widely round the village to reach the beach on the other side of the thin middle bit. This beach was positively crowded by Hebridean standards with many families sunbathing, playing cricket or throwing sticks for their dogs. Walking the full length along this beach brought me to the village hall and a welcome pot of Earl Grey and a slice of wedding cake. The man I’d chatted to earlier was in the cafe and I sat with him whilst I drank my tea. I wondered if the wedding cake was left over from the wedding that had taken place in Castlebay on Saturday. The young couple on the boat to Mingulay had come home to Barra as it was the man’s sister who was getting married.