Day 3: Barra and Vasteray
What’s the best site for finding accommodation on the Hebrides? Aird BnB.
What’s not a joke is the accommodation situation in the Outer Hebrides, with rooms to sleep as scarce as other essential resources on the islands such as trees, vegetables, and sun-cream.
Thankfully our tour organizer Scot Cycle had a network of hospitable locals on each island willing to rent out spare bedrooms to travelers who’d ventured beyond the reach of reliable Internet connections.
Our first host, Elisabeth, was a kindly 60-something woman who was active in the church and community and had a passion for making scones, shortbreads and cakes.
As a retiree, she’d replaced bringing home the bacon with “a bit of home-baking”, and that perfectly suited mum and me.
Her house commanded a superb view over Castlebay in Barra, presumably named for the small castle in its bay, though I didn’t check.
Since this was more-or-less the first sunny day of the year (it was May 26), Elisabeth had been painting the fence and mowing the grass. In fact, almost every local we met during our trip in the Hebrides was either painting something or mowing the lawn.
You definitely got the impression these were once-a-year activities to be celebrated in the Hebrides, like their children phoning home for Christmas.
But chez Elisabeth, mum and I were not the only ones to be occupying rooms those two nights. There was a third person, a mysterious man who arrived late the first night, and appeared before us at the breakfast table in the morning.
He was a middle-aged Englishman from Gloucester – only the second person I’d met from that city, the first being Beatrix Potter’s famous tailor – and I’m not sure anyone would be writing a book of his exploits any time soon.
He was balding from front and back simultaneously, was probably needing to meet someone, but also on a solo car trip to a gloomy island chain for his holidays.
Yet, there’s a plot twist! Luckily, he had a sexy job that more than made up for any physical or conversational shortcomings.
“What do you do?” I asked at breakfast on the second day.
“The type of job where if I told you, I’d have to kill you,” he replied, not very cryptically.
“So you’re a spy,” I deduced.
“Well, I work for GCHQ, put it like that.”
“So we can put it that you’re a spy.”
He was of the opinion that it was easier just to say who he worked for, without going into any details of what he did.
Great. A scarcity of accommodation has brought us face-to-face with the vacationing James Bond of Middle England.
Still, my interest was finally piqued. Perhaps his other car really was an Aston Martin, in which case the beaten up blue hatch-back poorly parked in the driveway was the perfect foil.
I imagined the subsequent James Bond-esque film titles of his trip through the Outer Hebrides:
– You Only Hebrides Twice
– The Man with the Golden Handshake
“You’re not going to lock yourself naked inside a hold-all bag and suffocate to death in the bath are you?” I now asked, referring to the unfortunate GCHQ employee Gareth Williams, who’s death still remains shrouded– if not zipped up, locked and key thrown away – in mystery.
“Why does everyone know about that?” he said, flummoxed. Clearly the conversation was not going where it was intended. “
“Because it’s such an odd way to die,” I explained. “Someone must know something.”
“Yes but if they did, you wouldn’t hear about it,” said he.
“Just stay away from my panier bags,” I said, and that was it for breakfast.