That’ll teach us to rely on the weather forecast. When we set off to walk up Barra’s highest peak – Sheabhal, it was cold but clear. By the time we’d walked the few miles to the foot of the hill she was shrouded in cloud, and we were soaked through. Gore-tex has its limits in the Outer Hebrides it seems.
Hillwalking is one of our passions, but we’ve never felt the need to climb peaks when the weather is pants and we wouldn’t see the route clearly, let alone the view. I didn’t fancy slipping over and making my dodgy knees any more dodgy, or having Rich at the mercy of his squiffy balance without being able to see the horizon.
Beating a hasty retreat meant that at least we caught sight of the gorgeous fat pony and his much bigger friend in a field beside the road, and were in time to catch the Barra Atlantic fish van back in Castlebay. The fish van parks up outside the community hall every Thursday, and for the bargain price of £6 we bought some beautiful fresh haddock for tonight’s tea, and some locally smoked salmon. I really do miss not having a local fishmonger back home, especially as I was born and bred on the coast.
With our fish supper sorted we then ventured into the community shop, but sadly were a little disappointed. Maybe they were having an off day, but the staff weren’t very friendly, and the produce seemed ridiculously expensive. At our next stop – the Hebridean Toffee Shop, the owner explained that this was probably because the producers all charged a lot for the amount of time spent on labour. This only really works if there’s a market for the goods though, and if, dare I say, the goods don’t look too rough and ready! Given the high standard of artisan products elsewhere in Scotland, including at the toffee shop, I don’t feel too bad about saying this.
We walked back to the Co-op via the Herring Way, bought a tin of mushy peas to go with tonight’s fish, and then nipped into the Tartan Cafe for a much needed hot chocolate. The cafe is inside the new Children’s Centre, and when we arrived there was a group of schoolgirls all eating plates of chips for their lunch – not a salad leaf or vegetable in sight, which is probably why they’d escaped from the school across the road. Barra seems to be desperately trying to keep young people on the island, and they can receive an education here until they’re 18, but I understand that yet another primary school has not long closed, and that there’s very little work on the island even for those who do want to stay.