Vatersay is an island in the Outer Hebrides. Of this island chain it is the southernmost inhabited island, and also the westernmost. Although it has been inhabited for thousands of years, today there are only close to 100 people living on the island.
Vatersay used to be separated from Barra by the Sound of Vatersay, a crossing of only 250 metres, which was bridged by a causeway in 1991. The causeway was badly needed. Being a renowned place for rearing beef, the cattle had to be transported to Castlebay on Barra. The only way to do that was to swim. Bernie the prize bull was not the best swimmer, and his drowning in 1986 sped up the construction plans for the causeway.
The island is nearly divided in two, with only a narrow stretch of dunes and sandy grasslands closing the gap. Vatersay is a beautiful island with outstanding flora and fauna. It is common to see herons, otters and seals, and the very rare corncrake found its habitat on the island. Also, it is one of two places in Scotland where you can find Bonnie Prince Charlie’s flower, the morning glory (Calystegia soldanella) whose French seeds were dropped by Bonnie Prince Charlie on the island, the other place being the nearby island of Eriskay.
The island’s attractions include the ruins of an Iron Age Fort and the old school house. One can also walk to Eorasdail, a village at the south eastern tip of the island that was established by fishermen from Mingulay, a now uninhabited island further south. No one lives there anymore: The village was abandoned in the 1970s.
Vatersay was witness to a tragedy in 1853: The “Annie Jane”, an immigrant ship on her way from Liverpool to Canada, got caught in a storm and ran aground on rocks off West Beach. She capsized in minutes, dropping 450 people into the raving sea. There were only 100 survivors. The bodies of the drowned that came ashore were buried in the dunes next to the beach. The Annie Jane memorial and a cairn remind of the disaster.
The remains of a different tragedy can be found on the north side of Vatersay Bay. In 1944 an RAF Catalina flying boat crashed during a training flight from Oban. The wreckage lies scattered on the rocky slope. It seems a miracle that six of the nine men aboard survived the crash.
Vatersay is a peaceful, quiet and beautiful island. The bad news is that there is no accommodation available on the island itself, but the good news is that you can visit from Barra, and now that there is a causeway, you don’t even have to swim!
Have you been to Vatersay? Would you like to leave a comment?