The A888 ring road encircles the Isle of Barra and offers an easily accessible gateway to the stunning landscapes that make Barra a haven for cycling and walking enthusiasts.
In this article, we’ll embark on a journey around this road to explore both its western side (best known for being part of the Hebridean Way) and its eastern side, which follows a less-visited but equally scenic coastline.
Whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or an avid walker, touring the A888 is a great way to immerse yourself in the beauty of the Isle of Barra.
|Address:||Castlebay: Isle of Barra, HS9 5XD|
|Opening Hours:||The A888 is accessible 24/7, 365 days a year.|
|Parking:||There are off-road parking spaces throughout the A888.|
The A888, which circles the captivating Isle of Barra, is a 13-mile road that hugs the coastline and provides visitors with a unique tour of the island, whether they choose to navigate it on four or two wheels or on foot.
The usual way to follow it is to head west (the side of Barra described in the Hebridean Way website), but it’s equally enjoyable to traverse the eastern side which has a more rugged, yet no less attractive, coastline.
The fact is, though, that both sides of the A888 meet at the same junction in the pretty coastal village of Northbay which then leads to the ferry terminal at Ardmhor, and both sides are pretty much the same length, so there’s really no right or wrong direction to head in.
If you’re on a bike, and especially if you’re driving, I thoroughly recommend completing an entire circuit of the A888 as it’s by far the best way of soaking up Barra’s beautiful landscapes where you’ll see tranquil freshwater lochs, white sand beaches, soaring hills, and mile after mile of windswept, heather-covered moorland.
The majority of visitors to Barra who are intending to complete the 185-mile Hebridean Way will arrive in Castlebay and then take a detour south to Vatersay to the starting point of the long-distance touring route, before doubling back to Castlebay to finally head north to Ardmhor where they’ll catch the ferry to Eriskay.
It’s at Castlebay where you’ll find yourself faced with the choice of heading east or west, but if you only have time to complete one side, I recommend turning left to the western coastline of Barra as it’s slightly more scenic thanks to the white-sand beaches which are sadly missing on Barra’s eastern coast.
On the other hand, the east side of Barra has some lovely wee coves and secluded fishing villages, and it also passes Heaval hill which is a must-visit destination for anyone spending more than a day on the island.
As you embark on your journey on the A888 heading east, the road initially winds its way from Castlebay, the island’s main village, alongside the harbour and the jetty which accommodates the mainland ferry to and from Oban.
Castlebay harbour, with the striking Kisimul Castle sitting in the middle of the bay, is a sight to behold, so if you’d like to see more of it I recommend taking a detour onto the minor road signposted ‘Leideag’ which joins a shoreside track that follows the east side of the bay for around 1/2 mile.
After Castlebay, the ring road then snakes around past the highest point on the island, Heaval, which stands tall at 1,260 feet (383 metres) before threading its way over a few more steep hills and along the coastline heading north.
The A888 then passes through Northbay, a small settlement on the northeast coast that’s home to a good cafe – an ideal midway pitstop – and the junction for the single-track road that meanders its way to the Ardmhor jetty and onwards to the spectacular Traigh Mhor Beach and the Eoligarry peninsula.
The peninsula features some truly beautiful beaches, but it’s quite a diversion if the ring road is the main focus of your visit so I suggest leaving it till another day and continuing on across the northern side of the A888 which eventually meets wide stretches of machair, followed by a number of attractive bays and yet more secluded beaches.
The ones at Allasdale (postcode HS9 5XT) are stunning, as is the beach near the Isle of Barra Hotel (postcode HS9 5XW) which is backed by the mighty Ben Tangaval hill.
From the hotel, it’s only around 2 miles back to the Co-op supermarket in Castlebay where you can stock up on snacks, or alternatively, you might like to finish your tour of the A888 with a bite to eat in the cafe on Pier Road which has fabulous views of the harbour and the castle.
I completed this route on a bike at a leisurely pace which took 3 hours from start to finish – and that’s with stopping to take a bazillion photos and snacking on a packed lunch at Northbay.
There are a couple of hills that got the heart pumping, but most cyclists will be able to power up them without a problem, especially on the western side of Barra which is much flatter than the east.
I also drove around the ring road which only took 30 minutes, plus another 10 minutes for photo stops at various viewpoints (the wee parking area on the cliffs near Borve campsite – postcode HS9 5XR – is an absolute stunner, by the way).
If you’d like a good idea of what to expect to see on Barra’s A888 ring road, take a look at the virtual tour at the top of this page which includes a map where you can see where each 360° scene was captured.
1: As you follow the A888, Castlebay, Barra’s main village, is an essential place to stop. This picturesque fishing village features a natural bay with the iconic Kisimul Castle situated on an outcrop a short distance from the shore.
While you’re in the village you can enjoy the local delicacies, explore the coastline, and snap some memorable photos of the sea and the castle.
2: The A888 ring road also provides access to Heaval, Barra’s highest peak. A challenging but rewarding 2.5-hour walking trail, this hike offers panoramic views of the entire island once you get to the summit.
The hill, standing at 383 meters, is home to ‘Our Lady of the Sea’, a white marble statue of the Virgin Mary and Child which sits on an outstanding viewpoint.
3: An essential detour from the A888 is Barra Airport, the world’s only beach airport for scheduled flights. If you time it right, you might witness a plane landing or taking off – though the flights are dictated by the changing tides so you might like to check their website first.
1: The A888 on Barra, like the rest of Scotland, can experience unpredictable weather where it’s sunny one minute and raining the next. Therefore, it’s essential to pack waterproof and windproof clothing to stay comfortable during your cycling or walking tour, even in the summer.
2: Much of the A888 is a single-track road with passing places. These roads require a particular etiquette where traffic going up the hill has the right of way. When cycling or walking, always be aware of your surroundings and be prepared to step onto the verge for oncoming vehicles on the narrower sections.
Most importantly, if you’re driving the A888 you must not leave your car in a passing space to go sightseeing, as this can cause blockages for other road users.
3: The Isle of Barra boasts a diverse array of wildlife from seals and otters to a wide variety of bird species. While this adds an extra dimension to your adventure, it’s important to respect Barra’s wildlife and their habitats.
Keep a safe distance, don’t feed any animals (some wild plants are poisonous), and avoid making loud noises.
Things to do
Scenic Exploration: Embark on a journey around the A888 ring road on the Isle of Barra and let the picturesque landscape mesmerise you. With every turn, the road reveals new vistas to soak up, from white-sand beaches to rugged hilltops. The 13-mile loop offers varied terrain that’s challenging in places but worth every effort from start to finish.
Birdwatching: The Isle of Barra is a haven for bird lovers. As you navigate the A888, keep your binoculars (link to binocular reviews) at the ready to spot an array of bird species such as golden eagles, oystercatchers, and puffins.
Historical Landmarks: The A888 ring road is peppered with notable landmarks that give an insight into the island’s rich history. Highlights include Kisimul Castle, a 15th-century fortress in Castlebay, and St. Barr’s Catholic Church in Northbay.
Culinary Delights: Cycling or walking can work up an appetite, and the A888 route has several charming eateries to satiate your hunger. Enjoy fresh seafood at the roadside shacks or stop at a pub for traditional Scottish food.
Sunset Views: There’s something magical about watching the sunset on the Isle of Barra. As you reach the final stretch of your journey around the Barra ring road, find a comfortable spot to watch the fading sun as it dips below the waves of the Atlantic and transforms into a canvas of oranges, pinks, and purples.
Things to do nearby
1: Kisimul Castle. Address: Castlebay, Isle of Barra, HS9 5UZ.
Kisimul Castle is located on a small island within the harbour of Castlebay on the south side of Barra.
The castle is managed by Historic Environment Scotland which operates boat tours from the village jetty between April and September. It’s possible to kayak around the castle as well as land on it, but the castle gates are kept locked except for official HES tours.
2: Heaval. Address: A888, 1 mile east of Castlebay.
Heaval is the highest hill on Barra at 1,256 feet, with a summit that presents stunning views of the surrounding sea and islands in a 360° panorama.
A return climb to the top of Heaval takes around 2 hours so it can be easily combined with a visit to Castlebay village or the nearby Ben Tangaval hill in a single afternoon.
3: Northbay. Address: Isle of Barra, HS9 5YQ.
A picturesque footpath starts near Loch an Duin on the northeast corner of the A888 which passes through open moorland before taking a detour over hills and finally finishing back on the A888 south of Northbay.
Walking back to Loch an Duin on the A888 takes visitors through the quaint coastal village of Northbay which is home to a cafe (ideal for a post-walk cuppa) and the island’s community garden centre which sells locally grown vegetables.
4: Barra Distillery. Address: Castlebay, Isle of Barra, HS9 5XF. Distance: 2 miles from the causeway.
Barra Distillery is the only distillery on the Isle of Barra and is the most westerly distillery in Scotland.
The independent whisky, gin, and rum producer has a small shop in Castlebay located next to the Co-op. Isle of Barra gin has gained something of a cult following for its quality, so trying a sample is a must-do when you visit the shop.
5: Eoligarry Peninsula. Address: Eoligarry, Isle of Barra, HS9 5YD.
This peninsula is located on the northernmost tip of Barra and is famous for having the world’s only beach airfield – Traigh Mhor – as well as two other beautiful white sand beaches (Traigh Eais and Eolaigearraidh Beach) within walking distance.
There are several campsites on Eoligarry and it’s also a popular launching point for sea kayaks to explore the nearby islands of Fiaraidh and Fuday.
Frequently asked questions
How do you get to the Isle of Barra?
There are two travel routes to get to the Isle of Barra.
The first is to take a scheduled flight from Glasgow to Barra Airport with the carrier Loganair.
The second travel route is to take a Calmac ferry which operates from Castlebay on Barra to Oban, Tiree, and South Uist.
An alternative Calmac ferry operates between the Isle of Eriskay and Ardmhor on Barra.
Who owns the Isle of Barra?
The Isle of Barra is owned by the Scottish government with a provision that the islanders can purchase it if they choose.
Ownership by the Scottish government was made in 2003.
Prior to this, Barra was on a 1,000-year lease to Historic Environment Scotland from Clan MacNeil for an annual rental fee of £1 and a bottle of whisky.
What is Barra known for?
The Isle of Barra is best known for its largest beach – Traigh Mhor – which is the location of the world’s only commercial beach airfield.
Other notable features of Barra are Kisimul Castle which is situated on top of a small outcrop in the middle of the harbour, Heaval hill which offers stunning views from its 1,256-foot summit, and the Isle of Vatersay which joins Barra via a short causeway.
What is the main town on Barra?
The main settlement on the island of Barra is Castlebay. The village is the largest on the island and is home to Barra’s only supermarket as well as a distillery and a ferry terminal.