When is an Irish accent not an Irish accent?
At this stage of our journey, we were still in the mainland mode of booking our campsites ahead. Pitch anxiety is the norm at home, especially in England, where campsites seem to becoming increasingly full and wild camping for motorhomes is prohibited, although I have wondered how wagons get to park free overnight in any vacant lay-by. What’s the difference?
So I’d already phoned ahead and booked a pitch on Scurrival campsite on Barra. I had a lovely but slightly perplexing conversation with the owner, Angus, he sounded a gentle man, with an accent which to my untrained ear sounded suspiciously Irish. I was later to discover that the Outer Hebrideans have a deliciously soft lilting Scottish Gaelic influenced accent that I could listen to for hours. The native language is still widely spoken on the Isles and there are over 1,000 people who are working in Gaelic speaking services in this archipelago at the north western tip of Europe, so the language is very much alive and kicking and an important source of employment and income for the residents. Over half the population of the Western Isles speak this traditional Celtic language and children are taught it in schools, preserving their culture and heritage for the future. You’ll find signs and place names too are often both in English and Gaelic.
In the course of our phone conversation, Angus gave me directions from the ferry port at Castlebay which is at the southern end of the island, to the campsite, which is at the very north of the island at Eoligarry. ‘You can go right or left out of the port, both roads will get you here, but turn left and keep going.’ he said cheerfully, ‘Left, left, left and you’ll be here in no time.’ The directions weren’t strictly accurate, but I’d already read some other directions on a campsite review, ‘Follow the road past Barra airport and keep going even when there’s grass growing in the middle of the road and you think you’ve got lost.’ I was absolutely loving Barra already, a place that you can navigate with directions which are based on the amount of grass growing in the road and finding your way by following you nose with a glass half full belief that eventually you will get to where you want to be.
I was already starting to discover why they call this island Barradise.