Lifes’s a beach on Barra – with an orchestra thrown in


I’m in Barra for a holiday, staying at Ardmhor on the edge of the vast Traigh Mhor: cockle bed, big sky, and of course, airport extraordinaire.

Icy swims, walks across the sands, surfing down at Vatersay, watching the weather come sweeping in, laughing a lot – my kind of beach holiday.

Traigh Mhor

But the most extraordinary part of this trip happened the other morning when we braved  torrential rain and wind to go for a walk over the back to the big west-facing beach which is the opposite of the flat calm here.

We watched the swell, leaned against the wind and marvelled at the wind-blown breakers, then trekked back to the airport cafe for a warm and a drink.

It was there that the really weird stuff happened:  we walked in dripping wet to the sound of a full 40-piece orchestra bashing out Scottish tunes, then Toto’s Africa … Violins, saxophone, trombone, French horn, bongos and drums, filled the tiny departure/arrivals lounge/cafe/shelter.

Unknown to us it was a stopping point for the amazing Nevis Ensemble, a group of young musicians who have the habit of popping up in all sorts of unusual places.

The Nevis Ensemble

There were probably more musicians than audience, despite a flight being just in, but the sheer joy the live music brought was stunning – you couldn’t not tap your feet, start to sway, sing along, even if your boots and shorts were soaking, and water was still trickling down your neck.

No stuffy suits or formal wear, just talented young people in jeans, wearing rucksacks, teeshirts, mixing with the crowd – giving it their all. We were grinning from ear to ear throughout the whole thing.

It seems they’re on a tour of the Hebrides and Barra was their first stop, rounded off with this airport show, before catching the ferry north.

Jon Hargreaves, conducting part of the show, looked as pleased as the audience and was still slightly breathless when we spoke to him afterwards to thank him for an unmissable experience. The musicians were still grinning too.

I doubt I will ever have another experience quite like that again, but you never know – if you come to a place like Barra, get out in the wind and rain, put yourself out, magical things do happen…

If you didn’t see the film of this earlier, here’s the wee clip:

This Nevis Ensemble …