Last stop on my Tintin tour of the country. We landed on the beach in Barra in a twin-prop plane. It's an exhilarating ride and apparently the only scheduled flight in the world that uses such a landing strip. The tiny airport building was buzzing with activity for the only plane of the day and we were given a wonderful welcome. This must have been what travel was like before we all had to have our underwear scanned. Mind you, it wasn't long before I was standing in front of complete strangers in my pants. Like Tintin, I had changed into a kilt on the plane to "blend in". It soon became clear, however, that I had not put it on correctly. Two smiling ladies in high-visibility jackets who had greeted us at the door to the airport, beckoned me into an office. There I was told in no uncertain terms to take my kilt and sporran off. As I stood in my pants, the kind ladies put my kilt back on correctly. "Welcome to Barra," they laughed hysterically. I loved this island already.
We took two of the three island taxis and headed for Castlebay, the only town. The scenery was awesome. We drove along the coast as huge waves pounded this westernmost outpost of the United Kingdom. In a little bay to the right of the road I spotted a tiny, derelict building perched on a little island.
"Who lived there?" I asked.
"That was the island dungeon," said the driver. "If you crossed the MacLeans, the island clan, then you'd be locked up there. It completely floods when the tide comes in." We all looked at each other nervously. It was probably best that we behaved ourselves. We didn't want to suddenly spot a wicker man being built on a nearby hill.
I was on the island to try and locate a particular scene from The Black Island, but I was sure that Barra was famous for something else – I just couldn't put my finger on it. Then, as we checked into our hotel, a poster behind the reception desk gave me my answer. This was the Whisky Galore island. In 1941, a ship called the SS Politician ran aground here. To the delight of the islanders, she was carrying 24,000 cases of whisky. Everybody helped themselves and "a good time was had by all" – in the words of the local publican. This was in the middle of the Second World War and rationing was obviously a big deal, so this unexpected booty was manna from heaven for the thirsty islanders. The story became so famous that a movie of the same name was shot on the island during the summer of 1948.
We were also informed that Time Team had been there recently to do their usual nonsense of digging large trenches about the place, finding a couple of stones and then getting an artist in to completely make up what "might" have been there 2,000 years ago. We were, therefore, the third film crew to be on the island, so nobody was that impressed.
We shot as much as we could in the existing daylight but, when the sun set at around four o'clock, we were forced to retire to the local pub for a "research meeting". It turned into an extremely intensive research meeting and we eventually staggered out some time past midnight. The weather had turned and it was blowing a gale. The wind whipped the rain into our faces like little needles. We had to get the flight back to the mainland the following day and it didn't look very likely. But the man at the hotel reception told us not to worry: "The plane flies in almost anything." He was right. We took off on time and banked sharply over a couple of startled cockle pickers as we headed off towards Glasgow. It's good to be Tintin.