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Touring Scotland with the Postman

Touring Scotland with the Postman
by Adam Fowler

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This Twin Otter plane takes just under one hour to get from Glasgow to the Isle of Barra. If I'd taken the bus and the ferry it would have taken 12 times that long. It must be one of the few airline routes in the world that depends on the tides, because Barra doesn't have a runway, not in the conventional sense. But it does have a lovely, white, straight expanse of beach, and that's where we're going to touch down.

Back on dry land, well, actually wet sand. A little red Post bus trundles up to the plane to pick up the cargo--that's the mail and the passengers. It's driven by postman Donald MacLean and for a small charge he will deliver tourists as well as the mail along his route back to the main town on Barra, Castle Bay.

Things happen at their own pace here and once Donald has met the plane, he can relax a little and spend some time describing the scenery and pointing out all the other islands to be seen along the route around the coast of Barra.

Donald: "You can see the inner isles, like Tiree, Muck, Eigg. Skye is furthest north."

And there's even time for one American tourist to stop the bus, get out, and take a couple of shots of the locals.

Adam: "Tell me what you're doing."

American Tourist: "Oh, I've just taken a picture of the highland cattle here. I haven't seen very many of them. I've got a postcard. In the Oban area I only saw one and he didn't have any horns on him. This is the first time I've actually seen any highland cattle."

And anyone who wants to get on just has to stand by the side of the road. Like these two rather posh English ladies.

Posh English Ladies: "Hello, do we pay you now?"

Donald: "You pay me in Castlebay."

Posh English Ladies: "Ok, thank you. Is that shut?"

The good thing about the Post bus is that it does a circular tour of Barra. This means that not only do you get to see the secluded, sheltered eastern side of the island which looks out onto the mainland of Scotland, but it brings you round here: the weather beaten, windswept, western coast where the breakers crash onto the white beaches. And as I gaze out, I can see nothing but open ocean that will stretch all the way, uninterrupted, until it reaches America.

I had to wait for Donald's bus to come round the Island again to pick me up. When it did, there were two familiar faces on board.

Adam: "Hello again."

Posh English Ladies: "Oh, hello, I didn't realize it was you."

But they hadn't stayed on to admire the scenery. The Post bus had become an ambulance.

Posh English Lady: "Oh hello, I've had a disaster, you mustn't look at me."

Adam: "What's happened?"

Posh English Lady: "I have to go to the dentist."

After dropping off his patients at the dentist, Donald turned his attention to me. Not content with being postman, taxi driver, tour guide and paramedic, Donald can also act as accommodation officer, with suggestions for a Bed and Breakfast for the night in Castlebay.

Adam: "Can I come in?"

B&B lady: "Hello."

Adam: "Hello, how are you? Now Donald here's been telling me that you do Bed and Breakfast."

B&B lady: "Oh yes."

Adam: "And do you have a room available for tonight?"

B&B Lady: "Yes."

Adam: "It's the first time I've been delivered to my accommodation by the Postal Service."

Donald is based at the post office at Castlebay, and it's here that he sorts the mail he has collected from the plane before delivering it around the local area. But this is the seat of Clan Mcneill and many people have that surname. To confuse matters even further, a lot of the men share the same forename as well, which can make delivering letters to the right person somewhat tricky.

Donald: "Most people here are called Donald Mcneill or a Donald MacLean or a Donald... There's always a Donald, or a Donald Campbell."

And sure enough, when it came time to head home, I traveled to the airport in the Post bus with Donald... and Donald.... and Donald.

Bus Passenger: "There's three on the bus. There's Donald beside you, Donald the driver and the other one."

On Donald MacLean's Post bus, on the Island of Barra, I'm Adam Fowler for The Savvy Traveler.


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