Compton Mackenzie was drawn to the sea. And on Barra he adored the islanders, their stories and their laughter, says Patrick Barkham.
In a Hebridean gale, the Twin Otter plane made an implausibly smooth landing on the champagne-coloured sands of Tràigh Mhòr, a beach on Barra. This small Scottish island boasts the only regular scheduled flight that lands on a beach. It is also the setting for Whisky Galore (1947) – the novel and 1949 Ealing comedy that celebrates resourceful islanders plundering the booze-filled SS Cabinet Minister, a fiction based on a real shipwreck. The book was written by Sir Compton Mackenzie. I flew to Barra on a pilgrimage to discover more about his eccentric life on this remote Outer Hebridean island. My first impressions were completely atypical of this most welcoming of communities. ‘You’re twenty minutes late,’ barked the driver of Barra’s bus in the small wet airport car park. ‘I’m sorry – the plane was late leaving Glasgow,’ I stammered, paying £2.10 to be swept around the island’s...
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