That all changed dramatically, and for the better, with the coming into full operation of the Sound of Barra ferry service in 2003, when the MV Loch Bhrusda moved south from the Sound of Harris service. The result was a fast, short and regular (and very noisy) vehicle ferry service linking Barra to the rest of the Western Isles.
For current timetable and fare information, and for bookings, visit CalMac's website. It is worth remembering that this service operates seven days per week: there is a Sunday service.
To accompany the building of the Eriskay Causeway, fine new harbours and slipways were built at Ardmhor on the north-east side of Barra, and at Ceann a Gharaidh on Eriskay's west coast. In 2002 these were used by a small landing craft type ferry, the Eilean Bhearnaraigh, to run a direct ferry service across the Sound of Barra for the first time. This had limited capacity and the result was that demand often exceeded the capacity of the ferry to carry it. With the arrival of the MV Loch Bhrusda, the Eilean Bhearnaraigh moved to Orkney to provide a service linking the monastery on Papa Stronsay in Orkney to nearby Stronsay.
The fully operational Sound of Barra service completes a project that been under way for 60 years, since the first bridge was built across the South Ford between Benbecula and South Uist in 1942. For the first time ever, you can now travel by car the full length of the Western Isles from the Butt of Lewis to Vatersay within a single day.
This is a distance of only about 140 miles, but it is an achievement unimaginable until recently. It relies on the existence of the fairly long-standing causeways at North Ford and South Ford, plus the more recent additions linking Vatersay, Berneray and Eriskay to their larger neighbours.
And the new ferry services across the Sound of Harris and Sound of Barra completed the chain and confirmed the Western Isles as a single interconnected series of communities with internal transport links as good as, or better than, those with the mainland.
Passengers waiting to catch their ferry at Ardmhor on Barra now benefit from an excellent cafe in the waiting room, open 363 days per year. On fine days they can pass the time on the terrace outside the cafe overlooking the harbour: and whatever the weather most will pause to admire the remarkable otter statue close by. This is the work of Lewis-based artist, Iain Brady.