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Barra Best tells how cross-community project sparked wanderlust for travel


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TRAVEL MAN: Barra Best on his hols in Vietnam

TRAVEL MAN: Barra Best on his hols in Vietnam

TRAVEL MAN: Barra Best on his hols in Vietnam

Barra Best has told how his love for travel was sparked by a visit to the States as a boy.

The BBC NI weatherman and presenter, who has visited Australia, New Zealand, Cambodia and Vietnam, travelled to New Jersey when he was just 10 as part of Project Children, a cross-community scheme for kids launched during the Troubles.

The north Belfast man, who is back on our screens this week with a new show, Barra on the Foyle, said he dreamed of fronting his own travel show for the BBC.

Speaking to Sunday Life ahead of the series, he added: "I absolutely love travelling. If the BBC wanted to commission me for a travel show, I'd have my bags packed tomorrow and would be ready to go.

"I got bitten by the bug at a young age when I travelled to the States with Project Children and stayed with a host family in New Jersey for six weeks.

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Barra Best with his host family, the Baileys, during a trip to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, summer 1992

Barra Best with his host family, the Baileys, during a trip to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, summer 1992

Barra Best with his host family, the Baileys, during a trip to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, summer 1992

"Ever since then, I've loved getting away to new places. A few years ago, I visited Vietnam and Cambodia, which was an amazing experience.

"Over the last year, I've really missed travelling, but one of the upsides of lockdown was that I found a new appreciation for where we live.

"I visited the north coast, Kinsale and Cobh and Westport. I stayed in places I'd never been to before. I saw dolphins at Mullaghmore in Sligo. It did make me think 'Why do we fly thousands of miles when we have these places on our doorsteps?'"

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Scenes from his series Barra on the Foyle

Scenes from his series Barra on the Foyle

BBC Northern Ireland

Scenes from his series Barra on the Foyle

One of the first places that Barra wants to visit after lockdown is lifted is Gougane Barra, a small settlement in west Cork, to learn the origins of his first name.

He would also like to make a trip to a small island off the west coast of Scotland which shares his name.

"I would like to visit the south-east of Ireland - Wexford and Waterford - and then a hidden little gem in west Cork called Gougane Barra," he explained.

"I've always wanted to go there because that's where my name comes from. It would be interesting to trace the origin of my name.

"Then there's another place off Scotland called the Isle of Barra that even has its own festival in August, called Barra Fest.

"I'd love to go there and explore all those islands, investigating their ties with Northern Ireland and Ireland.

"I'd visit all the other islands first and then end up in my spiritual home, the Isle of Barra. That's on my bucket list too."

In the new three-part series, a follow-up to Barra on the Bann, the weatherman explores the landscape around the many waterways that combine to form the River Foyle as it weaves its way through counties Tyrone, Derry and Donegal.

The show sees Barra begin his journey at Beaghmore Stone Circles in Co Tyrone.

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Scenes from his series Barra on the Foyle

Scenes from his series Barra on the Foyle

Scenes from his series Barra on the Foyle

A local historian tells him how the circles, which date back to the Bronze Age, were formed, before Barra spends the night star-gazing at the OM Dark Sky Park and Observatory in Davagh Forest.

Travelling deeper into rural Tyrone, the presenter and a photographer visit an abandoned building near Plumbridge to uncover its secret past.

In Castlederg, meanwhile, he talks to a group of amateur actors about a western movie that was shot in the area during the 1970s.

"I had no idea there was a movie filmed in Castlederg called Gunhawks, a silent western which involved some of the locals," he said.

"They actually made Gunhawks 2 about 30 years later, using the same people."

Barra also braves the chilly waters of the River Roe to try ice water therapy, has a sailing lesson where the conditions are much worse than forecast and searches for sharks on Lough Foyle.

"We filmed the series during lockdown, but it wasn't too difficult because we were outside," he said.

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Scenes from his series Barra on the Foyle

Scenes from his series Barra on the Foyle

BBC Northern Ireland

Scenes from his series Barra on the Foyle

"I count myself lucky because I was able to keep myself busy during lockdown.

"I used the free time to do jobs I'd been putting off, like doing the garden and renovating my home.

"I also bought a hot tub. My dad, who lives round the corner and with whom I formed a bubble, had a bar in his back garden.

"It wasn't too bad when we had lovely weather, but I can't wait to get out again with my friends for dinner, a few drinks and dancing.

"I've really missed a good boogie and that's what I'm looking forward to most."

÷ Barra on the Foyle starts on BBC One NI on March 3 at 7.30pm. The series will also be available on the iPlayer

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