Our Hebrides Expedition 2024 is now open for booking. Email us here if you’d like to join us.

In May 2023 we embarked to explore the Hebrides.

Covering 150km of coast in six days of glorious paddling.
This is how it went…

Setting sail on the Ullapool to Stornoway ferry our merry crew opened our maps and forecasting apps as we left the mainland across Minch. Excitedly our luck seemed to be with us, gentle swells and light easterly winds promised a rare opportunity to head west on Harris and Lewis. Led by Tim and I (Will), our Hebridean trip is fast becoming a tradition as a fun way to open our Kayak Summer Isles season and guide together in some of the finest Scottish coastline.

We were a crew of seven in total, Myself and Tim, Duncan, Alex, Sage, Roger and Rod. Together we set about making our plan amidst enjoying coffee and the legendary Cal Mac ‘Big Breakfast’.

Expedition style in nature, our trips allow us to be flexible with our decision making selecting the best routes to fit the weather and our ambitions.

Day 1: Northton to Rhubha an Teampaill. 2km.

A near perfect forecast gave us the ambition to tackle as much of the west coast as we could over the next six days. After some fairly epic shuttling of vehicles, we left our trailer at Timsgarry and set south to Northton at the southern corner of Harris to start our adventure. As we loaded our kayaks for the upcoming week on the sandy shore, a local dog walker quipped “That is a lot of faff for such a short paddle” after asking where we were heading that night. We pointed a modest 2km west to the small chapel and grassy refuge of Rubha an Teampaill. Our modest half hour paddle to camp, at the edge of the waning light, set ourselves up nicely for the days ahead, our logistics were settled and we now had only kayaking to occupy our days ahead. That evening was one of comparing tents and who had the comfiest camp chair – for which I was quite outdone by all, having brought a simple sit pad.

Day 2: Toe Head to Taransay. 24km.

Setting out an hour before the western turn of the tide, we set our sights on rounding Toe Head for the morning. The soft sandy shores quickly gave way to the wild Atlantic edge, scoured by a millennia of unencumbered waves the ancient Lewisian gneiss rock was spectacularly gnarled and enticing to explore. As we rounded nearer to the headland the effect of such ocean swell became more noticeable. We were well aware that around the corner would be a short but hard fight against a stiff NW wind to reach Taransay and a suitable test of our skills for days ahead. A heavy clapotis and moderate fetch greeted us around the corner prompting a more direct crossing to Taransay’s southern tip to find some shelter and respite. Slow but steady we moved across in fine spirit, feeling well achieved to reach a spectacular beach for lunch.

Lunch was gloriously leisurely, we enjoyed the heat of the sunshine beaming off the sand and beyond an almost tropical blue hue across the waters. We were but a short hop along the inner sound to the wide bay of Loch na h-ùidhe where we would settle for camp.

Made famous by the 2000’s TV program “Castaway” and the subsequent incarnation of Ben Fogle as a national personality, the island sure enough boasted all the characteristics of a Hebridean wilderness. Wide sandy bays, Machair swaying in the wind, abandoned crofts and a particularly fine Crannog across the hill loch adorned the island amongst many other features. We enjoyed an afternoon roaming, resting and socialising around camp.

Day 3: Taransay to Crabhadail. 35km.

Put to a vote, the group consensus went in favour of following the inner sound of Taransay with aims of exploring an iconic sandbar which stretches out across the waters toward Luskyntyre beach to our east. Although low the swell ran both north to south and visa versa around the point creating a unique playwave. We paused for quite some time here to surf enjoy the morning sunshine.

Duncan, who had paddled here before, told tales.

a strange surf feature where the swell wraps both ways around the island to meet in the middle with a crash

Crossing north to Loch Leosavay we grew closer to the impressive rolling and rocky hills of Harris. Landing beneath the regally impressive Amhuinnsuidhe Castle. Officially a 19th century shooting lodge it felt easy to imagine this hidden, well kept building amidst the plot of a James Bond novel. It made a fine place to pause for lunch before turning west toward Huishinish beach in the afternoon.

The coastline here comprised of smooth rocky slabs and boulders carved by an ever present rolling ocean. Today was a moderate yet gentle swell which gave us the chance to play with gentle rock-hops as we went, helmets donned for the first time. Amidst a lot of fun our first capsize of the trip was swiftly recovered with a well executed roll to avoid a swim.

A quick pause at the fine sandy refuge of Huishinish beach saw a brief escape from the wilderness and the chance to use a public bathroom before heading north toward the sound of Scarp. The wind had dropped to zero leaving mercury smooth rolling seas, almost oily in appearance with the evening light through a moody overcast sky. Huishinish point featured some interesting rock-hop opportunities for those who wanted, and some particularly narrow caves and cracks to look inside. The sound of Scarp featured shallow sandy sea and some spectacular machair at our side. I’m sure all would agree that the final 1.5km to reach our camp at Crabhadail was a significant physical and mental push, the wind rose to a stiff easterly against us for the short but tiring final leg. We arrived and set camp weary but happy. A celebration of a particularly long distance paddled was had.

Socialising together we cooked by the tents

a variety of whisky shared

Day 4: Crabhadail to Timsgearraidh. 32km.

Calm seas and a silver sky promised a good day ahead of us. We were heading along some of the most remote coastline of Harris, the rocky shoreline and mountain vista’s giving a wonderful sense of isolation as we went. Spirits were high as we paddled north with hopes of reaching Mealasta that afternoon. From here we would make the decision whether to proceed north along the coast of Mangersta that day, or hitch across to the cars and shuttle to more sheltered locations. The forecast had changed ahead, now predicting fours and fives over the next few days.

Nestling into a small sandy bay opposite Eilean Mhealasta with a careful landing between short surf dumps, we assessed our plans for the afternoon. We had flown north on the tide, reaching here far sooner than expected. A group vote was put to the table and unanimous decision to carry on north along the Mangersta coast was reached. This would add a second long day, but give the chance to explore somewhere quite unique.

The sea was smooth and silvery once more yet as we proceeded north through a series of rocky skerries west of Mealasta, committing to the tide, we noticed the swell was rising considerably. Before long we were rolling between a significant Atlantic swell, ranging +/- 2m at 14-16 second intervals, more than any forecast had predicted. Care was needed to navigate the passages between the skerries amidst some thunderous booming rollers, impressive to watch and vital to avoid. It was clear that we would not be hanging close to the shore for the foreseeable and certainly keeping afar from the iconic Mangersta sea stacks. Instead we enjoyed rolling north on the otherwise smooth sea and watching the surf meeting its explosive end into the coastline. The air along the coast had a low haze brought by salt and spray cast into the air by the waves. The sea at times had large swathes of bubbles atop it, foamed up along the shore.

As we had hoped we made swift progress on the north going tide. At our side a wall of cliffs, caves and stacs stood proud against the skyline. Within a few hours we found ourselves at the narrow gap between Eilean Molach and the mainland and the predictable tidal squeeze. It was a perfect opportunity to explore some tidal excitement. The short race brought some short and steep fetch and a fair few excited whoops as we shot through to the other side.

Arriving at the wide bay of Camas Uig, we quickly found ourselves back in flat water as we paddled east to camp at the Ardroil campsite. The added luxury of running water, a toilet and a shower felt well earnt after a long day.

Day 5: Bearnaraigh. 24km.

The wind had arrived en force. A late night shuttle for the car-drivers, meant a slower start to the day while we moved across the hill to re-locate. Avoiding Gallan head, we decided instead to seek shelter between the Bearnaraigh islands. Starting at Meavaig we hoped to circumnavigate both islands over the next two days.
Tactically using whatever shelter we could find we pushed against a strong north wind most of the morning. Our reward to our effort was a swift push along the coast in the afternoon as the wind funnelled around the island. It was interesting to see harvesting of Egg Wrack seaweed very much in place here, which we were told was to be used in low sodium salts, food additives and anti-aging creams.

Blown into Little Bearnaraigh in the afternoon we found shelter amidst the dunes and enjoyed an afternoon wandering around the islands historic chapel and cemeteries. Our first golden eagles were also spotted gliding over the islands.

Day 6: Little Bearnaraigh. 22km.

Arguably one of the finest paddling locations in Scotland, Little Bearnaraigh is a true paddlers gem. Our camp amongst the dunes was sheltered between crag and grassy lazy beds, a sign of residents past. On the water we bounced north to find shelter by shallow sandy waters and long golden beaches.

The islands surrounding us had an ‘end of the earth’ sort of appearance

battered and windswept, bleak yet beautiful

The sound of the swell combined with the swish of marram grass in the dunes filled the salty air. As we ventured around the island some of our team opted to relax on the shore while the rest of us paddled a short way further north down the island chain. Our hope was to investigate a long archway which cuts through the Island of Campaigh. Sure enough we found the narrow passage. Between sets of fetch and swell a few of us managed to time our way through before bouncing back around in heavy clapotis. It was a committing and exciting experience.

A mostly downwind leg through the afternoon took us back south to our cars. A brief crossing to Fuaidh Mor revealed a cave on the north tip of the island, which upon close inspection turned out to be a 50m long tunnel, barely wider than our kayaks. Pushing through with our hands we all made it through this narrow and secret gap, much to our amusement. I cannot imagine that tunnel is often accessible given any lick of swell. With almost 140km paddling in five days (plus evening of day 1), we were well to feel both tired and achieved. In the early afternoon we awaited our ferry home, but there was one last adventure in store yet.

Day 7: The Butt of Lewis. 12km.

Sometimes life just lines up perfectly. Saturday was a near perfect Our ferry left at 12.30pm, the tide turned slack going westward at 8.45am on the Butt of Lewis. Strategically shuttling and camping at Eòropaidh beach, we inspected the swell for landing and confirmed our weather and tides. The diamond on the crown of the Hebrides was a rounding of the Butt and it’s majestic Stevenson’s lighthouse. By great good fortune the timings and conditions couldn’t be better.

An early start saw us shuttle our kayaks across the headland to the Port of Ness and soon after we were pushing out into a decent fetch beyond the harbour. The sense of commitment was fantastic and straight from the go we had playful seas to explore. At our side was a steeply cliff lined coast and deep bays filled with caves and archways. While we did linger in some, most notably the kayak sized squeeze far below a footbridge to Dun Eistean stack, our sights were set on hitting the Butt to time the turn of the tide. Immediately beyond the harbour there was already a flow heading north, which I noted was already running 45 minutes before the forecasted turn for the headland itself, it was a knot in favour so no complaints were had.

Arriving within 5 minutes of tidal slack, we bounced our way through the skerries north of the lighthouse with triumphant glee. We wound our way north to the outlier skerries beyond the headland, completing the circumnavigation of the very tip of the Hebrides. A celebratory roll complete, we gathered together for a group photo.

Many of us had only seen these cliffs from above

To look back up to the lighthouse atop the cliff, feeling so very small, was a surreal experience.

Through the tidal gate, we followed the final few kilometres round to Eòropaidh with leisure. A result of mostly east winds all week meant the western coast past the Butt was far more sheltered. We wound through every cave, crack and arch we could find, they were many and massive. Some archways seemed to go into darkness before re-emerging again with a cacophony of seabirds all around us. The boom of the low waves outside adding to the dramatic atmosphere. The short but spectacular route lived up to every part of its reputation of exceptionality. Our final landing was for some of the group their first attempt at a surf entry to a shore, the low and slow swell gave kind sets onto the sand and one by one we landed safe and sound to complete our journey. One final celebratory team photo was in order before packing the trailer and heading swiftly to Stornoway and the ferry home, a Cal mac lunch certainly on the horizon.

If you would like to join us. Our 2024 dates are now open to join.


Is it for me?

Our Outer Hebrides trip is expeditionary in nature.
We will wild camp wherever possible and responsible to do so, at times formal campsites may also be used if needed.
Our expedition trips are self catered – we can provide tents and sleeping mats on request.
Our aim is to enjoy and explore, not to ‘beast’ you, some days to be up to and over 25km.
Our paddling pace is taken as a group decision based on conditions, ambition and ability of the team as a whole.
While we will not be seeking rough or difficult conditions, they may present themselves at times.
We are looking for Intermediate (+) paddlers to join us as a friendly team.
It is one of the finest coastlines in Scotland…

What is an Intermediate (+) paddler?

We don’t expect you to be an expert and encourage developing paddlers to join us.
We ask you to be comfortable paddling in up to Beauforce 4 wind (11-16knots / 13-18mph)
Some experience of paddling in up to 1m high waves.
Able to roll or self rescue desirable but not essential.
As part of the trip, we can learn from each other from coaching to top tips and handy hints as a team.
Get in touch, we’d love to answer your questions.