Tuesday, 20 September 2011


The long wait to return to the Isle of Skye had final come but the remains of Hurricane Katia looked set to spoil our plans.  Sever strong gale warnings flashed over most of the north west of the country with unsettled weather set for the remainder of the week ahead.  We put off traveling up on Saturday and kept a close eye on the forecast.  We made the decision to go for it and travel up first light Sunday.

We spent the Sunday night in the back of my van in the shadows of Ben Nevis in Glen Nevis.  It seemed they were preparing for the worst as sever gale force winds threatened throughout Monday afternoon.   There was speak of 50ft high seas on the radio, all ferries grounded and bridges closed.  We woke early hoping to reach Skye Bridge before they closed it.

Tents pitched at base camp at Potree on the Isle of Skye we donned the waterproofs and walking boots to make the most of a wet gloomy day.  We climbed the path to the rear of the camp site leading to a high cliff above the north harbour entrance.  The rain ceased and the sun made a brief appearance.  There wasn't a sign of a strong gale in the air. 
We continued our little trek keeping our eyes peeled for eagles, well known to nest along these cliffs.
Just as our clothes were drying off the heavens emptied again as we tramped through a very boggy field back to a waterlogged camp site.  I decided to stay in the comfort of my van for the remainder of the week while my dad braved the damp conditions in the tent.  Not before testing out the local beer/whisky of course!


We awoke to another damp and breezy day.  It seems the gale force depression had passed further south across lower Scotland and Northern England and Wales.  Conditions for today were still bleak so I decide to take some advice from the guys on the forum and head for a trip around Scalpay, a fair size island not far from base camp on the east coast.
I dropped my dad off at the infamous mountaineering pub at Sligachan at the foot of the Red Cullin Hills and headed on further up the road to launch off the ferry slipway at the end of Loch Sligachan.   
Ferry terminal at the south of Raasay
With the wind at my back I made a good 6-7 knots across the 3 1/2 km crossing to the Isle of Raassy.  I paddled around the southern extremities of the island before crossing over to Scalpay. 
Looking south toward the Cullin Hills.  Scalpay to the left the headland of Loch Sligachan right cloud in-between!
My photos are much to be desired on such a bleak day but I've added them all if only for my own purpose.
Looking back (I think) toward Loch Sligachan.
The cloud continued to gather from behind until I was almost lost in a sea of mist.
Light house at  Eyre Point south of Raasay
Crossing to Scalpay, on goes the hood!
Shelter on Scalpay, Rassay in the distance.
Continuing east as I reach Scalpay for a clockwise circumnavigation I find a small sheltered bay on the north of the island to plan out my trip ahead out of the wind. 
North East Scalpay
There isn't much to see on Scalpay, made even more grim with the weather.  Apparently it is a privately owned island that operates a red deer farm, shooting estate and holiday cottages.  It is a fairly low lying island (compared to the heights of its surroundings) made of mainly moorland and conifer plantations. 
 Looking back across to high cliffs of remote eastern side of Rassay.
I take the opportunity to look back across to the remote eastern side of Rassay, a trip three day circumnavigation I hope to make someday, a comment I believe I made last year.
Longay Island, off the east of Scalpay
The east side of Scalpay looks on to a series of smaller islands.  I was tempted to paddle the short distance out and link them up before crossing back but the wind was on the increase and I had to be back for my dad.
East of Scalpay looking across to the Skye Bridge faintly seen to the right of my bow.
Under the cliffs of the south east of Scalpay I was out of the wind.  The inshore waters take on a mirror like appearance in a brief spell of calm as I try to make out land far across Skye's inner sound.
South corner of Scalpay looking on to the Cullin hills.
I take advantage of what seems to be the only easy landing place on Scalpay on the south east corner.  The tide is out and the beach is a mix of mud, seaweed and shingle.  It continues to rain on what seems to be a deserted harbour so I find some shelter next to the slipway and pour myself a hot coffee.
I was hoping that this area of Skye would be sheltered from the worst (which it was).  Although I expected strong gusts to sweep down the narrow Loch na Cairidh dividing Skye from Scalpay I thought it would be wise to cross at it's narrowest part and seek what shelter there is inshore.
The aim was to meet back at the Sligachan pub around 5pm, and I was making excellent time.  Here at the narrows I stop off and try (badly) to get a shot of myself seeing as I wont have many during the trip. 
Through the narrows and my expectations become reality.  A strong headwind makes paddling very difficult.  Driving rain doesn't help moral either. 
With the water on the low tide I stop off at every rocky outcrop to rest realising how much further I had to go.  Each picture from here on in was taken traveling 2 knots backwards!
Like last year conditions were fairly flat but the strength on the wind was immense.
Moving away from the headland looking down Loch Ainort.
Shelter under a cliff on the other side of Loch Ainort.
I find a long awaited sheltered spot on the far side of Loch Ainort after a grueling crossing.  I dip into my deck bag for some energy snacks before pressing on.
Loch Sligachan
Around the last headland and it was a final push into Loch Sligachan.  By now I was faltering, energy sapped and joint aching I was tempted to get out and walk.  There was no stopping, a brief stop would have me stalling and blown backwards.
Raasay Ferry coming in on the home stretch.
The pier was now in view, a meir 1/2 km push to finish.  I stop again behind a small slipway to a hotel as the Raasay ferry drives past.  I let it pass as we are going to the same destination and drive in behind it's wake.
I crash out on the beach, barely able to walk and completely out of breath.  Has to be probably the hardest paddle I have done.  A kind lady who must have seen my struggle from the ferry offered to help me up to the car park with the boat.  I thank her between breaths and notice as she drives away the v-bars on her car roof, a fellow kayaker. 

I load the boat and head on up to the pub, over an hour late.  An eagle sores over the loch above, but no energy to get my camera out of the back.  I find my dad, should I say slightly tipsy, after he had come of the hills four hours earlier.  The rivers had turned into torrents due to the rain and he was unable to cross them. 

17 nautical miles in total (roughly 31km/20miles)


Taran Tyla said...

Bit Jealous here Stu, fancy circumnavigating Skye???

stoney (Martyn) said...

Thought about getting out and walking! Nice one!
Looked like a nasty day, but all good.

Stuart said...

Taran i would love to a week of perfect weather and a group to split the petrol i would do it.

Mart i was very tempted to walk. Like tour trip to pembrokshire, you just have to make the most of it.

More to follow shotly.

Taran Tyla said...

Sounds like a plan though I'm not sure about the week of perfect weather. Does that ever happen???

soundoftheseagull said...

Great photos well at least there were no midges!!!!!