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Sea Kayaking in the Outer Hebrides: Top 5 Locations

Posted on Sep 04, 2018 by Donald Thomson

Shimmering sheltered waters, endless white beaches and a plethora of islands to explore. Is the Outer Hebrides a paddler’s paradise?

Wilderness Guide Donald Thomson shares his Sea Kayaking Outer Hebrides Top Locations.

I’ve been lucky enough to have started my sea kayaking career at school. I went on my first sea kayak multi day expedition when I was 18, since when I’ve been hooked. Over the years I’ve paddled abroad, but always come back to Scotland. In my, and many others, view it’s a world class sea kayaking destination. There is so much variety, and different parts of Scotland have their own character. One of my favourites is the Outer Hebrides. They are remote, thinly populated, and also provide opportunities for sea kayaking at all level of ability, in a stunning landscape.

Read on: Sea Kayaking; a Photo Love Story

Read on: Getting Fit for Sea Kayaking

Trip 1  – The Islands of Loch Roag

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Morning view across Loch Roag.

Loch Roag on the W coast of Lewis is a great place to potter in a sea kayak. Launch from the camp site at the stunning beach at Valtos on its SW shore and head out to explore the Islands. Pabay Mor (Big Priest Island), has a stunning arch you can paddle through into its hidden lagoon. This also houses one of the largest fish traps in the Outer Isles.

There are also 2 restored black houses on its SW coast. The coast of Great Bernera (Bear Island) – not to be confused with Berneray in the Sound of Harris – is indented with caves and small stacks. If you follow it through the narrows and under the bridge, you’ll be able to visit the standing stones at Callanish on mainland Lewis. (Read our blog for the full lowdown on how to experience the best of Callanish).

They are older and more complete than Stone Henge, and well worth a visit. The mouth of Loch Roag is scattered with lots of small islets, ideal for island hopping. But be cautious, as they are open to the Atlantic swell (nothing between you and America), and there’s a magnetic anomaly. The Broch at Carloway on the N side is another must visit location, the most complete in Scotland apart from Mousa in Shetland

Trip 2 – Round Scarp

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Paddling in the Scarp caves.

Even if you don’t intent to paddle, the drive from Tarbet to Hushinish past Amhuinnsuidhe castle looking N to Clisham, the Outer Isles highest peak at 799m, is well worth the effort. The crossing to Scarp (rocky Island) from the jetty at Hushinish is only a km, but you are rewarded with the chance to wander round the deserted village. This was once home to over 200 people in the late 19th century. Looking back to mainland Harris you can see why Scarp was chosen by the Royal Mail to test a Rocket for mail delivery in 1934, with mixed success.

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Camping on Scarp.

A circumnavigation of Scarp by kayak is a microcosm of Scottish paddling. Stunning views to Harris, exposure to the Atlantic swell, caves, stacks, skerries, and if you time the tide correctly, a stunning secluded beach to lunch on. What more could you ask for.

Trip 3 – Round Berneray

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Lunch stop on West Berneray

Berneray (Bear or Bjorn’s Island) on the S shore of the Sound of Harris, feels as if it is totally surrounded by shell beaches. With it’s azure seas , Machair and thriving crofting community, Berneray is a must visit destination. Prince Charles stayed with one of the crofters on several occasions, and it was the home of giant Angus MacAskill who was 7ft 9in tall!

Trip 4 – Eriskay and the Sound of Barra

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Paddling by Kishmul Castle on Barra.

The sound of Barra separates S Uist from Barra to the South. It is dotted with Islands, the largest of which is Eriskay. Set off from the princes beach where Prince Charlie landed at the start of the 1745 Jacobite rebellion. Either head N to the Sound of Eriskay where An Politician sank with 264,000 bottles of whisky on board, an event immortalised in the book and film ‘Whisky Galore’. Alternatively if you’ve planned your tides head South and island hop around the Sound. Don’t miss out the secluded ‘Blue Lagoon’ between Gighay and Hellisay with its Viking Boat grave.

Trip 5 – Mingulay and the Bishop Isles

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Puffin watching on Mingulay.

Known as The Bishop, the string of Islands running S from Barra – Vatersay, Sandray, Pabbay, Mingulay and Berneray all have their own distinct characters. Although none of the crossings are long, it’s a committing paddle. As this takes you further from civilisation than any other trip mentioned above, excluding ‘the Outliers’. The rewards are worth it with some of the highest sea cliffs and stacks outwith St Kilda. The peace and solitude of the haunting deserted village among the dunes at Mingulay (Big Island). Mingulay is often referred to as a St Kilda lookalike. There are also too many stunning sandy beaches and top notch camp sites to mention.

Browse our Sea Kayaking adventures here.

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