It's not at the end of the world. It just feels like it.

Mingulay is four islands south of Barra, the place most tourists regard as the southern end of the Outer Hebrides. With fairly tricky tides it's not easy to reach by kayak, but last week's predicted high pressure tempted us to try.

We had two wonderful days and nights on the island in the company of this fellow and almost a hundred of his kind.

The 'tick' to get is to circumnavigate Barra Head, also known as Berneray, the island at the very bottom, which is crowned by Barra Head lighthouse. In this we failed. Although the sea was calm along much of Scotland's west coast, out here there was still swell rolling in from the Atlantic. I'm told it is a rare day indeed when it's flat calm out here.

It's a head-game too. Far from help, probably out of radio range and with no-one to see a flare, this is not the place to have an epic. We felt it was not the place to take risks.

This photo is (almost) as close as we got to Barra Head light.

Liz did manage to land on Berneray, but it involved a short swim towing her kayak. Getting back in was easier.

The remoteness may have inhibitted our kayaking, but it added hugely to the atmosphere of Mingulay.

Having been awake around 5am to catch tides, we could spent most of two days hiking the hills, exploring the stacks on the west coast, and watching the seals hauled out on the beach.

These guys were noisy neighbours, 'singing' all night. It sounds more like dogs howling at the moon.

The remains of the settlement on Mingulay are still evident, with ruined hourse, school and stone field boundaries.

There are more photos and GPS tracks of our journey at the SeaKayakRoutes.com page.

Dense fog slightly complicated our return journey, but it had cleared when we reached Castlebay. So we decided to collect our kayak trolleys and keep paddling north to Lochboisdale.

Our thanks to Katie and Chris Denehy of Clearwater Paddling for looking after our kit while we were out, and for running a good hostel on Barra. (Chris also recorded the first Podcast back in 2006).

We had a sperb camp spot on Gighay, very different to the previous two nights on Mingulay.

That left a short day to finish. So we detoured to Eriskay and had a stroll through the houses to the bar Am Politician, before kayaking into Lochboisdale early afternoon.

The showers next to the Tourist Information centre were welcome, as was the free camping on the hotel's drying green (ask permission first).

The CalMac staff locked away our kayaks on the linkspan Ro-ro bridge so they would be ready for the morning sailing back to Oban.

It was a great trip lasting six days in total, with four of them spent on the water. And it was greatly helped by using our kayak trolleys on the CalMac ferries. Here's a GPS track of our route.


Anonymous said...

It's a wonderful place, isn't it? We didn't have your good weather, but after days of waiting and watching, just managed to sneak to Mingulay and back in a weather 'window' that lasted merely hours. Must go back and paddle around Barra Head...

Mark R

Ian said...

Looks a superb trip Simon, I'm very jealous!

Simon said...

Hi Mark - that's you and me both want to go around Barra Head. Stunning place.

Hi Ian - your paddles certainly enjoyed it!

paddlingOTAKU said...

Simon, are you doing the GPS track with a spot, or with a handheld GPS?


Simon said...

Hi PO - with a regular handheld GPS. Track uploaded to a mapping software (which only runs on my ancient PC...grrr) then I take a screenshot and save it as a JPG.


paddlingOTAKU said...

So your obviously running your gps all the time. I got a new GPS, and while I am not new to using the devices this is the first one that will talk to my mac, and I have to say, I am not impressed with the garmin/mac interface.


Simon said...

Yeah, the Garmin GPSMAP 76CSx stays on throughout so I can measure speed and distance. One set of rechargeable batteries lasts me about ten hours, and I carry a few sets.

The interface has improved a lot, but I still don't attempt to use it to load maps onto the Garmin. I have the Garmin topos for this area on a micro SD card and just slot it in place.

The Garmin Training Centre for Mac is a slightly better interface, although it has useless mapping. For my bike (an old Edge 305) and running (a very old forerunner 301) GPS I use a programme called Ascent to log activities.

Anonymous said...

Id just like to add that a group of 6 of us from Lothian Sea Kayak Club have just returned from this area and successfully managed to get round Barra Head as well as make our way up the whole of the West Coast of Mingelay.

We were extremely lucky with the wind being fairly light, however a 2m+ swell definitely made for some interesting conditions close to the cliffs and headlands and the narrow passages were only for those who were at total comfort in a sizeable sea. For anyone contemplating this it is definitely worth doing and a fantastic experience but, as Simon says, its rare to get the right conditions and should be seen as a very committing section of the trip.

Simon said...

Hi Jinja Coo
(Great name BTW)
Brilliant! Well done on the achievement. I wonder how many people manage to sea kayak around there in any year?

Will we see photos on your blog?

Anonymous said...

Thanks Simon, yes will stick some up in good time but have the onerous task of filtering out the many not-so-good ones first.