Review - Sea Kayak Guidebook to Outer Hebrides

The Outer Hebrides

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The Outer Hebrides - Sea Kayaking around the Isles and St Kilda, by Mike Sullivan, Robert Emmott and Tim Pickering. Published by Pesda Press.

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This book contains monsters. They lurk at the back; scary, menacing and dangerous.

So we’ll leave them there for now and start at the front. Because the moment you pick up this book and flick through it, you sense the quality.

The photos, the layout and the snippets of text which stick to your eyes - they promise great things. (The photos in this review are not from the book - they're mine.)

Although it’s a thick book, there are just 44 routes rather than the 50 we’ve come to expect in similar Pesda Press publications, which is a surprise.

Another striking difference with previous Pesda guides is the use of aerial photography to illustrate some of the routes and is reminiscent of Imray guides.

This book shows the way, and such aerial photography could be put to even better use in future publications.

The guide is structured around the individual islands, initially heading north to south, from Lewis to Barra.

Each section starts with a description of that island, gives a flavour of its history and a line or two about kayaking there. In addition, ‘box-outs’ regularly appear providing interesting nuggets that don’t apply specific routes.

For example, did you know that if you see more than one eagle, the book says, ‘you can refer to what you saw as an aerie, a convocation, a jubilee, a soar or a spread of eagles’.

Of course you did.

So to the monsters.

Eight of these routes are so long they don’t fit on the maps. A white squiggly line indicates where sections of the map have been cut and pasted together, the only way to bring the start and finish onto the same page.

These are the big crossings and include; 66km to St Kilda, 67km to Sula Sgier and North Rona, 78km Ullapool to Stornoway and 70km Clashnessie Bay to Stornoway.

While you’re pondering those arm wilting distances, I should point out they refer to the crossing one way.

So unless you want to set up home on North Rona, or can arrange a shuttle from a passing boat, your true journey is 134 km.

These monsters are given the hardest grade C, when clearly they seem several steps beyond any other grade C in this or any other Pesda Press guidebook.

Some have only been completed a handful of times, while the last on that list has only been done once, as far as is known.

Patrick Winterton and Mick Berwick were casually nipping back to Stornoway to collect Patrick’s van after their epic kayak to the Faeroe Islands in 2009.

I was slightly involved. I’d been filming them, collected the pair from the cargo ship which brought them back to Stromness, and drove them and their kayaks across to top of Scotland.

My poor little VW Polo groaned under the weight of kayaks, kit and kayakers.

Let’s face it, if you’re good enough to take on one of these monsters, you don’t really need this guidebook.

But of course, that’s not the point of including such routes. These monsters are the stuff of dreams, not nightmares.

They lurk at the end of this book and at the limit of our aspirations.

They are goals to encourage us to develop our skill and experience, and thereby to improve our sea kayaking. For some of us, that might mean moving up from Grade A to B routes.

For all of us, it should mean making a kayak trip to the Outer Hebrides, the Western Isles, Eilean Siar, the Islands at the Edge of the World.

1 comment:

Wenley said...

Hic sunt leone

Bravo. Thanks for a splendid review.