Long days in the Northern Isles

After a fine introduction to paddling around, amongst and within the Northern Isles, circumnavigating Muckle Roe on our first day, we were heading for Papa Stour and searching for a spot to camp.
Arriving at Melby, things looked promising; the sound was flat, an inviting grassy terrace gave fine views to Papa Stour and out to Foula, but with no one around to check whether it was acceptable to camp so close to the houses, we loaded the boats and paddled the short distance to the Holm of Melby.
The morning dawned bright and the crossing of the sound uneventful. There followed some of the most magical paddling I have experienced; an endless succession of caves, stacks, arches, gloups and geos.
Aisha Head and its steep stony beach provided an idyllic lunch stop before heading out past Lyra Skerry into some dramatic water, the exposure to the North Atlantic now very much in evidence.
The Hol o Boardie proved impossible to enter, swells closing the passage and an exhilarating ride past the headland saw us heading east and eventually into the sheltered waters of West Voe.
After exploring the island on foot, investigating the burnt mound and righting a capsized sheep, the last leg provided intricate exploration of yet more caves, hidden beaches and arches.
We crossed the sound just as the overfalls started to build and it was not without regret that I realised we had probably just completed one of the best sea kayaking journeys we would ever have the privilege to complete...
And yet, being Shetland, another incredible journey was just across the bay.
We camped that night high above the Atlantic, the lighthouse of Eshaness standing proud above one of the most dramatic headlands in Britain.
Leaving the beach at Tangwick, conditions looked good. A northerly breeze ruffled the bay and before long we were weaving a route past the Bruddans and on to the headland itself. Here, a north westerly swell made for an interesting and exciting passage until having gained the shelter of Calder's geo immediately beneath the lighthouse, we were able to pass through one of the most spectacular caves on the mainland.
Passing through intricate channels, beneath towering cliffs and watching swells roll over the protecting reefs, we eventually happened upon a narrow cleft which gradually opened out and I realised, having lost track of our position, that we were within the Holes of Scraada...Walkers waved from the grassy cliff tops above as we laid back on the stony beach, making a brew on this, one of the more surreal lunch stops of the week.
Heading south now, passing beneath the lighthouse in slightly calmer conditions and coming back into the more sheltered waters of St Magnus Bay, we headed out towards Dore Holm, impressive from the mainland, this huge arch is spectacular from sea level close up.
From here a crossing of approximately 5km saw us beneath the Drongs. Reminiscent of the sandstone desert towers of Arizona, the Drongs are a wild place and even on such a calm day, the breeze quickened here, gusting around the red towers as a low swell boiled through the channels.
Leaving The Drongs and heading north, The Heads of Grocken reared up to meet us and a stunning red sand beach provided an incredible place for a last stop. Watch where you sit - stone fall here reminded me why I no longer climb as I used to...
Crossing Brae Wick, the boat felt decidedly sluggish and less stable on edge. Peering beneath the deck I discovered 2 inches of water sloshing about! Having pumped the cockpit dry, it was filling rapidly again a few minutes later...
That evening, an impromptu stop at Brae sailing club and the help of 'Ewen', turned up a list of people who might just be able to patch up the hull. 'Fred' it seemed was the most likely, and sure enough, having deposited the boat outside his workshop at 8.30am, we were back on the water and off to the cliffs of Noss by early afternoon.
With a not insignificant easterly swell I was dubious about how close we were going to be able to get to the cliffs of Noss, but in fact, as we rounded northern headland, the swell eased and by the time we were into the Noup of Noss, it was calm enough to land on the slabs, all the while thousands of gannets wheeled above.
After being surfed quickly up the south and west shore of Noss, we stopped awhile on the beach and chatted to the wardens, before wandering along the shore and watching as the sun began its very slow descent towards the mainland.
The paddle back was quick with a following wind and sea and late that evening, the sun now touching the horizon in indecision, sitting on rounded stones above the clear sea, I reflected on 4 days of incredible, exposed and beautiful paddling.
Nothing lasts forever; and the next day, our first off the water, was spent finding showers, recharging camera batteries, exploring St Ninian's Isle and drinking endless cups of tea in the Peerie Cafe as a F7 southerly rattled across the islands.
With little improvement the next day, the puffins at Sumburgh Head provided a morning's entertainment until, with the sun breaking out and the surf beckoning, we could resist no longer and spent a wild afternoon in the breaks off Quendale beach.
Our final two days provided another 'jurassic' paddle out of Ronas Voe where giant cliffs and stacks as well as numerous caves and tortuous passages were the order of the day.
Our final trip took us around the back of Vementry, the north west coast now being hammered by large swells, which, after a brief look around Heil Head, did not appear conducive to a last day's relaxed paddling. There was excitement enough having left the shelter of Uyea Sound along the north east coast.
If you paddle here, be sure not to miss out the Holms of Uyea Sound where the swell surges through narrow channels creating superb rock hopping.
Probably the best week's sea kayaking yet.


Looks like an excellent outing. Chris