Muckle Flugga - Around Britain's most northerly point

This is one of those trips that every sea kayaker should make; of course a little luck with the weather is required and as the guide states: ''this is a big day...and a serious and committing paddle.''
Muckle Flugga lighthouse seen from beyond Out Stack, the rock visible in the right of the frame
Of course such description inevitably heightens the allure; the gauntllet, or rather, the pogie, has been thrown!
Conscious that there will be just one opportunity to get out of the boats on this trip, we launch in the eerily calm bay at Westing. This saves complications with the 7kn tide of Bluemull Sound, as well as energy for our main objective.
Despite the apparent calm, the westerly swell soon makes itself felt, exploding on the skerries immediately north of Westing.
Before long we are accompanied by gannets, their numbers increasing the further north we paddle.
Puffins too make an appearance, indeed we see more on the water today than anywhere else during our two weeks in Shetland.
After a break at Wood Wick, (the storm beach remarkable for the amount of drift wood on its rocky shore, much of which looks as though it has come from across the atlantic), the lighthouse of Muckle Flugga appears beyond the swell and Tonga Stack.
Approaching Herma Ness, our surroundings are majestic, utterly wild. Such an inhospitable place and yet so full of life, the noise of the seas, the birds...
...the wild grandeur lures us on, sometimes close in through swell washed channels, more often a respectable distance from the dark cliffs.
North of Herma Ness, the channel with its 5kn flows is crossed without incident, a race and large standing waves forming north west of the lighthouse are avoided and in a few short moments we are beyond Out Stack.
A french yacht passes, heading south. We return their exagerated waves, strangely their presence in this wild place heightens the sense of isolation. The exposure is daunting, with nothing but the rolling ocean between the bow and Greenland. The butterflies from this morning have long since disappeared, replaced with a growing sense of fulfilment, of joy in this magical setting, of awe at the scale and power of our surroundings...we cross the east bound tide and return to the sanctuary of the bay beneath the lighthouse.
From here the 3km crossing to The Noup provides time to reflect on where we have been, how priviledged we are to have seen all that we have...
Photo: Kev Robinson
...until the immensity of the cliffs and the huge arch of Hols Hellier, pull me from my meditative paddle.
The pace quickens again as the wild drama of the northern seas and huge rock walls above draw me in...
...and through one of the most impressive natural arches I have seen.
The cliffs continue with intricate caves and tight channels, clear waters washing secret beaches...
...whilst some are passed by, left for another day.
The beach of Burrafirth is visible now in the distance and we turn towards Fiska Wick, the end of what most certainly has been a 'serious and committing' paddle, but also the end of day which I will never forget.
A day filled with the drama of the Atlantic, of the huge northern skies, the gannets, puffins, bonxies and fulmars, the exposure of open ocean, the impossibly remote lighthouse and thoughts of the lives of those who manned these desolate stations through desperate storms...we are indeed a privildged few who make such journeys and see such things. It is a trip, every sea kayaker should make, it is the essence of sea kayaking.


Ian said…
Looks like a fantastic paddle Will! I've been reading "The Lighthouse Stevensons" which gives accounts of huge seas breaking clean over the Muckle Flugga light. Epic place.

Vince said…
Truly awesone stuff Will. Great series on the northern isles.

Taran Tyla said…
Very, Very jealous, my wish list just got bigger :)