Handa Island

Handa Island, not so far south from Cape Wrath, has been a trip I have wanted to complete for many years. It was always one I was happy to leave for a good day, a day when it would possible to get in close beneath the gargantuan cliffs and specifically the Great Stack of Handa. The day started full of promise but it was not to be.
Starting the trip from the head of Loch Laxford, the first few kilometres felt familiar though it was 2008 when I paddled here last.
Approaching the mouth of the sea loch, Ardmore point beyond and the long ridge of Fionáven just visible to the far right. Another objective - for a winter traverse - that has remained on the to-do list for too long.
Chris turns Rubha Ruadh, picking up a very gentle swell - conditions apparently settled and ideal for our run around Handa.
The first view of Handa's northern cliffs, but something else has caught Tim's eye...
...a deep recess in the cliffs...
...deeper than initial appearances suggest and the first cave of the trip.
We continued south along this rugged shoreline, heading for the islands that form the Dorus Mór - big door - a term that is self explanatory when the tide is running.
Beached on the south-eastern extremity of Handa...
...looking towards the point of Stoer and its Old Man. Standing on the small headland, a fresh and cold breeze was noticeable and I knew what would follow.
Heading west from our sheltered beach, a beam wind strengthened as we crossed the bay, passing Glas Leac...
...and running through the more sheltered channels...
...beneath the imposing sandstone walls of Handa. A tall, dark entrance drew us in, revealing a cavernous opening, the roof washed smooth by huge swells.
It was the last image I would take for some time. Emerging from the cave the wind appeared to have freshened again and with the tide now running against it, the seas steepened sharply. The swell remained low, perhaps 3ft at its height while crossing back to Rubha Ruadh, but the boisterous wind blown chop forced a concerted effort and concentration. The 5km crossing with a F5 wind on the bow soon turned into a slog, things easing briefly as we entered Loch Laxford once again.
Tucking into a tiny cove and a different world at the mouth of the loch, we rested briefly in the sun before heading back through the islands. The wind, now funnelling down the loch picked up notch further and the return trip was a simple contest of strength. An unpleasant end to a spectacular paddle, which remains on the list then, to complete in more gentle conditions.
Mocking our earlier exertions, evening calm and a beautiful sunset looking across Scourie Bay to the southern edge of Handa.

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