Eilean nan Ron and the Rabbit Islands

Arriving at Skerray Bay, close to Tongue on Scotland's north coast, the silence was tangible, the sea calm and not a breath of wind. With little talk, the boats were unloaded and we prepared for a trip that has been a long time coming. Not Cape Wrath, which has haunted my thoughts since I first sat in a sea kayak, nor Whiten Head which I hope one day to combine with it. This was the sheltered option - a short journey around Eilean nan Ron and the Rabbit Islands - though here, almost as far north as it is possible to go on the Scottish mainland, shelter is a relative term. 
And despite the lack of movement below, we both knew a 1.5m swell was running from the north. There was little doubt in my mind that we would encounter some interesting water soon enough.
In fact the swell was immediately apparent - heaving over rocks just a few feet from the shallow entrance to the bay. Heading east initially via the beautiful and similarly sheltered Caol Beag, we passed inside Neave Island, surfing gentle waves against the tide...
...quickly passing the remarkable south-east facing beach. Had we been on the water for more than five minutes we would no doubt have stopped...
...but with rising anticipation we turned the south-east headland and paddled out into something entirely different.
Swell, tide and clapotis quickly combined to create conditions sufficient to ensure the camera remained safely inside the GT's small front hatch - the last picture I took before things picked up however, clearly showing there was going to be little chance of exploring the caves and arches of this wild coastline.
As we pulled away from the northern end of Neave the clapotis eased, leaving us to make the crossing to Eilean nan Ron on rolling, smooth sided swells. Approaching the cliffs, a distinct line of waves was visible and I deliberated on conditions ahead. The same feature had been visible from the shingle at Skerray. While the tide was running strongly, it soon became clear that the disturbance was more clapotis rather than standing waves and we entered into another chaotic stretch of padling, the camera confined to quarters once more as we pitched through waves from all angles of up to 2m.
Approaching Meall Thailm, the clapotis quickly dropped off allowing a more leisurely inspection of the cliffs and this enormous slab, topped by two distinctive boulders which have so far resisted the surging waves of winter storms whose reach is plainly obvious on the second slab in the far left of this image.
Inside the headland and a different, tranquil world of seals, skerries and thick kelp - we landed briefly to inspect the drying passage between the islands...
...before heading out and across the bay, the northern tip of Sgeir an Oir - the Rabbit Islands - our next objective.
Rolling waves and a long view towards Whiten Head...
...and though the size and chaos of the seas off Eilean nan Ron was gone, the Rabbit Islands remained elusive, frequently disappearing from view. Fulmars cut across the waves, flying directly at the boats only to veer off at the last second - never have I seen them carve away so close to the kayak. Passing the arch which splits Sgeir an Oir in two, we continued south, before heading around the southwest corner of the Rabbit Islands to land on what is one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen, backed by the rugged summits of Ben Loyal. 
There followed an interesting paddle into a freshening north-easterly wind now pushing against the flood stream which once more joined forces with another stretch of clapotis demanding concentration until the very last strokes back into Skerray Bay. Carrying the boats back up the steep shingle, a local couple arrived for an evening paddle - how was it, they asked? To be quite honest I wasn't entirely sure how to answer, but having waited so long to paddle this remote coastline, our brief introduction had certainly lived up to expectations - a wonderful place that contains all that is best about sea kayaking - Perfect, I replied eventually.

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