Crossing The Minch - flat seas and foul tides - part II

Our visitor the previous evening had warned that we might be disturbed in the night by the sound of sea birds - recordings that is, being played to attract further birds to the islands. I was not unduly concerned though speaking with another paddler, who had stayed on the islands some time before, it seems we were lucky, our night far more peaceful than theirs.
And so we rose early enough, to launch beneath heavy skies though once again, the sea was mirror calm.
Paddling beneath the cliffs of Garbh Eilean and looking back to the isthmus above which we had camped, the skies were a wheeling mass of birds. It seemed impossible to imagine any more than there were, but with the rats gone, numbers must surely rise.
Heading in towards the striking arch that cuts through the headland of Toll á Roimh...
...and out onto the exposed northern coast of Garbh Eilean. There was a little movement in the water here - the smallest of swells creating gentle clapotis but even that died away quickly.
Passing the westernmost point of the Shiants, Chris heads out across the tide towards Galta Mór. We had hoped for at least a little tidal assistance on the 20km crossing to Scalpay, but it was clear we were too late, the northerly stream running at up to 2 knots among the islands already. Still, with such calm conditions I was confident it would be a simple enough passage, it would just take a little longer than planned.
Huge rafts of puffins littered the seas among the islands west of the Shiants...
...and the porpoises remained our constant companions...
...for almost all of the next four hours. Looking back on the Shiants...
...and a little later, ahead to the lighthouse on Scalpay, just visible, now some 12km distant.
By the time we reached it, the sun had burnt off the mist and temperatures were soaring. Pulling into the sheltered bay beneath the lighthouse, we stopped for a long lunch, lazing on the sheep cropped grass before wandering among the ruined buildings which are the subject of a restoration programme desperately in need of funding. 
For some reason I left the camera in the boat - it was a stunning place and I committed the scene to memory before returning to the bay and heading out along the rugged east coast of Scalpay and Harris. There followed several hours of wonderful paddling, the day passing in a blur of short crossings and rugged cliffs backed by the dramatic mountains of Harris.
By early evening we had entered the Sound of Harris - a fresh north westerly pushing out of the channel creating choppy conditions as we hopped from one island to the next, working steadily across towards North Uist. Twelve hours after leaving the Shiant Islands, having covered approximately 65km with just one break ashore, we landed on the steep cobbled beach just within Loch nam Maddah. A long day and one of the best.
I was too tired to walk any distance to find a better vantage point but this is a wonderful camp, and one which we remembered well from our trip back in 2011 at the end of our paddle from Lochboisdale to Lochmaddy. As on that earlier trip, all that now remained was the 3km stretch back to the pier. 
And with time to spare before the ferry, it was a relaxed morning.
Our route across The Minch (the numbers indicating miles rather than km as I have noted the distances). Certainly there are more direct crossings, but if one is interested in things beyond completing the crossing for its own sake, this is the route I would recommend and one I would happily paddle again.


Douglas Wilcox said…
What a fantastic trip Will. :o)