Updated early 2019
The Hebrides and west coast of Scotland is a world-class kayaking destination and the coast and islands south of Skye are popular paddling venues.
Further north, more frequent Atlantic winds and fewer settlements make the long trek by road a gamble but no less rewarding if you hit good weather, like the Space Station astronauts, right.
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The drawback of a sea coast is you can either paddle off one way – or you can paddle of the other. But scatter an archipelago just off a peninsula like the Coigach (map left) and your route choices multiply exponentially; there’s always a new permutation or somewhere else to explore.
With the Summer Isles you have more or less two island groups: the easily reached Taneras, Horse and Ristol islands which at some tides aren’t even islands. And the remoter more exposed islands out as far south as Priest Island and Carn nan Sgeir. Closer to the Gruinard or Scoraig mainland, you need a good spell to visit these two and get back to the Coigach. But when a southwesterly is blowing your loose laundry towards Oslo, Achnahaird on Enard Bay might be less rough. And if that’s a wash-out too, you can splash around the Coigach’s big freshwater lochs like Ossian or Lurgainn below Stac Polly mountain, or portage inland to the Polly Lochs north of Stac. Based in or around Achiltibuie and there is no shortage of paddling options.
A good place to get an overview of the Summer Isles is from Meall Dearg hill (153m) above Old Dornie harbour. A 10-minute walk up west from the cattle grid/gate at Dornie ( near ’99’ on the map above) will bring you to a 180-degree viewpoint (above) across Loch Broom, from Horse Island to Isle Ristol and with Achnahaird and Enard Bay behind you. On a clear day you’ll see 50 miles to the mountains of Harris, twice as far to Hecla on South Uist, the Cuillin of Skye and to the southeast the 1062-m pyramid of An Teallach. Below, another view, this time from Ben Mor Coigach (743m).
The main settlement son Coigach is Achiltibuie and the adjacent hamlets. For accommodation check out coigach.com along with all the usual booking websites.
There’s a pricey hotel in Achiltibuie
a basic hostel down at Achininver
loads of self catering places by the week
AirBnBs by the night
and a campsite right on a beach by the pub in Altandhu.
You can wild camp anywhere within reason, but more than a night on grassy Badentarbet beach, opposite Tanera Mor by the old pier is discouraged locally.
You can get fed at the hotel, the Altandu pub, the Piping School Cafe (daytime) or Salt Seafood Kitchen (in season) and Tea Rooms in Polbain. The Achiltibuie Stores with fuel is open six days a week; the next nearest fuel and shop are Lochinver, 18 milkes to the north or 24 miles to Ullapool with a Tescos. The post office is open mornings, six days a week.
Tour with- or hire a kayak from Norwest Sea Kayaking up in Lochinver – they’re often down here, or do a course with a new outfit based in Achiltibuie/Ullapool called Kayak Summer Isles (there’s a fantastic picture of high tide on Carn Sgeir on their front page). It’s all on coigach.com.
Weather of course is another matter. It’s much windier and more exposed up here than further down the west coast, but as mentioned, besides the islands there are leeward coasts and inland lochs to visit. We don’t live here but have been visiting for years, renting for months at a time. Over that period there’s a good chance of catching a fine day every couple of weeks and at least one outright freak dry, sunny spell. The year 2018 was one of the driest and warmest ever.
We’ve reliably experienced a calm, warm and dry week in May or early June. Note that the BBC weather I use often underestimates actual wind speed by 50% – maybe it’s an average. Local fishermen rate the more detailed Norwegian YR met service, and XC is another one. Although it often packs up, if you want to correlate those forecasts with what is actually happening now (to confirm what you can often see with your own eyes) have a look at Ardmair campsite’s weather station. Here’s a handy nautical mapp, too. Compared to other places in Scotand, it’s rarely still or humid enough to allow midges to be a real nuisance, but then again, we’re not camping up here.
Click for today’s tide on Tanera Mor. The range is about 4.4m but with light winds and an appropriate route, it never really affects exploring the islands. I have it easy in an open kayak, but not all islands or skerries are that easy to land on. Mullagrach (hiding above, behind Old Dornie harbour and Ristol) and Bottle are two examples. Blue dots are known beaches; there will be others, depending on how desperate you are.
I won’t spoil your adventure by suggesting routes – that’s half the fun. The map below shows the main put-ins. I also mark caves and arches I’ve found over the years. I’m sure there are a few more. No need to trawl through my list of accounts by clicking the ‘Summer Isles‘ category, but you’ll find loads of photos and mini maps there to help you get a feel for the area. Or just use the search box.
Enjoy your paddle around the Coigach and Summer Isles.