There is a certain romance in setting out on an adventure without knowing where you will go. The words ‘Gone Paddlin’ scrawled red across the weekend calendar opening the opportunity to chase our whims to the weather. Three friends; Seumas, Sage and I loaded our kayaks onto the cars, grabbed maps from the shelf and beer from the fridge to setting off after work late on a Friday night. Discussing in the car we decided upon circumnavigating Handa Island and exploring Loch Laxford. Chasing the setting sun we launched onto the falling tide. Flowing west on the final golden rays we ventured to a secluded campsite. With the sound of a gently flapping tent door and the calm lap of the ocean nearby we awoke to a slower simpler mindset. Cooking coffee on the smoky crackle of a kelly kettle and packing tents on the soft grass the morning drifted away un-rushed and relaxed, settled with accordance to the tide. Paddling an unfamiliar stretch of shoreline I looked out to the western islands. It felt an age since I had cut across, far from the coast in a quiet bid to round Scotland. I remembered the fear of the approach to Cape Wrath just that little bit further north yet today in company with friends the memories faded. Lingering in rocky crags, hopping from waves and gliding on the slow rolling surf we played as much as paddled. No haste and no race for distance, this was how kayaking should be. A figure emerged ahead of the Badcall Islands, our fourth compadre; Sam. Darting into the rocky archipelago between low splashes of crashing waves we snuck into caves venturing deep into the dark booms of an unseen end. At times the sea was rough and required some skill to navigate, at others the coast was calm and serene. As we approached the towering cliffs on the western shore of Handa a cacophony of seabirds greeted our arrival. Kittiwakes, Guillemots, Puffins and Razorbills all soaring from perches high above saturated the air with the flutter of feathers and stench of guano. Astonishing caverns linked by towering arches led our path to the north of the Island. Discovering one of the most awe inspiring stretches of coastline I have ever seen beneath a skylight high above an arch lined cave I raced eagerly into every turn.. All four of us were in our element and enticed to explore.
Following Seumas who had been carefully waiting to hop a narrow gap on the surf of a breaking wave I chose to dart ahead. Seumas had been waiting for a reason; after a minute of thrashing and two frantic eskimo rolls later I emerged from a beating in the rocks thankfully unscathed yet wet and buzzed with adrenaline. The chance to push limits when in company was a welcome change to solo ventures, with the comfort of friends the boundaries further…although I must admit I’d rather not capsize into the rocks again.
Landing on a wide sandy bay swallowed by turquoise waters we left the tidal race between the mainland and dragged our boats onto the highest point of a grassy ridge. Our hope was to camp in an exposed position and escape the midges. Frying burgers and cracking open a few beers we clinked glassed and watched the sunset fade into night. With the turn of the weather approaching it was time for us to turn for home. Heading north to Loch Laxford with the push of the swell we chased on wind and rain into the sheltered bay. Perched on an island for a lunch we basked in the quick glimpse of the sun before pushing slowly into the back of the bay. Chasing a rainbow to the end of the bay I joined Seumas in trying to push as far as we could upstream on the River Laxford; we made it to the bridge before turning home to the van. Setting out with no plan we had left home with no expectations, no stress and no urgency. We returned feeling revived, relaxed and with a longing for the next adventure.