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5 S H O R T S U M M E R I S L E S E A K A Y A K A D V E N T U R E S
Standing like ships on the distant horizon, the Summer isles are a scattered archipelago, just south of Achiltibuie. These islands have been an ever present entity in my life so far. As children, they represented the edge of the world and were ‘that place’ which although we would seldom visit had become the backdrop to many fond memories.
Most often we arrived by sailing boat as part of annual regattas with the Loch Broom Sailing Club. Every trip was lively and unique, from late nights spent under head-torch, helping my father bird-ring illusive storm petrels on Priest island, to that one time someone accidentally dropped the whole roast pig destined for the annual club BBQ overboard and we had to hastily source the other half from the same perplexed butcher . We spent weeks on the island of Tanera Mor at sailing schools, our evenings kept active by daring each other to climb higher on the pier before leaping into the water. Our nights were long spent lighting bonfires to warm back up. As a teenager I visited these islands every day for a summer while working as a deckhand on the local wildlife cruise The Summer Queen, between serving tea and scrubbing decks it was here that I discovered my first love of photography. Those memories of the islands however distant were that of a paradise and they always will be.
A few years on and I am drawn back here, this time by kayak. Now I am lucky enough to call these Isles my ‘office’ while sharing that wondrous sense of the ‘edge of world’ by kayak and hikes. This week a rare good forecast coincided with a few free days, so joined by good friend and colleague Tim Hamlet, we set out together in search of the perfect short paddle and perhaps a Summer Isles sunset.
Here are five great short paddles in the Summer Isle Area
1. C A R N N A N S G I E R
Without doubt this is my favourite island in the Summer Isles. Although only approximately 4km from the nearest put in (Badenscallie Bay) the island’s exposed position makes it often challenging to reach- this is not a crossing to be taken lightly in stiff wind. This exposure generates an incredible sensation of remoteness, out here you truly feel alone, save perhaps the comforting nighttime glow of Ullapool far in the distance. Separated by a narrow rocky isthmus the two sides of the island have plenty to explore. To the southern side are steep cliffs beneath which can be excellent fishing and the two bays guarantee a sheltered landing in any condition. The island has no fresh water, but in compensation there is no shortage of world class campsites. Keep an eye out on the rocks for nesting birds, on the grass for the six spotted burnet moth (pictured) and on the water for curious otters.
IMPORTANT INFORMATION: Please avoid walking across the rock spit above the high-tide line between the spring and summer months ( April-September ) – there are a number of rare and protected bird species that nest on the ground. Disturbing them will severely affect their chances of increasing the future breeding population.
2. I S L E M A R T I N
Probably my most regular evening paddle Isle Martin offers a short blast around an island with spectacular cliffs, wide shingle beaches and a perfect vantage across Annat Bay. Late at night it is a reliable spot to sight sea eagles, otters and seals in abundance, not to mention the large bird colony on it’s northern crags.
The 7km circuit can be gloriously calm or brutally exposed depending on the direction and strength of the wind, it is however an often well sheltered option for northerlies. Dubiously part of the Summer Isles, Isle Martin is closer to Ullapool and just a five minute drive north of town. The best place to put in is at the spectacular Ardmair Bay and hop across the shallow gap toward the historic houses on the island. Managed by the Isle Martin trust it is well worth popping onto the island for a visit.
3. I S L E R I S T O L
A 5km circumnavigation, Isle Ristol is a classic Summer Isle. A rugged, cliff lined west coast, a battered craggy southern shore peppered with illusive, round bouldered landings and an iconic shell sand beach, it has it all. A reasonable tidal flow often pushes through the inland channel between the island and the mainland, which almost dries on low spring tides. However the rest of the island is easily navigable suitable wind conditions. A great jaunt from the nearby Altandu campsite the island is relatively popular with day visitors, by night the resident Roe deer and a short eared owl are often nearby. Out-with ground nesting bird breeding season (April-July), a fantastic campsite is nestled at the western end of the large sandy bay on the north coast. A flat patch of grass large enough to pitch a few tents makes for a perfect sunset camp. There is water on the island to the western side, but is a fair trek to retrieve and often quite mucky.
4. T H E A R C H – T A N E R A B E A G
The longest of the evening escapes the shortest round trip to the arch and back is approximately 10km (leaving from Badentarbert bay). A two kilometre crossing to Tanera Mor brings you to the islands, from here you are in the main archipelago of the Summer Isles and can easily spend hours lost exploring the many small islands and shallow sandy channels. Out amidst the exposed south eastern side of Tanera Beag hides a spectacular sandstone arch, carved by years of wind and wave. On a glass calm spring tide it is possible to paddle in and out, normally it is a case of reversing in and exiting the way you have come.
5. A C H N A H A I R D B A Y
Just a good spot for a play. A short carry down from the road west of the bay is super easy access. On high tides a longer paddle in from the southern road junction is also possible- but prepare for a long carry back when the tide falls.
Be it a sunny day lounging in the dunes, or a rare surf session (the bay is surprisingly sheltered to surf), there is always something to do at Achnahaird. Also a popular spot with snorkelling groups the shallow river flowing across the edge of the bay is full of skate, crabs and shellfish. Without a doubt this is a truly spectacular place to play, to camp and to enjoy that illusive summer sunset.
As with all sea kayak adventures, always ensure you are suitably equipped and prepared for the conditions, check the weather forecast and carry a minimum of one means of communication. Always tell someone where you are going and when you will return.
This is just a tiny selection of the many, many adventures to be had around the Summer Isles. Over the next few years we hope to share as many as possible with you, and hope you can join us on making a few of your own.
Watch this space in future. . . #SEAKAYAKSUMMERISLES