Paddling Spectacular Waters
Hebrides Islands, Scotland
You’re quietly paddling along with your hand only a few inches from the water’s surface in a craft designed by the Inuits thousands of years ago. To your left, on the crest of a small wave, a sea otter floats on its back enjoying lunch. There pops a seal’s head less than 3m (10 ft.) away, almost startling you into tipping your sea kayak. Then, as you’re heading toward land, you find yourself in the midst of a pod of porpoises. You are sea kayaking in the magnificent Hebrides Islands of Scotland.
The Hebrides is a 241km-long (150-mile) chain of islands in the North Sea, approximately 81km (50 miles) off the west coast of Scotland. Sea kayaking in the Hebrides can take you to sand dune-fringed islands and islands with cliffs that explode straight up out of the water for hundreds of feet. The extraordinary sights are as varied as the numerous sea kayak operations that ply the Outer Hebrides waters.
One such operation is Clearwater Paddling, based on the island of Bara, which has a population of less than 1,500 Gaelic speaking Scots. Clearwater offers opportunities for beginners—who are taught bracing to keep the kayak upright and the Eskimo roll for unassisted righting—and more experienced paddlers. Clearwater will provide equipment or you can bring your own. All trips are guided.
Recreational paddlers can do day trips in the Blue Lagoon, paddle out to the ruins of Kisimul Castle, or head to the remote island of Vatersay, among numerous other trip options. More experienced paddlers can take a multi-day trip called the Wild Hebridean Journey to some of the more remote southern islands and see some great wildlife. One planned trip goes to the coast of Jura, known for its wildlife (especially deer); and another to Mull, one of the more touristed but mysterious islands.
If you go to Barra, be sure to check the schedule of the annual music festival and the annual games. —LF
Tours: Clearwater Paddling ( 01871-810-443; www.clearwaterpaddling.com). Adventure Hebrides ( 44/1851-820 726; www.adventurehebrides.com). Uist Outdoor Centre (44/1876-500480; www.uistoutdoorcentre.co.uk).
When to Go: Spring, summer, and fall.
Barra Airport. Flybe Airlines from Glasgow and Benbecula ( 0871 700 053; www.flybe.com).
Caledonian MacBrayne Ferries ( 08000 665000; www.calmac.co.uk) crosses from Oban to Barra.
$$ Dunardlodge, Castle Bay ( 01871-810-443; www.dunardlodge.co.uk). $ The Isle of Barra Beach Hotel, Tangasdale ( 01871-810383; www.isleofbarrahotel.co.uk). $ Craigard Hotel, Castlebay ( 01871-810200; www.craigardhotel.co.uk).