encounter with damp misery. but things soon improved. That is. they got scary enough to take my mind off any discomfort. We wobbled precariously from the shore. every shift of weight or gust of wind pitching our boats alarmingly. l was naturally anxious to avoid a chilly capsizing.
The loch widened as we made towards the open Atlantic. passing the standing stones of Callanish on their low green hummock. Gliding beside the stony shore. guide Tim suggested that if we kept quiet we might just spy an otter. With no obtrusive engine noise. sea kayakers can get surprisingly close to shy marine life. ‘We came within a boat‘s length of a basking shark recently.’ These things might not happen every day in the Firth of Forth. but up in Lewis it‘s a different story. No such luck for us unfortunately. but at least this smooth dipping of paddle into lapping sea was soothing. Life got less peaceful and more entertaining when a tail wind gusted off the land. summoning a ‘following sea‘. With these butch ripples shoving us forwards we picked up momentum. almost surfing on the wave crests.
Wind and waves soon cut obliquely across our path. and we bobbed through the chop like top-heavy corks. dipping into troughs and taking the odd broadside. There was spray and there was speed. and the boats took some powerful handling. The risk of dunking added a certain frisson to the project. and sufﬁcient motivation to do things right. We regained dry land several kilometres down the loch. after a final. particularly thrilling white
THE RISK OF DUNKING ADDED A CERTAIN FRISSON
TO THE PROJECT
water surf session. the waves hustling us right onto the beach. Quite some initiation for pasty hacks. Though my arms were seizing up and my hands had the makings of blisters. I'd have happily carried on. Paddling for hours on end is demanding. but it‘s also great fun — so long as you don’t mind spending the whole day with a wet bum. And a spot of chafling.
Though we’d barely scratched the surface in one brief
weekend. it was enough to hint at the waterspons potential of the Westem Isles. Accomplished surfers and sea kayakers will obviously love it. but experience isn’t a prerequisite. You may not know your ‘liskimo roll' from your Swiss roll. or have any idea how to go about catching some ‘great sets‘. but that’s no reason to feel excluded. With coaching and equipment hire available locally. beginners can have as much fun as the pros.
Floating somewhere beyond our urban radar screens. the Hebrides might seem impossibly remote. Not so. The truth is they have never been more accessible. Flights from the mainland to Stomoway are cheaper and more frequent than ever before. making this a perfect short break destination. The beaches are among the best anywhere. and you‘re more likely to share them with seals than people. One word of advice though — go before everyone else cottons on.
For more information check out Hebridean Surf (01851 705862, www.hebrideansurf.co.uk) for surfing, and Adventure Hebrides (01851 820726, www.adventurehebrides.com) for sea kayaking.
STRI AN FHEARAINN The Land Struggle
CUlMHNEACHAN AIR GAISGICH NAhN LOCh Memorial to the Heroes of Loc 5
ISLE OF LEWIS
I Getting there
Through Loganair, British Airways runs regular flights to Stomoway from Edinburgh, Glasgow and lnverness (www.hritishairwayscom). Expect to pay around £2100 return. With more time and less cash on your hands take a bus to Ullapool (www. citylink.co.uk) and then an onward ferry to Stomoway (www.calmac.co.uk).
I Getting around
There's a bus service of sorts (see www.w-isles.gov.uk/ travelﬁndexhtm), but for full flexibility you’ll do best with a hire car. Call Mackinnon Hire Drive of Stomoway (01851 702984). Wherever you’re staying, the local surf and kayak operators can arrange a pick-up to get you to the best location for your day's activity.
I Places to stay
In Stomoway, you can stay at the Hebridean Guesthouse. 61 Bayhead Street (01851 702268 www.hebridean guesthousecouk). Over on the west coast by Loch Roag and the Callanish standing stones, your best bets are the Eschol Guesthouse and Loch Roag Guesthouse (01851 621357 for both).
You shouldn’t really miss a short trip to the standing stones at Callanish. All you'll actually do there is stand around with the stones. but it’s a weird and striking place. and you can't help sensing a certain atmosphere. There are loads of quality beaches. some of which are world class. One of the best is at Tolsta. an immaculate sandy bay facing the distant mountainous mainland.
I Food I. drink
Local seafood doesn’t get better than the mounds served up at Sunsets Restaurant, 28 Francis Street. Stomoway (01851 705862).
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