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Crossing the Little Minch – by Tim Haines

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Crossing the Little Minch – by Tim Haines

Setting off from West Kirby after work on Friday, I arrived at Camas Mor (About 5km north of Uig, Skye) at around 0300 on Saturday morning. After a few hours sleep I set out for Fladaigh Chuain. The crossing is about 10km, and takes you past some amazing nesting seabirds on the cliffs of the islands of Sgeir nan Ruideag – a little foretaste of the amazing birdlife yet to come.

The rock architecture of ‘lord Macdonald’s Table’ is truly impressive, and a sea eagle passing overhead added to the overall effect of wilderness and grandeur. The landing on Fladaigh Chuain was straight forward, and there is plenty of flat ground of a tent. The low-lying land on the island is thick with plastic detritus which has been blown ashore, but on the plus side, there is also plenty of driftwood. A large number of black rabbits live on the island, along with a fair number of seals and assorted birdlife.

I had a leisurely start to the morning, as the NE flowing tide commenced at around 1030, and I hoped to reach the Shiants at slack water, if possible. The weather was perfect – not a breath of wind – and the crossing (approx. 20km) was over all too quickly.

After unloading the boat and having a bite to eat, I set off to paddle through the Rock Arch at Toll a’ Roimh, and then around the island of Eilean Mhuire. There is a seal colony in a sheltered cove on the sheltered western side of the island, and I was able to get ashore and climb up to a position where I could observe the seals from above, without disturbing them. Continuing up to the top of the island, it’s amazing to see the undulating ‘run-rigs’ which indicate that this somewhat remote and distinctively inaccessible island was once heavily cultivated.

After a pleasant paddle around the island, I landed back on the isthmus and headed up to the bothy, and signed the visitors book. The previous signatures were from a TV crew from BBC Alba, who are making a documentary on the Minch – worth looking out for, I think.

The forecast for the following day was not good, with a strong easterly wind due to pick up around 0900 and last for a few days. I gave some thought to sitting it out on the Island – I could happily have spent a few more days exploring the islands – but came to the conclusion that I’d be better off getting on the water early the next day, to make best use of the both the tide and the remaining good weather.

Rising at 0400, I was on the water and paddling for 0430. Night paddling solo, heading to the blinking light of Gob Rubha Uisinis felt quite adventurous, but before long the sun rose over the sea to starboard, forming a rainbow that I took as a good omen for day ahead.

The crossing is a little under 10km, and was soon over, but the wind was picking up as forecast. I cursed my stupidity for having broken my skeg on the landing on Fladaigh Chuain, as it would have been very useful with the steadily building wind, and 20km further to go on to Tarbert. Thankfully, the Caolas Sgalpaigh and Loch an Tairbeairt were largely out of the wind. ‘Door-to-door’ from the Shiants to Tarbert slipway took almost exactly five hours.

Having wheeled my kayak onto the ferry, the captain warned over the tannoy to expect a rough crossing as it was blowing force 7 or 8. It was difficult to stand unsupported on the observation deck, as I got some final photos of the islands, and I was glad that I had set off when I did.