Sea kayaking the Summer Isles and Coigach

Rock hopping and cave exploring were the order of the weekend when I went on an Inverness Canoe Club trip to Polbain near Achiltibuie at the end of September. The first day saw us tootle around the Summer Isles in calm conditions, visiting the cafe on Tanera Mor and seeing some nice coastal features as we rounded some of the smaller islands. On day two we did an excellent journey around Rubha Coigeach, which I wrote about for Active Outdoors (see article below photos).

Here is a selection of pictures from the trip:

From Active Outdoors article by John Davidson:
Heading into the unknown

As we rounded the corner and I saw those distinctive Assynt peaks stretched out along the horizon before me – not to mention the flat calm sea – I knew I had made the right choice.

We paddled along the coast, exploring caves and trying out some rock hopping, each inlet offering something new and impressive to look at.

To think I’d been considering bottling this trip! Nerves had been playing a part beforehand – after all, I’m not an experienced paddler – but a brief conversation with Inverness Canoe Club coach John in the morning persuaded me I could do it.

We were staying at Port a’ Bhaigh campsite at Altandhu, near Achiltibuie in Wester Ross, with other members of the club. On the saturday the group had meandered around the Summer Isles in nice conditions, taking a trip to Tanera Mor to visit the cafe and exploring the natural arch on neighbouring island Tanera Beag.

My first proper sea kayaking trip had been to these parts three years ago, when a group of us led by Donald Macpherson of Explore Highland in Inverness had wild camped on Tanera Mor – an island which is now up for sale at just under £2 million – so I was familiar with the area.

However, I’d never really kept up the paddling on a regular basis until this year, when I’ve been going to club nights over the summer to get in some practice and receive some coaching.

The arch was one place we hadn’t reached last time around – conditions were so good then we’d opted for a long crossing out to Priest Island – so I was eager to take a look. It’s an impressive little natural structure and was a precursor for more incredible things we would see on day two.

Having not spent much time in a sea kayak, I was getting a bit cramped in my cockpit as we returned to the mainland via the west coast of Isle Ristol, but we enjoyed a short break on a pristine golden beach on its northern shore before the short crossing back to base.

The next day was going to be different – a real sea kayak journey around the headland at Rubha Coigeach, returning to Achnahaird Bay on the opposite side of the peninsula. It’s a route that is featured in the book scottish sea Kayaking: Fifty Great sea Kayak Voyages and, like any paddle around a headland, there was a chance of encountering some rough seas.

The thought made me nervous and I also knew there were fewer options for landing and stretching the legs on this route – we would be committed once we were under way.

Having loaded the boats on the beach behind the campsite, we set off for Reiff, the starting point of the route in my guidebook. After a quick break on the sandy beach there we were truly on our way.

The sea wasn’t rough but there was a swell which bounced off the cliffs and gave a complex reflected wave pattern, apparently known as clapotis. This is the one condition I have previously capsized in, so I was concentrating on staying upright at this stage of the journey, thankfully successfully!

We passed climbers enjoying the sunny day on the rocks near Reiff until a large bay at Camas Eilean Ghlais gave chance of some respite and we paddled around the shore side of the island in the shelter.

We were out in the open until another large bay just before the headland now, and slowly I was becoming more confident in my paddling, though I was still nervous about what was in store for us at the point.

Faochag Bay soon came and we paddled around it, enjoying some little bits of rock hopping before landing on a stony beach where I’m told Vikings once landed. Our lunch break was probably a tame affair compared to some of those arrivals, but it was a perfect spot to get refuelled ahead of the paddle around Rubha Coigeach. What would it hold in store, I wondered, as we set out into the open again.

soon we were looking north to the stoer lighthouse and, rounding the headland… nothing. It was flat, or as near as you can hope for. As we turned east there was suilven, stac Pollaidh, Cul Beag and Cul Mor, all lined up along the horizon in full view.

I fully relaxed for the first time that day and a huge smile came across my face.

Moments like this are what paddling is all about for me – that wonderful and unexpected perspective. It stayed with us for the rest of the journey, as we headed south-east down the shore, pausing at almost every inlet to explore another cave or to play about in the rocks.

Feeling the confidence return, I was having a go at some fun little gaps, sometimes moving through them smoothly and less so at others!

We had one more stop at Camas Coille before continuing towards our end point at the beach car park at Achnahaird. By now we were slowing down, not out of tiredness but out of the fact that we didn’t want this journey to end.

Route details – Rubha Coigeach

    Distance 11.5 miles / 18 km
    Start/finish Altandhu / Achnahaird
    Map OS Landranger 15

A fine paddle with spectacular views and coastal features

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