Extreme wilderness kayak-fishing Scotland

At 3.59am I was fast asleep tucked up in bed in Holsworthy; fourteen hours and 750 miles later I was paddling across a peaty loch in the far northwest of Scotland, under sunny skies and beneath the gaze of Arkle, one of the spectacular mountains of that part of the world. I had soon hooked the protein portion of my supper on a mini Rapala.

Brownie trout in front of Arkle

I found the perfect sandy beach and set up camp to cook my trout. I was pretty peckish (only had one extra large pasty on the drive up, much of which ended up in the footwell) and pretty pooped. Just as I settled down I noticed a pair of Ringed Plovers getting very agitated close by and I knew I was camped more or less on top of their nest. So I packed everything away again and shifted fifty yards down the beach. The plovers then seemed even more touchy and I soon found out why:

Ringed Plover's nest

 I had plonked my kayak about a foot away from their nest so, with a groan, packed everything away again and went back to where I was in the first place. Mrs. Plover seemed very pleased about this and snuggled down on her eggs. I however was so tired that, despite having brought with me a small container of Lurpak specifically to fry trout in,I burnt one side of the fish to a cinder while the other side was still very much sushi. I gave up cooking and instead demolished half a Genoa cake for main course. And the other half for pudding.

Happy incubating Ringed Plover

 I slept like a newborn sloth and awoke at dawn (alas about 3.15) to the sound of some fantastic Scottish breeding birds. A pair of Black-throated divers circled the loch with weird croaking calls, a Greenshank displayed, a snipe drummed and cuckoos cuckood. What a campsite!

Loch Stack camp

 I paddled back to the car and headed on down to the sea at Scourie’s nice little curved beach where I packed up my kayak ready for the trip to Handa island. I could not believe my luck with the sea conditions-light winds, small swell and mainly sunny skies! The locals seemed a bit dour:

Unphased Scourie local

 I paddled out into the sound of Handa and the great vista of cliffs and steep mountains and faraway islands….unbelievable.  A small group of sandy beaches on Handa lured me on and I was greeted by a noisy welcoming committee of Arctic terns. And then I hooked a decent pollack on my Dexter wedge lure. Fishy action in the most spectacular of settings.

Handa island beach-more like a marble floor
Arctic Tern
Handa pollack

My number one aim was to paddle right round the island but when I was on the exposed west coast beneath the huge cliffs , the swell and its bounceback combining with windchop and tide gave me quite a bouncy ride and I felt very small and vulnerable.I had done my homework and watched the fantastic video on youtube by Frank Needle of GB Paddling about his tour round Handa by kayak….I think he managed to pick the calmest day in history (and it was his images that inspired my trip). However despite the slurpy conditions I still managed to complete the circuit of the island including a tour round the amazing great stack of Handa, and was thrilled with all the puffins.

Puffin pair

The calm waters of Handa sound were a welcome relief and I was soon back at my beach supping a cuppa. Next it was time to fulfil a longstanding ambition….to be attacked by a Bonxie!. Bonxies are big chunky aggressive seabirds that don’t take too kindly to intruders in their nest area and will think nothing of dive-bombing a person and whacking them on the head and maybe covering you in their last smelly fishy meal.However although there were hundreds of Bonxies on the island they were quite happing hassling some of their smaller relatives, Arctic skuas, rather than giving me grief. Pity really.

Bonxie, or Great Skua, the bruisers of the bird world
Arctic skua in a bit of a flap

I set up camp on the machair at the top of a white sand beach and watched a school of dolphins splashing about in the far distance while the eider ducks crooned and my semi-stale spinach stuffed pasta squares bubbled.

Wilderness campsites don't come better than this

 Aaaargh. In the morning the rain was lashing and my hands were numb within a few minutes of crawling out of the tent. Wet sleeping bag, my worst nightmare. I fumbled everything back into my kayak and headed back towards Scourie, but en route it stopped raining and brightened up so I spent the day touring the islands on the north side of Edrachillis bay.There was an ever improving tremendous backdrop inland with the brooding bulk of Quinag the main feature. I stopped for yet more, even staler, pasta on the sheltered shore of Loch Shark.

Another hard core camping lunch...Loch Shark

 I lost my Dexter wedge so gave up fishing (sorry, folks). But this was more than compensated by a  stunning view of one of my favourite birds which allowed an unusually close approach in my kayak.

Red-throated diver.....what a beauty.

 Next day I drove via Lochinver ( the ‘Lochinver special’ baps from the catering van on the seafront are highly reccommended) to Inverpolly. I wanted to paddle round one of the remotest freshwater lochs in Scotland. The access involved a portage down to a subsidiary lochan, a paddle across this then a five hundred metre Ranulph Fiennes style manhaul to the edge of Loch Sionascaig. Epic stuff and boy did I get hot.

Manhauling a Tarpon 160

 There was a howling  easterly wind coming down the Loch and at one stage I was making no headway at all. I dodged in behind the islands for shelter and eventually got to the little beach at the far end. My Mini Rapala hooked seven or eight very black coloured trout en route.

Extreme wilderness trout
Loch Sianascaig extreme wilderness beach.
 Next morning was once again still and sunny(even though it was raining and windy yesterday!?!??).Poetic license. My alarm call at about 3.30 was this time a Golden Plover whose chicks were bumbling about in the heather by my car. I took a paddle round the Summer isles and was pursued by a horde of seals.

Sheepish seal
 Just one more picture to give you a taste of this attractive part of the Highlands:
Across the Summer Isles to Stack Polly…..that’s my kayak on the beach
Solo paddling over, my next rendezvous was with a motley crew of paddlers for the seventy mile descent of the River Spey. Sorely tempted , but resisted, a bit of Rapala-ing. Watched this chap reel in a hefty salmon, however.

Salmon caught in the conventional manner
Motley Spey Descent team: The Incredible Hulk, Catweazle,Pyro-kid,Dork the Orc (that's me),The Thinker,The Incredible Bulk, Smiler
 What a fantastic week. Scotland is hard to beat if the weather holds. Fishing could have been better but I wasn’t trying very hard ( I fed my Devon mackerel I had brought with me as smelly bait to the Bonxies and they downed them whole), but the wildlife is worldclass……

Red Squirrel

I feel I have lived up to the ‘Wilderness’ tag on the side of my kayak over the last week. Good thing I don’t own a Prowler.   


3 thoughts on “Extreme wilderness kayak-fishing Scotland

  1. Frank Needle of GBPaddling? Frank Needle IS GBPaddling…….. ha ha.Well Rupert I am jealous,even though I’ve been there myself,as You know I am still jealous.It is a fantastic part of the world,and I’m sure You will agree,even if it gets too windy,and the paddling is called off.the scenery will compensate for it.You will never forget some of those distinctive mountains will You? Stac Pollaidh,Suilven,Quinag,Arkle,Canisp,and Ben Stack to name but a few.I started my trip further South at Gruinard Island (Anthrax Island)and the views inland there were stunning as well.Notice You didn’t mention midges,were they not present? if not You were lucky,I got absolutely eaten alive at Gruinard exiting in the evening.I am sorry You didn’t get round Handa,the West coast is really something else,and the Stack is the Jewel of the Crown.There was a huge Swell,when I went round,but it was intermittent,and there is shelter to be had amongst the smaller Islands,perhaps you could’ve gone around after all? I don’t know.I’ve seen some of the conditions You’ve been out in,so will trust Your judgement there – better safe than sorry especially when solo.Some of the photos are stunning,I was just too late for the Auks,and Puffins,just a few Kittiwakes, Bonxies and Terns for me.But over at Point of Stoer(seen the video?) I saw Black Guillemots with fantasic red legs and insides of the mouth.Did you get to Tarbet?nice little place,also did you get permission to camp on Handa? Whoops.. not to worry.I’ve been put off by it all at the moment with the weather,plus I’ve been really busy workwise,and after a spell of drought,am in no position to turn it down.I’ve got 2 weddings to go to,next week and the week after,so I’m starting to get cabin fever.Anyway you will have to return up there and do the Great Stack,also the North coast is stunning,I tried Balnakiel to Cape Wrath,but the swell beat me back.It is quite stunning up there as well,and Whiten Head.

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