Get in the Sea
Photo: Surf Lewis
A glorious sandy beach for sandcastles or having a picnic is one attraction of the Scottish coastline but if you were to forgo the pleasures of immersing yourself in the water you would indeed be missing out. Wild swimming, especially with the advent of light and warm wetsuits has really taken off in the last few years but that’s not the only way to take advantage of the gin clear waters and sheltered bays that abound in the north of Scotland. Instead of just dipping your toes in the sea, dive right in, feel invigorated by the caress of the waters of the Gulf Stream and be refreshed by the unpolluted salty air.
To escape the crowds, you can choose to paddle along the untouched west coast. A sea kayak can take you places not normally accessible such as remote uninhabited islands as well as imposing sea cliffs and stunning rock arches. Paddling doesn’t just have to be about adventuring though, as long as you have a little experience it can be an amazing, relaxing way to spend a few hours, gliding through gentle currents alongside seals in a sheltered bay and enjoying a different perspective on nature and the surrounding scenery. It sums up the idea of travelling not for the sake of getting anywhere but just for the sheer enjoyment of it. Tigh en Leigh at Shieldaig will inspire you to get out on the water with its amazing views across the bay and easy access. If you have your own boats you could launch them from the shore just outside the cottage, otherwise tuition and guiding is available in the village from Shieldaig Outdoor Adventures.
A stand up paddle board is mainly suitable for calmer waters and is almost certainly not the most efficient way to get from A to B but to think of them in terms of transport is missing the point. SUP’s are brilliant fun for just messing about in and falling in! Splashing and getting wet is an integral part of the experience. They can be tricky to master at first but are still much easier (and cheaper) than learning to surf. A word of warning for those with competitive families, you will almost certainly find that your kids pick it up way faster than you. The Lookout is a great base for water sports being a short walk to the sandy beaches at Hopeman. The house comes equipped with boogie boards, a skim board and kayak and has ample storage for all your outdoor gear and space to dry off your wetsuits. A nearby playpark and skate ramp mean there is no reason for any children to be bored.
The growth in popularity of surfing has led to tensions in some of the more accessible spots near population centres. With crowded beaches and competition for limited waves, the contrast with the azure waters of Hebrides couldn’t be greater. When you think about the attraction of surfing when it first began, the vaguely spiritual appeal of getting close to nature, of being at one with your surrounds and finding inner peace spring to mind. For those still seeking that perfect wave then a lot of the original spirit can be found in the Hebrides. Don’t expect lifeguards, cafes or changing facilities on the beach. Instead you can find serenity, quiet and most likely no other people or signs of civilization. Beginners are well catered for on the islands with two surf schools based in Stornoway who offer tuition, as well as equipment rental, and there is a vibrant local surf community which is welcoming to visitors. Taigh Eilidh is situated at the most northerly tip of Lewis and overlooks the surf spot at Port of Ness. It’s only a short walk with your board before you can dive in and the sheltered sandy shores make a fabulous spot for a picnic while you take a breather from catching waves.
It’s almost inevitable that you will swallow some seawater while out on your board so a Harris Gin cocktail beside the wood burning stove is a most effective way of getting rid of the taste, while at the same time the subtle sugar kelp flavour provides a grin inducing reminder of a truly top class day out!