Sun, Sand and Seals: Tiree and Coll July 2014

Paddlers: Geoff, Hugh and Ken

Weather: Absolutely glorious.


The poor weather forecast (high winds) , unavailability and illness caused a change of time and venue from round Jura to the south east side of Coll and Tiree. Even then we expected high winds and very rough water, especially in the Sound of Gunna, between Tiree and Coll. In the event, although the breeze was apparent, the water was flat and the sun shone and shone, with over 15 hours on both days.

Just like bikes, kayaks are carried free on Cal-Mac ferries. Carrying the boats on to the ferry in Oban we learned the most important lesson of the trip; USE A TROLLEY.  The ferries are big, but the link spans are even longer. With three of us we needed a minimum of 3 trips the length of both. Whilst the Oban carry-on was just tolerable, the length of the boat plus the the length of the link span at Scarinish (Tiree) was close to half a mile, and it took close to an hour of hard labour to get to a point where we could get into the water.  By the time this was completed we were very tired and it was 7.30. The original plan of paddling for an hour was thereupon abandoned in favour of camping on the flat land adjoining the Cal-Mac office (and the water supply and toilets) and a trip to the pub.

Camp Site 1
Camp Site 1

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A pleasant enough evening followed with a lovely walk of just over a mile and we turned in at about 11.30pm. At 6.45 a loud metallic clanking indicated an early shift by some construction workers at the pier, and at 7am a jack hammer started breaking up a lump of concrete. This continued intermittently for the next hour and a half. By 9 am even Ken was ready to depart.

Beach by office, Tiree
Beach by office, Tiree

The most memorable feature of the islands are the glorious beaches, huge, like Gott Bay or tiny coves tucked between the rocks. On Gott Bay can be found the extraordinary cottages peculiar to Tiree. These have rounded roofs covered in pitch (or thatch) and huge walls to deflect the constant wind that blows over the island.

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The breeze was continuous and would have made any attempt on the North West coast untenable, or at least very unpleasant. For us it simply provided cooling of an increasingly hot sunny day. We got across the potentially difficult Sound to the island of Gunna for lunch.

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Gunna has lovely beaches and a large flock of completely black sheep. It also has a cottage that is not new but fails to appear on any map. After lunch we paddled on to Coll and climbed to a trig point to look at the north side, confirming again it was not possible.

The North Coast of Tiree
The North Coast of Tiree

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After a snooze we pushed on south. At this stage Hugh claims to have seen a Basking Shark.  The paddling was wonderful with lots of seals and islets to meander around and through.

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The look out for a campsite with drift wood for a fire led us to a small cove near the mouth of Braccadale Bay. A leisurely meal and an excellent fire preceeded a good night’s sleep.

Camp Site 2
Camp Site 2

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The next morning we had a very casual (and late) departure for a short day paddling a wonderful coastline in fantastic weather. Even the breeze dropped. Our first stop was Braccadale Castles (old and new) the ancestral home of the Laird of Coll.

Old and New Castles
Old and New Castles

A lot of money appears to be flowing into the castles to provide holiday accommodation. In the weather we had, it is difficult to imagine anywhere nicer.

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We paddled on surrounded by seals with excellent views to Mull, Ardnumurchan and Rhum. At one point an Otter ran up a rock just in front of us, saw us, turned and ran down back to the water.

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After a great afternoon, the only small problem to be solved was how to get the kayaks back on to the ferry. On the route out we had inspected the pier at Arinagour (Coll) for good, indeed any, landing points and potential camp sites close by (the ferry was at 9.40 the following morning). After much discussion it appeared that the only possibility was a landing on the rocks at high tide or a walk of a mile plus from the village. Given the choice of high tide at 5.30 pm and a ferry due out at 7.20 pm or high tide at 6 am the following morning and a 3 hour wait we decided on the former. A trip up to the village and the pub, then back to the pier and a surprisingly easy lift out over the rocks. Note that this would only be an option in the very calm weather we experienced.

The ferry was late and, by the time we had carried the kayaks and gear the length of the boat and up the ramp, it was after 11 p.m before we were ready to get going for Helensburgh.

This was a great trip to three wonderful islands but access to and from the ferries is real problem. A trolley would have halved the time and quartered the effort and would have been essential on Coll in poor weather.  Carrying a trolley (or storing it) is problematic and subject to further investigation.