A Night on Hyskeir (July 2019)

I had wanted to visit Hyskeir for many years – its a tiny remote island out in the middle of The Minch. It is situated about five nautical miles to the south west of Canna, and is famous for having one of the last manned lighthouses in Scotland (it was automated in 1997) – where the keepers kept themselves amused with a one-hole golf course. It is also known for having one of the largest concentration of basking sharks to be found in the UK.

Clockwise Route is shown in red: from Glenuig to Eigg, Hyskeir, Canna, Soay, Skye and then back to Glenuig.

I thought the main risk on this trip was getting weather bound on Hyskeir for a long time, so I set out from Glenuig with a heavily laden kayak carrying plenty of food, and 17 litres of water (arriving on Hyskeir with 14 litres remaining). I started off pretty tired as I had driven up from Cambridge overnight and just crossed over to Eigg to camp by the singing sands of Eigg.

The conditions in the Sound of Rum were flat calm as I crossed from Eigg, I then passed the southernmost point of Rum on a fairly straight course between Eigg and Hyskeir. It was still pretty calm on arrival at Hyskeir but with a bit of swell crashing into the outcrop to the west of the island.

A Closer view of Hyskeir

There was a large basking shark in the sheltered channel between this outcrop and the main island, feeding and swimming against the tide just enough to remain in the same spot – I wondered if this could be why Hyskeir is so popular with basking sharks. By comparing its length to my Taran as I snuck past, I estimated its length to be about 7 metres (23ft), and the top of the dorsal fin was well above my eye level.

Arriving near low tide was a mistake!
The hills of Rùm (about 10 miles away) can be seen to the left of the lighthouse.

It didn’t look calm enough to use the landing steps without damaging my precious taran, but just round the corner was very sheltered as the island forms a small natural harbour. I’d planned things so I could continue to Canna if landing wasn’t possible, but arriving near the bottom of tide was a mistake – I very carefully clambered over the slippery seaweed covered rocks, progressing towards the lighthouse barely faster than the tide – I might as well have stayed in the boat and waited.

The views were incredible on such a clear day – The Outer Hebrides, Skye, Canna, Rùm, Eigg, Muck, Ardnamurchan, Mull, Coll and Tiree were all in view,

It was quite difficult to find a flat spot of grass flat enough to pitch my tent.

Hyskeir itself wasn’t quite the pristine wilderness I had imagined, more a mixture of old concrete and weeds, covered in spectacular quantities of bird lime. I also found it quite disconcerting being on an island which mostly disappeared under the tide and with very little higher ground to move to.

I found an old golf ball in the grass next to my tent, which I like to think is a relic from from the Lighthouse keepers’ one hole course.

There is no fresh water on Hyskeir – only a few ponds of bird-poop-soup like this one.
I didn’t fancy tasting it to see if it was salty or not.

Overnight the sound of crashing waves became progressively louder and early the following morning, I decided to pack up and scarper before conditions deteriorated. Launching near the top of the tide was easy from a tiny beach near the lighthouse and helipad.

Departure from Hyskeir.
The tide reveals a tiny beach which briefly allows an easy launch – if I go back this is where I would land as well.

I paddled past the north tip of the island, and after one sharp turn atop a large seal-filled wave, I was off with my heavily laden Taran still managing to surf downwind. In no time, I was sheltered in the lee of Canna and found a lovely spot to relax and wait for the weather to settle.

Resting in a sheltered spot on Canna for a couple of days while some weather passes.

I stayed on Canna for a couple of days, enjoying the cries of buzzards soaring the cliffs during the day and seals singing in the bay at night. I really didn’t want to leave.

Canna’s beautiful north coast.

I found that standing on one particular rock, I could get finally get a signal, and with a better weather forecast, I set off for Skye, stopping at Soay on the way to stretch my legs.

Resting on Soay, with remains of the Basking Shark “Factory” in the background.

I continued to Loch Scavaig where I emptied the boat for the tricky portage up to Loch Coruisk which was definitely worthwhile. Loch Coruisk was not just beautiful, but the silence was truly deafening, like being alone in a cathedral. I camped at the far end of the loch, quickly making my way into my tent as the air was thick with midges. Fallen boulders were all around and I drifted off to sleep trying not to think about rockfalls.

At the far end of Loch Coruisk

The following morning, after paddling the length of the loch again, I portaged back down to the sea. There was some difficult clapotis to paddle through as the waves bounced of Skye. I stopped at Camas Daraich near Skye’s southernmost point. The forecast told me this spell of good weather was coming to an end, so I continued onto mainland, back to enjoy the luxuries of hot food, hot showers, a pint and a good nights sleep in the Glenuig Inn.

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