Tarbert is nestled in a valley where North and South Harris come together and can be accessed easily by hopping on a Calmac ferry at Uig on Skye, with a journey time of just over an hour and a half. The usual plan when Liz and I plan a trip is for each of us to come up with a shortlist of 3, chat, debate, um and aaah and then decide on the best course of action based on the prevailing weather conditions. This time around we were blessed with a more settled weather system and in comparison to our Moidart to Morar trip last year thank fully we had no 4 hour portage sessions over a hill!! We were joined by two of Liz’s friends, Pete and Kate who decided that our plan was a good one and who brought the kitchen sink with them……!
Liz, Kate and Pete
Starting in Tarbert (East) is not something to be done at low tide. The mud is thick and mega sucky despite the allure of a landing jetty and steps and there is a good chance of you losing one of your limbs down there if you don’t get your technique and timings right. Liz managed her first unintentional swimming session here too so be warned! Paddling out towards Loch an Tarbert we skirted our way in and out of the many “Eilean”(islands) Rubha (headlands), Geodha (coves, inlets) and Mol Ban (white shingle beaches), sighting 3 otters with an hour of being on the water, awesome. The morning after our first nights camp was the morning from hell with the worst midges I think I’ve ever experienced in a camp spot. Pete’s ankles and legs looked like a dot to dot and at low tide getting the boats back on the water was agonisingly slow due to the weight of the boats, slime, rocks and the high risk of ankle busting. At this stage in the game the total score for falls so far by day 2: Liz 2, Sonja 2!! Pure relief as we finally escaped to the water and paddled our way towards our southern most point, Renish Point and up to Leverburgh for a provisions top up before our crossing to the Isle of Ensay for the night.
Its worth mentioning at this point that the Outer Hebrides Guide can leave you wanting for more information about tidal flow at particular points with tidal flow in the Sound of Harris difficult to predict and subject to only one tide per day. Paddling out from Ensay back through the Caolas Sromaigh we made the call to land as the winds picked up and with the swell around decided that Toe Head with wind against tide didn’t look that inviting! The obvious diversion was a walk to the coffee shop at Northton and soaking in the amazing views of Scarasta beach through the isthmus. Proceeding around Toe Head in the morning was the right decision and a new experience as I’ve never paddled through masses of sea foam before!
Saying goodbye to Pete and Kate, once we’d emptied boats, unpacked and repacked Liz and I headed for some showers and then headed off down a dead end road to Huisinis, our camp for the night with a few glasses of wine prior to heading out to go around Scarp the following morning. Bright and early with a sunny day anticipated we headed off clockwise around the south west coast of the island. With swell still rolling around this exposed section of the coastline we couldn’t access things close up but landed on the beach opposite Eilean Cearstaigh on the north coast for a pause and to admire and enjoy our surroundings. There are some amazing examples here of Lewisian Gneiss (very attractive, very old rock, up to 3 billion years old making it the oldest rock in Britain!).
Back in our boats we explored north and back to the small island of Fladaigh before heading back down the Sound of Scarp and our journey home and what had been a fairly rare opportunity to paddle in the Outer Hebrides without it howling a hoolie.
Thanks to Liz, Kate and Pete for their company, sharing their wine and Smidge That Midge!
By Sonja Ezergailis.