Coll to Oban by kayak - Scottish Voyage
Kirstie Macmillan (@kmacventures)
Summer on the Scottish West Coast
Unprecedented warm and calm weather dominated the usually wet and wild Hebridean Islands of Scotland’s West Coast. A plan was hatched to undertake a mini expedition which encountered incredible wildlife, jaw-dropping geologic formations and some fascinating history – all crammed into 4 sunshine-filled days!
I met up with the “Daves” at the Oban ferry terminal at 0600 of day 1, ready to wheel our kayaks onto the MV Hebrides for the 0700 sailing to the Isle of Coll. The journey was punctuated with sightings of Minke whales and Harbour porpoises as the narrow lochs opened into the blue vistas of the Hebridean Sea. We could make out the silhouettes of distant islands including Skye, Rum, Eigg, Canna, Coll and Tiree as seabirds skimmed the surface of the glittering water around us.
Atlantic Puffins on the Treshnish Isles
Disembarking from the ferry at Arinagour on Coll, we repacked our boats and launched in the direction of the Treshnish Isles, a small archipelago of volcanic pinnacles some 12km distant.
We explored the chain of islands starting with Cairn na Burgh and finishing around Bac Mor also known as “The Dutchman’s Cap”. We set up camp on the largest island of Lunga, surrounded by the sight and sounds of the nesting seabirds upon the cliffs and a family of howling seals out on the reefs. It is an indescribably beautiful island, life in technicolour and the wild west coast of Scotland at its finest.
Lunga on the Treshnish Isles
Day two began with a lazy morning watching the Puffins, Razorbills and Guillemots busy themselves with feeding on a glassy sea, whilst we enjoyed a hearty porridge breakfast. Our journey continued towards the outlying island of Staffa where we marvelled at the basalt architecture, forged by lava flows over 60 million years ago! A series of sea caves resembled cathedrals with their towering columns, culminating with the spectacular Fingal’s Cave. We then headed south towards Fionnphort and the Sound of Iona, with a gentle assist from the tide and a close encounter with a small pod of Harbour Porpoises. Journeying through the Sound of Iona, the jagged volcanic rocks gave way to smooth, pink granite outcrops with white sandy beaches gleaming in the sunshine. As the day drew to a close, we opted for a camp spot in a secluded bay called Treag Ghael (White Beach) with a fairytale woodland backdrop. After some dinner and some whisky around a driftwood fire, we wandered off to sleep with the distant sound of owls and cuckoos.
Basalt cliffs of Staffa
We could barely bring ourselves to leave this little paradise on day three but the persistent nibbles of the midge reminded us that this was indeed Scotland and not the Caribbean! Launching from the bright white sand and gliding through turquoise waters, we had a long day ahead including a 16km crossing from Mull to the Garvellachs. Throughout the morning we were treated to glimpses of a feeding Minke Whale with vistas of Jura and Islay in the distance. The open crossing of the Firth of Lorn allowed some time to conversate and meditate, occasionally caught out by the passing of a huge barrel jellyfish under our hulls! Arriving at Eileach an Naoimh (rocky place of the saint), we found a pebbly harbour to land and begin our exploration of this historically poignant island. A monastery was built by Saint Brendan the Navigator here nearly 1500 years ago, remarkable considering the harshness of the islands’ terrain and exposure to the westerly gales. In contrast, we enjoyed our 3rd glowing sunset over a serene sea, ready to complete our voyage with an early start the next day.
Paradise of Traigh Gheal
Packing our kayaks for the final day provided some comedy value, “how is there still no space” or “I’ve just found some more space behind the skeg”! Indeed, my Zegul Arrow Play MV can certainly hold all of my expedition gear and I think I’m yet to discover its true potential! Leaving the Garvellachs behind, we headed north towards the Cuan Sound and the Isle of Seil, famous for its slate quarries, fast flowing tides and the “Atlantic Bridge”. We enjoyed a lunchtime nap in the glorious sunshine, waiting for the tide to turn in our favoured direction back towards Oban via the Sound of Kerrera. Surfing downwind with a light following swell, we eased our way towards our final egress, completing our unforgettable 140km voyage. I love kayaking in Scotland, it always surprises you, and I can’t wait to visit again!
Kirstie Macmillan lives on the North-East coast of England, enjoying easy access to some beautiful cliffs, surf beaches, tide races and a plethora of incredible wildlife. She enjoys combining her love of cetaceans, seals and seabirds with journeys in her Zegul Arrow Play MV, both locally and further afield. Kirstie also volunteers as a coach and leader at Tynemouth and Borders canoe clubs, sharing her passion for the inspiring and dynamic marine environment with others. Follow her adventures: @kmacventures