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Sea Kayak: Loch Gairloch and Longa Island

Written by Fiona

May 16 2023

Hubby G and I transported our sea kayaks to Gairloch on the north-west coast of Scotland for a day of paddling. G paddled his P&H Scorpio kayak, while I was testing the P&H Virgo sea kayak. Full review to come. We paddled around Longa Island.

Tide info: The tidal port is Ullapool. High water and low water are around 10 minutes before Ullapool.

Tidal times: The in-going stream in Loch Gairloch is about six hours and 20 minutes before HW Ullapool. The out-going stream starts about 20 minutes before HW Ullapool.

We checked out the route in the excellent Pesda Press guidebook Skye and North West Highlands Sea Kayaking by Doug Cooper. We completed out route anti-clockwise, while the book suggests clockwise.

Gairloch to Longa Island

We launched our kayaks at Gairloch harbour. There is a car park opposite a ramp into the sea. (Payment for parking is encouraged; there are electric charge points, too.)

Alternative start points are Charlestown, nearby, or further north along the coast from Gairloch. In retrospect, we might have chosen a different launch point because by the time we returned the tide was out and we had a bit of a walk carrying the kayaks back to the concrete ramp.

To reach Longa Island, we paddled around the coast past the houses of Gairloch perched above the sea. Last year, we enjoyed a stay at the Hostelling Scotland Gairloch Sands Youth Hostel and it was fun to sea this prominent building high above us as we paddled by below rocky crags.

The beautiful Big Sand beach came next. It was the only place where we saw more than a couple of people during the entire outing. A group of people were giving stand up paddleboarding a go, while others walked on the vast sands.

From the beach, we headed west across Caolas Beag to the eastern edge of Longa Island.

The paddle was fairly easy going thanks to a light tailwind, although I was out of practice and had done very little paddling all winter. I am something of a fairweather paddler!

The day was much sunnier and warmer than forecast and both Hubby G and I felt hot in our chosen kayaking clothes. G wore a full dry suit, while I wore neoprene shorts and a waterproof cag.

There were some fun rocks on both the shore of the mainland and, in particular, along the coast of the island. The Virgo is great for playing in the rocks and surf and I spent some time darting in and out of the rocks.

There were numerous sea bird to spot as we journeyed. The birds swooped and called all around us and it felt like we were in our own wildlife documentary.

We paddled along the northern shore of Longa until we reached a rocky beach where we stopped, pulled our kayaks on to the land and then set off for a high point on the island.

An island picnic.

Lunch stop and a sea eagle on Longa Island

Almost as soon as we started the short walk to a higher point on Longa Island we spotted a stunning sea eagle. It was a highlight of the day.

The island provided a brilliant view point for seeing north along the mainland coast and south to the Torridon mountains. We could also see many west coast islands, including Skye and the Outer Hebrides.

As we ate our picnic lunch, we basked in the warm sunshine and enjoyed the fabulous vistas.

A solo kayaker passed around the island as we sat watching.

Longa Island back to Gairloch

The paddle took us further around the island, before we headed back towards Gairloch. The views of the mainland mountains were breath-taking and this was a highlight of the paddle back to the base.

The sea was amazingly calm with a mirror-like surface.

Many more seabirds swooped ahead and around us and while I was beginning to tire of paddling, there was always something to catch my eye and distract me.

We also welcomed a tailwind again. We were fortunate to find that the wind had changed direction with the tide and this was a great aid as we headed east along Loch Gairloch.

We had a short downpour as we got closer to Gairloch harbour but the rain was welcome in the warm weather. The guidebook suggested padding along the southern shore of Loch Gairloch and past the coastal settlement of Badachro. Instead, we chose to journey more directly along the sea loch from the island to Gairloch.

Our total paddle distance was 21km.

By the time we reached the harbour again, the tide was out and we needed to carry our boats across the muddy and rocky edge of the harbour to reach the ramp again.

It was hugely enjoyable day and made me realise how much I like sea kayaking on Scotland’s west coast in favourable weather.

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