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Little Minch circuit by kayak

By Toby Speight

For four years or more I've nurtured an ambition to paddle across the Little Minch. The chart has sat open in my front room for uncounted hours as I fantasised about seeing for myself the islands, skerries and buoys that make this bit of sea amongst the most interesting.

So when I got a week of holiday at the beginning of September, I packed a sleeping bag and tent into my kayak, along with 4 days' worth of food and a camera, and headed out from Bornesketaig. It only took half an hour for me to decide that the wind was too much for me, and I turned back, the edge being taken off my disappointment when I happened across a basking shark on my way back.

A few weeks later, I got the chance to try again. I was encouraged by a favourable weather forecast, though this time I was constrained by having only three days available. Again, I drove to Bornesketaig, and paddled out directly to An t-IasgairNG3574 : An t-Iasgair by Toby Speight - this was the sole hold-out of NG37, with several distant supplementals, but no Geograph until now. NG37 is now complete.

With my first Geograph in the bag, I then turned north-east to Eilean TroddayNG4479 : Sentinel by Toby Speight. The southern half of this island fell way back in 2006, but still nobody had photographed the northern two squaresNG4379 : A corner of Trodday by Toby Speight. Looking for these on my GPS map, I was shocked to find that they were no longer marked as ungeographed. Had I been beaten to it? Scanning more widely, I discovered that I was in fact missing my entire hit-list - I'd updated my GPS in a hurry, and didn't realise that the Geograph layer failed to build. All those hours of planning and dreaming were now going to have to pay for themselves, as I was going to have to complete the area by memory alone!

Having captured the two northern squares of Eilean Trodday (and thus completed NG47), I knew that my next target was the Comet Rock buoy to the northwest. This is a starboard-hand marker for the northbound shipping lane through the Little Minch.NG4180 : Comet Rock buoy by Toby Speight What I hadn't realised is that it stands in a hectad of its own, so photographing it both started and finished NG48.

Now it was time to turn north, and undertake the longest open crossing of the day. The Shiant Islands present a distinctive, steep profile from pretty much every direction of approach. I aimed for the southernmost point, Mianais, and captured the small rock of Sgeir MianaisNG4196 : Sgeir Mianais by Toby Speight (completing NG49) before making my way up to the isthmus joining Eilean an Tigh to Eilean Garbh and settling down for the night (with Adam Nicolson's book "Sea Room", about the Shiant Islands, for company). I'd paddled 34.1 kilometres, and completed 4 hectads. Not a bad day, really.

Saturday's Geo-Trip: LinkExternal link

Sunday dawned clear and calm. I breakfasted quickly and packed the boat, then radioed Stornoway Coastguard with my plan for the day. The route was simple: cross to Lewis, and follow close inshore westwards to the small settlement of Rheinigeadal, where I wanted to stay in the hostel I'd briefly visited back in 2009.

On the way, of course, there would be plenty of Geographing opportunity - beginning with the west end of the Galtachan, the line of rocks guarding the islands from that direction. A jagged line of broken teeth protrude ready to bite any unwary boats that miss their approach. But in today's windless sunshine, they appeared almost benign. I captured the westernmost of the visible rocksNG3898 : Western end of the Galtachan by Toby Speight - the tidal skerry of Damhag was still underwater at this point. Having thus completed NG39, I re-completed it within minutes by adding the Shiants lane marker buoyNG3799 : Shiants marker buoy by Toby Speight before paddling across to the "mainland" of Lewis.

I made my landfall at a small sea-cave, Uamh Mhic Iain DhuibheNB3302 : Uamh Mhic Iain Dhuibh by Toby Speight, which I was able to briefly explore (though the resident seals seemed a bit surprised at this), then began my westward journey. I was fairly sure that most squares I would be passing through were in need of Geographs, and also fairly sure that I wasn't likely to be completing any hectads. So I was happy to go slow and steady, and just keep clicking.

I reached Rheinigeadal at the end of the afternoon; entering the bay, I found the hostel warden's husband and children fishing from the shore, so stopped and talked to them for a few minutes before updating the Coastguard and coming ashore myself. My total for the day was 31.5 km and 16 Geographs including one more hectad completion.

Sunday's Geo-Trip: LinkExternal link

Monday morning was another early start, soon after sunrise. My main objective was to get back to Skye early enough to be back at work on Tuesday; on the way I hoped to capture Sgeir In-ao and the Eugenie Rock buoy. But I knew I could begin with a gentle paddle to Sgeir an DaimhNG2498 : Sgeir an Daimh by Toby Speight (if I'd had my hit-list with me, I would probably have detoured along the coast a bit; as it is, I now have a good excuse to return!) From there, I turned a little to port (i.e. straight into the morning sun) aiming for the buoy north of Sgeir In-aoNG2993 : Lane marker north of Sgeir In-ao by Toby Speight. I went looking for Sgeir In-ao itself, but the tide was still too high to see it under the water.

Turning toward the sun once more, I paddled with a gentle headwind to Eugenie Rock. The sun shone brightly on the black and yellow buoy, making a very striking imageNG3584 : Eugenie Rock buoy by Toby Speight, with the much less strident Shiant Islands in the background. This added another square to NG38 (previously completed by me in 2010). From here, a direct course back to Bornesketaig took me close past Fladda-ch¨ain and An t-Iasgair; I was grateful for the shelter from the tiring east wind. Arriving at the pier, I discovered that my VHF battery had run out, so my final call to the Coastguard had to wait until I'd transferred to the car and driven up to the Kilvaxter phone box. Total for the last day was 37.4 km, with 3 Geographs and 1 (re-)completed hectad.

Monday's Geo-Trip: LinkExternal link


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Marker only shows grid square

When
Mon, 7 Oct 2013 at 18:38
Grid Square
geotagged! NG3584
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