Over the upcoming months and likely into our next summer season, I’ve decided to pursue a project around what is, in a way, what I call ‘my office’. As we are now drawing toward the end of a fourth season operating Kayak Summer Isles, in the north west of Scotland, I’ve spent many hundreds of days getting to know, sharing, and exploring these islands. It’s safe to say I know them well.
I figure the next step of really embedding myself into the islands is to spend a night on them.
Some of which I do on a regular basis with our guests, but many others (the rocks and skerries) I’ve not even landed on yet. By my count there are 17 ‘proper’ islands and 15 rocks and skerries big enough to safely camp and land on, making a total of 32 nights in the archipelago.
I won’t make them all in a season, as some will mean waiting until the bird colonies move off in winter so I won’t disturb them. What ones I can do now I hope to tackle in ‘evening blasts’ after work and before starting the next day’s guiding.
What better way to start than the iconic and rugged skerry that is Stac Mhic Aonghais.
Local legend has it, that the name comes from a man who was laid prisoner on this lonely and desolate rock. Purportedly having had ‘intimate relations’ with a laird’s daughter, he was rowed out and abandoned as a ‘time out and think about what you’ve done’. Ahh, young love.
By day 3 Angus’s captors must have felt guilty, as they then rowed out to check on him. Upon landing they were surprised to discover that Angus had gone!
Combing the island, they strayed further from their boat and with a sudden race, Angus leapt from a crevice in the rocks, hopped aboard and dis-embarked, waving cheery farewell as his captors became the captives.
Some accounts say he rowed, whilst others claim he had no oars and set adrift. Either way, he landed on Stoer Head some 30km north and survived.
The boat still remains with Angus’s relatives, and there’s been bad blood between the two families ever since . . . apparently.
I wonder if he ever managed to meet the laird’s daughter ever again?
Kayaking out in the evening, I set off from shore around 7.30 pm, with little over an hours light left in the day. I was tired from a day’s guiding but equally excited to disappear for a night’s vagabond adventure, following in Angus’s footsteps for a night on his rock.
The island is 1km south of Tanera Beag and even with the wind in favour and using the tidal eddies to my advantage, the journey took an hour from Old Dornie Harbour. The light was waning.
I’d taken my ultra-lightweight kevlar/carbon infusion Aries, as I figured it’d be easier to haul up the rocks on my shoulders fully laden with camp and cookware, but in hind-sight maybe a plastic boat that I could have dragged may have been a wiser move. Arriving at high tide, I found a crevice without swell on the eastern shore and set about navigating the 40º sloped sides with the boat on my shoulder. Delicate footsteps and my free hand scrambling brought me up to a ledge where I could at last anchor the kayak.
By necessity, I needed to return early the next morning, meaning leaving at the low tide. Before setting camp, I scouted about and picked my exit route as my prior access would be untenable at the lower tidal state. A scramble, toss, and a leap seemed likely.
The stac was largely rock, with a bristling hair of lichens adorned across the top. Around the corner, on the wind-battered western cliffs, I could hear a bird colony, out of sight but not out of sound.
Many, if not all of the possible flat spots were waterlogged with bright green algal pools. To my delight on the summit, a single large flat slab presented a near-perfect bed. Surrounded on all sides by a small rocky lip, it cradled the sense of security atop the island and granted a fantastic view. Darkness was fast approaching.
Bivi bag out on the rock, I scoffed a quick dinner, took a few photos and then settled into bed. The sound of the low swell pounding below me, and the occasional whoosh of birds flying past lulled a sense of calm. The air was warm, and as hoped for a breeze kept any midges at bay.
By 2 am, the full moon had risen, bathing the island in a silvery light, enough to see without a head-torch. 20km to my east, I could see the lights of Ullapool, home, in the distance.
The breeze had dropped, as had the swell, leaving the island eerily calm. Below me, I could hear a pshhht coming from some form of cetacean nearby, most likely a porpoise, but I liked to imagine a whale.
My alarm wasn’t necessary. As it turns out seagulls also wake with the first hint of dawn, and their calls as they fledged their roosts around the corner was sufficient to wake me. A faint orange glow was rising as I re-packed my kayak and carefully carried it down the rocks, thankful for the barnacles to give some grip.
Clipped to my kayak, I tossed it into the gentle swell and leapt aboard under head-torch. Once decked on, I turned my light off, preferring to navigate by the dawn glow. It was 5 am.
Returned to Ullapool before the day begun, I arrived home, showered and packed, ready to re-pack and head back on the water with guests. I felt satisfied like I’d stolen a secret adventure through the night, unseen and unknown until dawn. Most of all however I was thankful not to leave the island and drift north to Stoer, wondering if I’d ever return again.
If you’d like to share my island adventures as I try to camp on each follow me on @willcopestake (Instagram and YouTube) and via #summerislessleeps, or better still, join me through www.kayaksummerisles.com