Rubha Hunish – the final day

The weather continued improbably good, and with Ann off to get to a concert on time, we had all the maps and books out looking for a grand finale. It soon became clear that we couldn’t work the tides to paddle south past Neist Point to visit MacLeod’s Maidens and Idrigill Point (quite a long day, and not enough daylight), but that a trip from Staffin Bay round Rubha Hunish would have almost perfect timing if we got an early start. As Pete had particularly recommended this bit of coast, this was definitely a result, since not in our wildest dreams had we expected conditions to be good enough to head west in the tide race off the northernmost tip of the Island in September. We drove up past Portree and below the spectacular Storr and Quiraing to find the tiny road down to the slipway at Staffin. The shuttle to Duntulm went pretty quickly, and we were on the water by 9:30, heading out past Rubha Ban on Staffin Island in a northeasterly swell. A crowd of smaller seabirds mobbing something huge indicated yet another sea eagle (our fourth or fifth). A kilometre and a half of open sea led towards big breaking waves on reefs, which protected our passage through the gap between Eilean Flodigarry and Sgeir na h-Eireann. Although we were expecting some tidal assistance going north, I had the distinct impression of a bit of flow against us, just in this channel.

We now picked a spot at the start of the cliffs on the main island, and crossed a kilometre or so, to find the first of many caves and geos. Our early start (three quarters of an hour earlier than recommended by the guidebook) meant we had plenty of time to explore, and to watch no less than three more sea eagles hanging on the updraft or clinging to ledges on the cliffs above us. The swell gave us scope to rockhop through gaps, whilst not being so big as to keep us out of the caves.

Mary catching a wave through a gap among the basalt pillars

There were big caves, little caves and huge caves …

Caves with one entrance, caves with two entrances, and caves with many entrances framing views of stacks and rocks galore. One in particular only became visible as we paddled into another big yawning geo to its south, but had quite a long through trip with the swell gently lifting us up and down by a metre or so.

We had a particular tidal “window” to hit, so we stopped for lunch at Kilmaluag Bay to be ready for the tide to turn at Rubha na h-Aiseig. As a lunch spot, this could hardly be bettered, offering not only a bit of shelter from the westerly breeze, but also magnificent views both of the coast we’d just paddled and, over Balmaqueen, to the inland cliffs and stacks of the Quiraing.

We now set off round first Rubha Bhenachain and then Rubha na h-Aiseig, where several folk were fishing in the tide as it started to set west, pinched between Skye and Eilean Trodday, a mile to the north in the Minch. Crossing another small bay, we immediately reached more cliffs, and cave openings beckoned on all sides. One went off through a very narrow section to daylight beyond, back towards the way we’d come, but we opted to skip this one in favour of a darker cave ahead. Another one with daylight ahead led me in, chasing a seal. This had a big roof opening, and a breach back to the sea on my left. In the further and darker reaches, a small window back to daylight was too small for a boat, and ahead, as I struggled to retrieve a head torch, I could hear waves crashing in the dark. A bit of light on the subject showed it to end in a few metres, with some rough water, so I backed out to let the others have a look. Now we could see the swell breaking on and between the rocks of Bodha Hunish, but there wasn’t much tide movement in the bay between headlands. This soon changed as we started to give a wider berth to the crashing surf, and a lobster-pot buoy was trailing a wake as the race picked up. It was probably only up to two knots, and with wind more from the south than the west, didn’t kick up too rough. As we rounded the headland, our cornering was slicker than the tides, and the race headed away from the cliffs leaving us calmer water inshore as we turned south across the bay. With a headwind, and perhaps a bit of an eddy, we slowed quite a bit and Sgeir nan Garbh seemed to take a long time to pass astern as we headed for the sheltered side of Tulm Island. A fight again as we got to the south end and made our way past Ru Meanish below Duntulm Castle, then head down for quite a struggle to reach the landing in the bay.

We were still quite early so didn’t feel too pressured for the carry up the steep slippery cobble beach, and I walked up to the car, left a few hundred metres away where there was more parking space. Soon loaded and packed, and we headed back to Staffin to get Kim’s car and transfer his boat and kit. Kim was off back tonight, whilst we would head off early Sunday morning, passing many whitewater boaters on their way to the Garry at Wet West. Home by late afternoon, and what a fantastic few days paddling !

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