SUP Safari Scotland – Isle of Harris & St Kilda

Stand Up Paddleboarding Isle of Harris

Stand Up Paddleboarding on the Isle of Harris

Arriving on the isle of Harris we immediately climb up into the hills and travel south in search of the legendary sandy beaches.  We Find a great spot to park by the Sound of Taransay.  As luck would have it, it was a lovely sunny day which always brings out the deep rich turquoise of the water that Harris is famous for.  Most people when visiting Harris head straight for Luskentyre which is a beautiful beach, but I love the way the water and white sand swirl together in the upper reaches of the sound.  Here the water is mostly less than 30cm deep so if you fall off you can easily stand up. The landscape here is immense that the drone videos we took make me look like a tiny dot on my SUP. 

After our paddle we went to check out the famous Luskentyre beach and even managed to spot another paddle boarder. We could see why artists get captivated by this scenery – the dramatic skies only add to the ambience.  We climbed to the top of the sand dunes where we could get a better view of the entire sound and all 3 beaches, Luskentyre, Horgabost and Sielebost. For more information on beaches on Harris check out his page.

We have been quite lucky on our trip so far as Harmony out camper has been very well behaved. Our luck is probably more due to good maintenance on SUP Blokes part though. I’m going to brag here and say that SUP Bloke has a very strong mechanical back ground and is a whiz when it comes to old engines. He and Harmony helped out when a wee car wouldn’t start.

Harmony saves the day jump starting a stranded beach goer
Looking towards Harris’ famous Luskentyre

Visiting the Islands of St Kilda

The only thing we have booked for our entire 4 month trip was a visit to the St Kilda Islands off the coast of Harris and Lewis.  They are a rather enigmatic group of islands historically seen as being at the edge of the world.  And it felt like it!!  I don’t usually have a problem with boats but even I was a little trepidatious about heading off into the northern Atlantic in such a small boat – especially when we started jumping 4 meter waves like Evel Knieval on show day…. And it all went south after that – for the next couple  of hours.  We finally made it to the bay of the largest island of Hirta.  We then had the fun of getting into a small inflatable dingy to reach the shore.  You would assume that the bay was pretty protected but the St Kildans often found it too rough to be out on the water themselves.

Having made it to solid ground we get a quick run-through from the Ranger of the island and are free to explore.  There was a real atmosphere as the low lying cloud clung to the hilltops.  It gave us a sense of just how dramatic the climate changes must be out here.

The next thing we notice is the unique resident ’Soay’ sheep.  They are named after the  island of Soay which they inhabited up until the human evacuation in 1930.  The Soay sheep are the closest genetic examples of Bronze Age sheep in the world.  They have not had the chance to interbreed with modern domestic sheep and are therefore the subject of research.  

The Soay Sheep roam the islands free from human intervention

The main row of houses which feature in many photos of the island feature the original ‘black houses’ with thatched roofs which are placed end on to the street.  In the 1800’s the more modern buildings with windows were built.  One of these is a museum displaying items from life on the island and an account of what it was like to live on St Kilda before the evacuation.

The quaint row of cottages left empty since the 1930’s evacuation
Each cottage has a plaque detailing the previous inhabitants

We took a walk suggested to us by the ranger which followed around the bay.  It afforded a fantastic view back over the bay towards the village and was quite breathtaking, especially when we saw how steep the incline we climbed was and how one wrong footstep could see us hurtling down into the water far below!!
We were fascinated by the little stone buildings up on the mountains around the village.  These are known as cleats and used by the St Kildans as storage buildings for food.

On the way back to Harris we are taken on a tour of the sea stacks and the thousands of birds which inhabit them.  It was truly mind blowing to see just how steep these were and to know that the St Kildans would climb the sheer rock faces to hunt the birds.

As we watched St Kilda disappear over the horizon it made us think of the islanders as they left Hirta for the final time.
An excerpt from a book written in 1977 has this to say about the event.

The morning of the evacuation promised a perfect day. The sun rose out of a calm and sparkling sea and warmed the impassive cliffs of Oiseval. The sky was hopelessly blue and the sight of Hirta, green and pleasant as the island of so many careless dreams, made parting all the more difficult. Observing tradition the islanders left an open Bible and a small pile of oats in each house, locked all the doors and at 7 am boarded the Harebell. Although exhausted by the strain and hard work of the last few days, they were reported to have stayed cheerful throughout the operation. But as the long antler of Dun fell back onto the horizon and the familiar outline of the island grew faint, the severing of an ancient tie became a reality and the St Kildans gave way to tears.[90]

We head north towards the Isle of Lewis via the Golden Road so named because of the money it cost to build.  It is a lovely single track journey which leads along the quieter eastern shore of Harris with its wee bays and lunar rocky landscape.  Along the way is St Clements church which is worth a visit.
We stop in to make a quick purchase at the Harris Distillery and do a tasting Harmony style.  The bottles themselves are a work of art and some of the local gift shops have them turned into lamp bases with Harris Tweed shades.
As we continued to head north towards Lewis it started to look like our windy but sunny weather was about to take a bit of a turn in favour of colder and damper conditions – but that’s a story for next week!  Catch you then.

If you missed part one of our SUP Safari Scotland to the Isle of Arran you can read about it here.

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1 thoughts on “SUP Safari Scotland – Isle of Harris & St Kilda

  1. WorldWideWalkies says:

    Wow – what a fascinating read. It must have been very sad leaving St Kilda for the last time, although it must have been a very hard life. What a beautiful place, though.

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