Sea kayak journey around Eilean Shona
A few weeks ago I undertook a solo sea kayak journey from Castle Tioram heading out and around Eilean Shona. This short journey also took in Shona Beag and Loch Moidart. Aside from giving me the time to explore an area that I have been wanting to see for sometime, it also gave me time away from the office.
While not an especially long or challenging journey, it is a beautiful one. I chose to travel clockwise around the island as I felt this would present the best views of the area. On the day, there was no significant tide to be of any concern as it was just after slack low water when I launched.
A little background
Aside from being a stunning place to spend time, Eilean Shona is a small island approximately two miles long by just over one mile wide. It sits in the mouth of Loch Moidart roughly half way between the Isles of Mull and Skye. It is one of 17 islands in Scotland that you can walk to at low water.
The island derives its name from ancient Norse and roughly translates as ‘Sea Island’. As it sits at the mouth of the channel and blocks storms from entering Loch Moidart from the west, it seems quite appropriate.
A few famous names have been associated with the island over the years. Vanessa Branson, sister of Richard, owns a significant part of it. She has renovated several properties to a very high standard and these are available for rent. JM Barrie, author of Peter Pan, stayed on the island in 1920 whilst writing the screenplay for the film version of his book. Apparently Mr Bean (Rowan Atkinson), spotted in our village Post Office, was heading to Eilean Shona early in 2017.
One surprising name that cropped in in my reading was Lady Howard de Walden. The island was a wedding present to her in the 1930’s by her future husband. The reason for my interest stems from her connections with Malvern, Worcestershire. This is near where I had recently moved from and where an outdoor centre I worked at nestles at the bottom of the hills. Consequently I have walked across the hills on many occasions recounting stories about Lady de Walden for visiting children. Stories such as: The largest Girls’ School in Malvern renting what used to be her home. Lady Howard de Walden’s Drive, built as a carriage drive for her, encircling North Hill. Many of the wide, tree lined roads in Great Malvern owe much to her.
But back to Eilean Shona…
Changing character of the landscape
The feelings the landscape gives off change as you traverse each ‘side’ of Eilean Shona.
I will do my best to describe this sea kayak journey and the emotions I felt. Although I am sure it will not be the same as being there.
Heading out in the ‘South Channel’, the waterway is fairly broad. However there are sand banks either side of the main channel at low water. Keeping towards Eilean Shona gives the deepest water. It feels like an estuary to a river (which it is at this point) without the mud! As you travel west, the landscape teases you with glimpses of the Isle of Muck behind the smaller islands at the mouth of the channel.
These are home to numerous common seals and a few grey seals. The common seals are the smaller ones that look like grey labradors without ears! Like our fingerprints, the markings on every seal are unique and can be used to identify them.
As you pass these islands on this sea kayak journey the vista widens. But not before you take time to explore a glorious white sandy beach – an ideal place for a Family Canoe Adventure perhaps…
The landscape changes as you round the south west corner. It becomes more exposed and you are made aware of the vast ocean in front of you. With Rhum, Eigg and Muck for company the paddle takes you northwards under steep cliffs. Not especially high, they do tower over you sat in your kayak. A reminder how small we really are. No doubt countless waves have ceased into this aspect of Shona. Today was thankfully a pretty calm day to make this trip.
Passing the small island at the north west corner, you catch glimpses of more sandy beaches in front of you. North Channel sits to your right, but another sandy beach beckons to the north.
Paddle further north and you would reach Smirisary. Further again and on to Glenuig and the Sound of Arisaig.
Continuing the sea kayak journey
Launching from golden sand, covered in seaweed on the receding tide, it is time to head into the North Channel. The landscape changes again – narrower, rockier, more secluded. It has the feeling of a river flowing though a gorge. With the sun shining, it reminded me of times spent paddling white water rivers in the French Alps…
I was not the only one seeking solitude in these narrower channels. I came across what I think is a female Merganser and her chicks sat on a rock enjoying the sun. Had I been in a noisy powered craft, I doubt that she would have sat there just watching me as I passed by. A lucky glimpse of such cute chicks – possibly cuter than an otter…
At the east end of North Channel sits Shoan Beag and Loch Moidart; the latter joined to Eilean Shona by a narrow slip of land. It is possible to walk from the mainland to Shona Bear via a ‘ford’ at low water. You would definitely want to check tide times and heights before committing to that walk. Otherwise you may have 12 hours to wait before you can leave again…
Loch Moidart is muddy at low water, but magnificent at high water. If you were finishing a sea kayak journey at the small jetty on the north shore, you would want to ensure you came back in at high water in order to make your journey easier and more picturesque.
As the tide had come in a fair distance, I was able to finish my sea kayak journey over the causeway that joins the island on which Castle Tioram sits to the mainland. Finishing at Castle Tioram, traditional seat of Clan MacDonald of Clan Ranald, was a fitting historical end to the journey.
The wildlife on the island today
Baby White Tailed Eagle was born on the island in earl 2017. I hope that it survives and flourishes in what appears to be an ideal habitat for it. I have seen one of the adults perched in a scrawny tree on the island on most of my journeys to Eilean Shona. But not today.
I am lead to believe that deer, pine martin, and numerous other species live on the island today but have yet to see any evidence of them.
Certainly something to make me want to repeat this sea kayak journey.
With the wind in the right direction, this is a wonderful location for a full day Family Canoe Adventure. Turquoise water, abundant wildlife, panoramic views and great food cooked on golden sandy beaches. What a way to spend time with your family rather than on your own as I chose to.