Sea Kayak: Gairloch Lake and Longa Island


My husband G and I transported our sea kayaks to Gairloch on the northwest coast of Scotland for a day of paddling. G paddled in his P&H Scorpio kayak, while I tested the P&H Virgo sea kayak. Full review to come. We paddle around the island of Longa.

Tidal information: The tidal port is Ullapool. High tide and low tide are around 10 minutes before Ullapool.

Tide times: The incoming current at Loch Gairloch is about six hours and 20 minutes before HW Ullapool. The outflow starts about 20 minutes before HW Ullapool.

We consulted the route in the excellent guide Pesda Press Sea kayaking on Skye and the North West Highlands by Doug Cooper. We complete our route counterclockwise, while the book suggests clockwise.

Gairloch to the Isle of Longa

We launch our kayaks in Gairloch Harbour. There is parking opposite a ramp into the sea. (Payment for parking is recommended; there are also electric charging points).

Alternative departure points are nearby Charlestown, or further north along the coast from Gairloch. In hindsight we might have chosen a different launch point because when we got back the tide was out and we had to walk a bit getting the kayaks back to the concrete ramp.

To reach the island of Longa, we paddled along the coast past the houses of Gairloch perched above the sea. Last year we enjoyed a stay at Hostelling Scotland Gairloch Sands Youth Hostel and it was fun to see this prominent building above us as we paddled below the rocky crags.

The beautiful Big Sand Beach was next. It was the only place where we saw more than a couple of people during the entire outing. A group of people were giving stand up paddle boarding a try, while others were walking on the vast sands.

From the beach, we head west across the Caolas Beag to the eastern tip of Longa Island.

Paddling was easy enough thanks to a light tailwind, although he was out of practice and had done very little rowing all winter. I’m something of a fair weather paddler!

The day was much sunnier and warmer than anticipated and both my husband G and I felt hot in our chosen kayak clothing. G wore a full dry suit, while I wore neoprene shorts and a waterproof cag.

There were some fun rocks both on the shore of the mainland and, in particular, along the coast of the island. The Virgo is great at playing on rocks and surfing and I spent some time going in and out of rocks.

There were numerous sea birds to watch as we traveled. Birds swooped and called all around us and we felt like we were in our own wildlife documentary.

We paddled along Longa’s north shore until we reached a rocky beach where we stopped, pulled our kayaks ashore, and then set off for a high point on the island.

A picnic on the island.

Stop for lunch and a sea eagle on the island of Longa

Almost as soon as we started the short hike to a higher point on Longa Island, we saw an impressive sea eagle. It was the highlight of the day.

The island provided a brilliant vantage point to see north along the mainland coastline and south over the Torridon Mountains. We also got to see many islands off the west coast including Skye and the Outer Hebrides.

As we ate our picnic lunch, we enjoyed the warm sunshine and fabulous views.

A lone kayaker passed around the island as we sat to watch.

Longa Island back to Gairloch

The rowing took us further around the island, before returning to Gairloch. The views of the mainland mountains were stunning and this was the highlight of the paddle back to base.

The sea was incredibly calm with a mirror like surface.

Many more seabirds were flying ahead and around us and as I began to tire of paddling there was always something to catch my eye and distract me.

We also welcomed a tailwind again. We were lucky to find that the wind had changed direction with the tide and this was a great help as we headed east along Loch Gairloch.

We had a brief downpour as we approached Gairloch Harbour, but the rain was welcome in the warm weather. The guidebook suggested walking along the southern shore of Loch Gairloch, past the coastal settlement of Badachro. Instead we chose to travel more directly along the marine lake from the island to Gairloch.

Our total rowing distance was 21 km.

When we got back to the harbor the tide was out and we needed to get our boats across the muddy and rocky edge of the harbor to get back to the ramp.

It was a very nice day and made me realize how much I love sea kayaking on the west coast of Scotland when the weather is nice.