The 5 best things to do in the South of Skye

The Sleat Peninsula in the South of Skye is the hidden gem of the island. With many of the main attractions being in the North, tourists fly past Sleat and miss out on the quieter, more colourful and gentler part of Skye. However for those not seeking out the instagram mainstream places, Sleat has a lot to offer:

Sea Kayaking

Facing the mainland over the Sound of Sleat, this peninsula is comparatively sheltered and offers superb opportunity for Sea Kayaking with stunning views. Whether you are a beginner or a pro, there is something for everyone. A trip around the Point of Sleat with a lunch stop at Camus Daraich beach is perfect for intermediate and advanced sea kayakers, whereas a taster session from Armadale or a full day beginners adventure in Loch Eishort will be suitable for those who want to try something new. Bob along, watch seals, otters, sea birds, look for sea grass and star fish and just enjoy the scenery. Turquoise waters, white sandy beaches, secluded coves and little islands… Slow down your holiday and unwind while doing something active. Check out South Skye Sea Kayak to book a tour with a qualified and experienced guide.

Camas Daraich Beach

Bright white sand and turquoise water make you believe you’re in the Carribean, but no, you are at the southernmost point of Skye, the beach often referred to as Sound of Sleat Beach. Camus Daraich is Gaelic for Bay of the Oaktree. From the road end in Aird it is a 45 minute walk (one way) along a rough vehicle track, and later a small path. It’s signposted to the beach, and waterproof boots are recommended, as some parts of the path can be muddy. There is a small community at the Point of Sleat, so please respect their privacy and stick to the path or open moorland where you can. TYhe beach is beautiful for swimming if you don’t mind the cold, and then to warm up you can cotinue to the Point of Sleat Lighthouse. The lighthouse itself is not particularly beautiful, but the views are. Even better views can be got from the top of the little hill just before the Point.

Torabhaig Distillery

This small intimate distillery is the newest one on Skye and is built in an old farmstead with beautiful stone work and picturesque surrounds. The distillers draw on old Gaelic traditions deeply rooted in the land. Tours here are small and intimate with plenty of local stories, heritage and a personal touch. Make sure to book ahead. The café there is the best in Sleat and offers home-made soups, sandwiches, toasties and cakes and a friendly service with a smile.

Tarskavaig Loop

For those who like driving around and seeing Scotland from the roadside, the loop from Sabhal Mòr Ostaig via Tarskavaig to Tokavaig and Ord back to the main road at Loch nan Dùbhraichean is a beautiful scenic tour. You’ll pass 3 big beaches, two of which are sandy and offer great swimming opportunities. The views from the road are stunning into Loch Eishort, Loch Slapin and the Cuillin, as well as the small Isles. In the summer there is sometimes a community café at Tarskavaig Hall, which offers home baking, teas and coffees. There are also a few short walks out of Taskavaig and Ord which may relieve the sore bottoms after a long drive. The famous Dunscaith Castle (in Gaelic Dùn Sgàthaich), is full of myth and legends about the Irish Warrier Goddess Sgathach who supposedly lived and fought here.

Armadale Castle and Museum

Skye is steeped in history, and the Clan Donald has a big part to play in it. For centuries this was the clan’s stomping ground and you can still see their castles all over the peninsula. The most recent one is the one in Armadale, where you can also enjoy their beautiful gardens, which date back to Victorian times and immerse yourself in highland history in the museum. Here it all comes together from the Gaels to the Vikings, the Jacobites and the Highland Clearances, and you will get a real understanding of why the highlands are what they are today and what has lead to their unique situation.

Basic Kayak Skills for Safe Paddling

What skills do you need to go kayaking on your own or with friends? Kayaking is a wonderful sport and lets you see remote places, wildlife, gets you across to islands and can even be used for fishing. However, a few key techniques are needed to make sure you don’t end up needing the lifeboat out. Let’s look at those skills. Although there are many transferable skills, this article is specifically for closed corckpit sea kayaks with a skeg.

Steering – harder than you think

Steering is an essential skill and in the flat calm, it s pretty easy. There are many ways of turning your kayak, but the 2 important ones are the forward and backward sweep stroke. Put your paddle into the water as far forward and as close as you can to your bow and then draw a large arch through the water, pushing your bow to the side, finishing at hip level. For the backward sweep start at the back of your boat and sweep to the middle. The key is to make this as big and wide as possible. If you can, edge your kayak towards your blade. This may take some practice.

When it’s windy (F3 and upwards), the sweep stroke only works efficiently on the downwind side of your boat, especially the backward sweep. Try it out and see how much your boat will turn on either side. This is key in handling your kayak in windy conditions and making it home when the wind picks up.

Practising Manoeuvering Skills

Understanding the Skeg

Sea kayaks have a skeg (this is different from a rudder). You only need this when it’s windy, and it helps you go in the right direction. When your skeg is up, your boat will turn its bow into the wind and lets you paddle against the wind. When your skeg is down, your boat will turn down wind and lets you paddle with the wind. In the middle, you can paddle with the wind coming from the side. When your skeg is down, it will be very hard to turn upwind, so remember to put it up when you are trying to turn. The best way to understand your skeg is to try it out on a windy day.

Riding the waves down wind. The skeg keeps you going in the right direction.

Understanding the weather

Always read the weather forecast for your area and pay attention to the wind strength and direction. It doesn’t mater if it’s raining, but the wind can turn a lovely paddle into an epic. Can you handle the wind strength? Is the direction going to blow you off shore or help you reach your destination? Check out the Windfinder App for easy to read wind forecasts. Despite forecasters’ best efforts, the weather is unpredictable, so always err on the side of caution, and if you do not have the necessary skills, always go out with an experienced friend or guide.

Are you dressed appropriately for the temperature on the day? You should always dress for immersion, even if you are not expecting to swim. Wear a wetsuit or in cold weather a drysuit, and if you wear dry trousers and a cagoule, carry a set of dry clothes with you in case you do get wet. We’ill write more about what to wear and what to carry in another blog, but we cannot stress enough that wearing a buoyancy aid is a must, no matter how good a swimmer you are.

Rescuing a capsized paddler

When you are paddling with friends, you can help each other in case of a capsize. It’s not difficult but it involves understanding the technique and takes some practice. The hardest bit is to get your kayak close to the swimmer’s kayak, which means you need good manoeuvering skills. Then you need to empty their boat and support it while they climb back in. Consider why they capsized in the first place and whether it’s going to happen again. Are they cold? Have you got a warm layer to give them? Maybe it’s time to go home? You can learn rescue skills at specific sea kayak courses, where you will learn more about safety and rescue and get plenty of opportunity to practise, so that you can do it quickly.

Rescuing a capsized paddler

Self rescue

Self rescue means you can get yourself back into your kayak without help from someone else. It takes quite a lot of practice and while children and teenagers often find it quite easy, adults often struggle to get themselves back in. How do you get back into your kayak when you have capsized? There are different ways, but here is one: go to the bow of your upturned kayak, kick your legs hard and lift the bow up and flip it over at the same time to get as much water out as you can. Then go to the back deck, reach over, kick your legs and pull your torso up onto the deck without pulling the kayak over. Then swing your leg across as if onto a horse, facing forwards, and while keeping your body low, pull yourself forward into your seat. Like the rescue of another paddler, your can learn and practise the self rescue on a sea kayak skills course.

Understanding the tides

The tides are different everywhere in the world. Some places are affected more than others and while some places have very little lital movement other places can have dangerous flows that can carry you in a direction you don’t want to be. Tidal flows like in Kylerea on the Isle of Skye can flow 8 knots (~16km/h) or more and can take you by surprise and not only carry you away but also capsize you. However they can be fun to play in when you are a more adanced paddler and want to understand paddling in moving water. Join us for an advanced course to try it out. For everyday use, you can look up high and low water online, but understanding flow rates and directions is more complex. You can learn more about tides on webinars run by the Scottish Canoe Association or on intermediate sea kayak or improvers courses.

Knowing how to call for help

When you go out kayaking you should always have the means to call for help with you and accessible. This can be a mobile phone in a waterproof case, a VHF radio or a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB), ideally you carry more than one, and one of them on your body in case you get seperated from your kayak. Before you call, make sure you know where you are and can communicate that to the emergency services. If you use your phone, call 999 and ask for the Coastguard.

Learn Basic Safety and Rescue Skills to get ready for your own adventures.

If you are new to kayaking, why not join your local canoe club and learn new skills with other people. There will be trips lead by qualified people and the chance to pick up tips and tricks on your way. Or of course you can do a 2 or 4 day course to learn the kayaking essentials from a professional coach and meet new people from all over. Happy Paddling!

Favourite Kayak Trips on Skye – The Point of Sleat

Going round the Point of Sleat, the southernmost tip of the Isle of Skye is a classic and a must do for any improver or intermediate sea kayaker. The whole trip is 29km, but it can be shortened and varied in many ways. The views change at every headland and never get boring, the Small Isles, Mallaig, Knoydart, Loch Eishort and the Cuillin Ridge….

Park in Armadale (limited car parking available, please car share) and launch from the beach.  Go around the ferry terminal and head southwest along the coast. You’ll pass a few skerries, Eilean Maol (the bald island) and Eilean Sgorach (the notchy island). Please give the resident seals a wide berth. You’ll then get a lovely view of the village of Ardvasar. Keep close to the coast here to look for wildlife such as otters and sea urchins. Plenty little bays give opportunities for breaks. On the way south, visit the rock arch just before Tormore and enjoy the view changing from Knoydart to Mallaig, to Eigg and then to Rum.

Rock arch at Tormore

It can be a bit choppy near Tormore where the headland reaches into the sea and around Aird, but Port a’ Chùil (the back port) gives excellent shelter for a snack stop before you head on to the Point. This is also a good lunch spot for beginners / slower groups and you can go back to Armadale from here. If you head on, you’ll pass the village of Aird, the last settlement before the Point. A few kilometers on, you will reach Camas Daraich (the bay of the oak) which is perfect for a lunch spot with its white sand and Hebridean colours. This is also a lovely walk for any non-paddling members of the family. You can also head back to Armadale from here if you don’t have a shuttle option.

The Sandy Beach at Camus Daraich, the Point of SLeat

The lighthouse at the Point is not a particularly picturesque one, but Orcas and dolphins have been spotted here. As you turn the corner, a breathtaking view unfolds to the Cuillin, which you can enjoy all the way to the landing point. The west side of Sleat is more rugged and the waters can be rougher as it is more open to the incoming swell off the Atlantic. Stop again at Dalavil which is one of the many villages deserted during the Highland Clearances in the 19th century and where you can enjoy beautiful white sandy beaches, turquoise waters and complete remoteness, all with the stunning views into the Cuillin.

Hebridean Colours at Dalavil and view into the Cuillin

The last stretch provides excellent opportunities for rock hopping until you finally pass the beach of Achnacloich (landing/launch spot at high water, but a long walk at low water) and finish either at Tokavaig, just before Dùn Sgathaich/Dun Sgaith Castle or at Ord.

Do you like the look of this? Come and join us on one of our Day Trips. We often do a part of this trip with beginners, and intermediate Paddlers have a strong chance of doing this trip.

A Full Day Kayak Adventure on Loch Eishort

Loch Eishort in the south of the Isle of Skye must be one of the finest kayaking locations in Scotland. It’s a perfect place for beginners, but is just as beautiful for experts. The views from the west side of Sleat are breathtaking, with turquoise waters, white sands and the rugged, pointy mountain peaks of the Cuillin for a backdrop. This can be a comparatively sheltered place, which is also wonderful for paddle boarding, canoeing and wild swimming, however not all wind directions are favourable for this area.

South Skye Sea Kayak
Leaving Ord Beach on a Kayak Day Trip

We start our journey in Ord, a tiny village on the west side of the Sleat peninsula, which has a delightful sandy beach and beautiful coastal walks. The bay’s hebridean colours remind me of the Carribean as we set off and turn east to paddle along the coast. Not far from here is a little coral island, in Gaelic Eilean Gainmhich na h-Àirde (the sand island of the promontory), where beautiful white maerl can be found. On a very low spring tide you can walk across here, but this is only possible a couple of times a year. Here you also find extensive areas of sea grass and thanks to the crystal clear water, you can bob along and see it easily as you look down. Sea grass plays a globally important role for carbon storage, and provides a sheltered habitat for many marine creatures.

Kayaking to Coral Island Skye
Passing the Coral Island in Loch Eishort, Skye

We continue east to pass the narrows and make for the little village of Heaste on the northern shores of Loch Eishort. From here you can see the well established Loch Eishort Mussel Culture and the Isle of Skye Mussel Company farms towards the end of the loch. Heaste is great for a lunch stop and features little white houses dotted along the hillside. Here we fuel up our reserves and stretch our limbs, ready for the next part of our expedition.

On the way back we hug the northern shore, meandering slowly in and out of bays, coves, nooks and crannies, enjoying the shallow waters creating the most beautiful colours. This part of journey is also perfect for a sheltered paddle in a northerly wind. We’re turning north towards Boreraig, which beckons with its beautiful waterfall and deserted village, but first we need to go around a small spit before deciding which of the two we are going to visit.

The waterfall is lovely for a little dip in a clear but peaty pool and lounge on the beach. This makes it perfect for a family kayak day on Skye, as there are so many different things to see, and so many places to visit on the way. There is no shortage of beautiful beaches and coves for snack stops and relaxing. The Clearance village lies a little further west above a rocky, pebbly landing spot. We take a walk up to the ruins and remind ourselves of times when 22 families used to live here, grow grain, keep cattle, collect seaweed for fertilising their land and grow vegetables. It was one of the most fertile parts of the island, but like many other highland villages, the people of Boreraig were evicted off the land by their landowner, here Lord MacDonald, in 1853 to make way for extensive sheep farming. Today you can still see the ruins of the original dwelling houses, the grain store and the later built sheep farm house. Every visitor to the Scottish Highlands should read about the history of Boreraig and the Highland Clearances.

We continue our journey along the southern coast of the Strath peninsula to Suishnish, which was cleared at the same time as Boreraig. For walkers this makes a beautiful day walk along the coast with beautiful views into the Cuillin on the final part of the walk, and is also part of the Skye Trail, a long distance trail across the whole island.

Crossing Loch Eshort by Kayak
Crossing Loch Eishort with a view to Rhum

We now cross back over to Sleat, enjoying the views to the Isle of Rum and Canna to hit the coast in Tokavaig, where the famous Dunscaith, or Dùn Sgàthaich Castle lies. The warrior goddess Sgathach is said to have fought here with her own son Cù Chullain to measure their strengths of warfare. Another fortress can be found on the island just before the castle, Eilean Ruairidh. Tokavaig is great for rough water paddling and surf practice when the wind blows strongly off the West, but it in a southerly also offers shelter for a lunch spot and even a great camping spot. We head back east towards Ord, enjoy the view of the majestic mountains while we head into our golden sandy bay to finish our day.

On a full day trip, we take 2-3 breaks, take our time to spot wildlife and enjoy the scenery, which Skye is so famous for. It is a perfect way to spend an active day on your holiday and get away from the busier sights of the island. The water conditions can change in an instant year round so as a beginner, it’s always best to go out as part of a guided group. Watch this space for a post about essential kayaking skills you need to go out by yourself. Come and join us!

Landing at the Beach in Ord after a Kayak Adventure

Sea Kayak Taster on the Sound of Sleat

If you have never tried out sea kayaking, there’s no better place than the Isle of Skye on the West Coast of Scotland. The south of the island is gentle and so close to the mainland that you get calm conditions, ideal for trying something new. No need to be a good swimmer or Ironman, we do our best to stay in the boat and out of the water.

Once you’re equipped with a wetsuit (just in case), nice cosy neoprene boots, a waterproof jacket and a buoyancy aid (similar to a life jacket), your guide will choose the right boat with you so that you have the best possible experience. Every kayak is different and there are lots of shapes and sizes to fit different people. All our kayaks are closed cockpit, so you wear a spray deck to keep the water out. Of course we will show you how you take it off should you have a mishap.

Ready to go, we launch from the beach in Armadale, practise a few strokes to get you going: forwards, backwards, turning and breaking, and off we go around the ferry terminal to head around Rubha Phoil. Here you get a glimpse of the local harbour seals basking on the skerries. We give them plenty of space as to not disturb them. the view unfolds and the magnificent mountain of Knoydart, Morar and Moidart lie before you. Splendid wilderness, beckoning for another adventure. By now you have mastered the control of your kayak and you’re learning how to use your feet to make your paddling more efficient and less tiring, you whizz past Ardvasar in no time and make for the coast again to look for otters, sea urchins and starfish. We hug the coast tightly to see as much as possible: little coves, bays, rocky gaps and the sandy sea bed. Around the next headland lies a tiny beach that lends itself to a perfect little break. You can find seaglass here and have a little rest in the hamock, while the kids, big and small, look for anemones in the rockpools. We then head on towards Camard and around to Tormore. New views unfold to the Isle of Rum and Ardnamurchan Point. We pass a beautiful rock arch and if we didn’t have a break at the hammock, we’ll have one at Tormore.

On the way back, the gentle southwesterly breeze supports us, and we learn how to steer the boat when the wind is coming from behind. If we’re lucky, we might even get to surf. Whizzing past Ardvasar again, we soon reach the calm around the skerries, enjoy the turquoise waters once more and then head into the bay, a little tired, but inspired to go kayaking again very soon.