On my recent tour around the west coast, I had kept a day aside for a trip to the Isle of Handa, the Summer Isles and Isle Martin. After spending some time in the lovely village of Broadford on the Isle of Skye, I first headed north to Ullapool. I went on a 20 mile detour to get there (still not sure how I got lost), but eventually I reached Ullapool. I was there to hopefully book a trip to Isle Martin and the Summer Isles and then carry on north to visit the Isle of Handa.
I arrived in Ullapool at around 1.00pm and booked into my B & B in the heart of town. I then walked down to the Harbour to work out which boat trips were running and what would be the best time to travel. To my dismay, the Isle Martin trips had not been running for a week and would not be running again, as it was close to the end of the season. Not to worry I thought, it gives me an excuse to come back again next year. I walked over to the Summer Isles booth and booked to go on a landing tour, that was taking place the following day. The nice lady in the booth said that so far, I was the only customer and if this was still the case tomorrow, the trip would unfortunately have to be cancelled.
Slightly worried, I set off for some lunch at the local Fish and Chip shop. I then headed off to the Ullapool Museum, which is set inside a beautifully refurbished Thomas Telford designed Church. I highly recommend a visit if you are staying for any length of time in Ullapool. I did spot another Thomas Telford designed Church at Stoer, on the way to my next accommodation. This was just a shell, but was still a warming sight. For more information on Thomas Telford Designed churches, please see the article – Thomas Telford Churches on Scottish Islands. Once I had completed the delights of the Museum, I headed back to my B & B and hoped that my luck would be in tomorrow.
Alas, it was not to be! I headed down to the Harbour at the alloted time to be met by the lady from the previous day. She said that there would be no cruises running as no other passengers had booked. I explained that unfortunately, I would be leaving later in the day, so would not be able to book any subsequent tours. Feeling a little deflated, I headed north towards my accommodation at Drumbeg. As I had more time to spare, I decided to do a loop and headed for Lochinver, where I had a lovely lunch at a local cafe. I then continued north to Drumbeg and stayed in a quiet B & B overlooking The Minch.
ISLE OF HANDA
The following day, I carried on to the tiny hamlet of Tarbert, where the Ferry (a small R.I.B) to the Isle of Handa is located. Tarbet is signposted from the A894 about 3 miles north of Scourie and 3 miles south of Laxford Bridge. I arrived at around 9.00am, but the ferry did not run until 10.00am, so I had an hour walking around the shore and taking in the atmosphere. At 10 o’clock, I boarded the R.I.B and made the short crossing to Handa. The island is managed by Scottish Wildlife and is free to visit. However, there is a small charge for the Ferry from Tarbert. As the boat approached the island, I could see a couple of people getting a wooden ramp ready to help me alight from the boat. Once this was completed, the two people introduced themselves as volunteers and took me up to the Information centre to give me a short talk about the island. Handa is one of the largest seabird colonies in North West Europe and comes alive each summer when nearly 200,000 seabirds gather here to breed.
After the interesting talk, I set off towards the cliffs. My first stop was at the remains of a tiny village last inhabited in 1847. Following the potato famine all 64 residents were re-located to Nova Scotia. There is an excellent interprative display in the Information centre that explains about the re-location in more detail. the village is a haunting place and is now very overgrown. From here I continued walking on the wooden path up the cliffs. The path cuts through breeding grounds for Great Skuas (or Bonxies) who occasionally circled overhead, but luckily they did not dive bomb me as I was half expecting.
I followed the trail up to the cliffs and Puffin Bay. Unfortunately, Puffins are usually seen between May and July, so when I arrived, there were none there! Opposite Puffin Bay is the Great Stack. This is a huge tower of Torridonian sandstone set apart from Handa. It is said that more people have walked on the moon than have reached the summit of the Great Stack. Time was getting on, as I had to catch the last ferry back, due the reduced sailing times towards the end of the season. I made my way back to the Information centre and walked down to the beautiful bay at Port an Eilein. The wind had dropped and I sat calmy on the beach idling the time away waiting for the boat to arrive.
The Isle of Handa is a very picturesque island and is ideal for a day trip. The volunteers had a wealth of information and actually live on the island during the tourist season. On my next visit, I hope to return for longer and walk around the east coast to see a collapsed sea cave called Poll Ghlup and also Boulder Bay where there are occasional sightings of the elusive otter and other wildlife such as seals, whales and dolphins.