I had led sea kayaking courses at Bennebacula, and since that time I’d always had a hankering to return one day to the Outer Hebrides...

Having heard Big G’s surf forecast describing the surf “coming in like sets of Corduroy” this is what I hoped to find on Lewis.

I had led sea kayaking courses at Bennebacula, and since that time I’d always had a hankering to return one day to the Outer Hebrides. A ferry journey always gives that special feeling of going somewhere remote and a few of my kayaking friends (who had surfed there) told me that it was “fantastic” and more importantly quiet.

The Storm rider guide gives fairly sparse information and names only a few beaches on the west coast of Lewis. So with borrowed Gigolo surf kayak and a Plastic Dagger GTX for Lizzie (my partner), we left Ullapool on a misty day and three hours later arrived in Stornoway. The forecast was not good, whilst the rest of the country was in a heat wave the Outer Hebrides had low cloud and drizzle. Misleadingly the distances don’t appear far on the map of Lewis but with the many single track roads it takes a good deal longer to get anywhere and as we drove from Stornoway the landscape was barren, bog-land with a low covering blanket of heavy mist.  Had we made a mistake in coming here?

The first two nights we camped at a site at Siabost and having set up our site we cycled to check out Dahl Mor’ and Dahl Beag. Dahl Beag is said to be a popular beach with surfers and as you drive down, you find a stunning cove, white sandy beach and toilet facilities. When we arrived we found one lone surfer and a few walkers and sets of corduroy. The next morning I was back and I had the place all to myself.   As I hadn’t surfed for a while I took the plastic boat out and paddled in a full steamer (thinking the water would be cold).  Dahl Beag is a beach break with a fair size rip. The water was great and I soon swapped boats.  As usual the size of the sea was deceptive from the beach and once I was lower down in the kayak, it felt pretty big.  The surf kayak was fantastic, fast and easy to manoeuvre an hour flew by. It was no problem to camp here and there were benches with a barbeque.  Also if you are in the area you have to check out the Calanish Stones a Neolithic site of standing stones. It sits on a slight hill and has incredible views across to Harris.

We moved on to Uig, shops and hotels were few and far between, the traffic scarce and driving a joy. It has fascinating small coves and bays with great beaches. This is where the famous Uig chess pieces were found in the sand dunes. Nordic pieces each with their individual characters were carved from seal bone. Now housed in London, they are occasionally lent to the local museum. On one of the beaches you will find a large wooden replica of a piece. 

We headed to a surf beach called Cliff and as we rounded a bend this awesome beach came into sight. They say “If it looks small from the road suit up, as it will be overhead“. You can’t camp here but follow the road round and you come to an unmarked campsite with caravans. This site has an excellent beach with good showers. It is rented out to the Stornoway caravan club, who mainly use it in the summer. Pitch up it’s very cheap (£4.00 per night), the owners come around in the evening. Cliff was my favourite beach a wild bay with steep cliffs; you can imagine the big Atlantic rollers coming through in the winter. Today it was sunny, small and clear, with a slight offshore breeze. Great for getting to grips with the surf kayak and once again; I was the only one on the beach surfing. We had an excellent evening on the beach and met 2 sea kayakers who had come from Sound of Harris.

The weather took a turn for the worse and we used this time to drive around Harris, lots of fantastic sandy beaches and spectacular mountain scenery. Huinish is worth a visit (14K down a single track).  You can camp down here and there is a toilet and fresh water but no showers. The other great place to camp is at Garnesh. But for some reason the toilets have been removed, still it’s free and you have great views across the Taransig. We headed up to the N.W coast and visited Butt of Lewis, a lonely spot, with high cliffs and rolling swell, you can imagine the winter storms pummelling these cliffs, sensibly the lighthouse is situated back from the cliff but the air around seems alive with spray and froth “Europia” referred to by the locals in hushed tones with a degree of awe. It was a wonderful spot but with an onshore breeze pretty broken. That evening it cleared and the next morning with a light offshore wind we were back.  Time was limited as we had to catch the ferry at mid-day. The beach dumped but out past this was some fairly good swell breaking on a sand bar. I had an hour trying to catch some of these. A few good rides but not really steep, however, the potential of the place was obvious and once again I was alone, the sun beating down on this amazing place.

The Outer Hebrides is a world-class destination. In the winter months the surf is huge and if you want isolation then the spring seems a good time to visit. The waves are not as big but still more than enough to suit all levels. 
The campsites are quiet and so are the beaches. It’s a long way to come and you always take a gamble on the weather. But take that gamble, you wont be disappointed!

Getting there:
Calmac Ferries from Ullapool or Oban to Stornoway takes 3 hours and passes the magical summer isles with views across the Stac Polaidh: www.calmac.com.

There are only a few recognised campsites around but it seems ok to use most beaches. Cliff is the only beach you can not use, however there is a great site around the next corner. Most of the basic sites have Toilets and water. There is a tourist information centre in Stornaway to get a weather forecast and B&B information.

There is a Coastguard station in Stornaway, some of the Coastguards are keen surfers and you can get helpful advice and let them now what your up to.