West coast watersports
MAKING A BIG SPLASH - Watersports on the west coast
A long and stunning coastline, rocky headlands, sandy beaches, tranquil bays and wonderfully clear waters all offer an amazing playground for watersport fans.
Whether you're new to water-based activities, or already skilled, there is an almost limitless choice of places to go and things to do.
If you're worried about getting cold, it's worth noting that modern equipment, including good quality neoprene wetsuits, hoods and gloves, are all readily available for hire, making the waters of Scotland far more accessible and enjoyable.
A great place to start if you're new to water-based sport is an activity provider or guide. Scotland's national sportscotland watersports centre on Cumbrae offers short courses on dinghy sailing, kayaking, windsurfing and power boating for the whole family. (www.nationalcentrecumbrae.org.uk)
Raasay House on the island of Raasay, just off Skye, also provides watersports courses and holidays, including sea or loch kayaking and sailing while islands such as Tiree, Coll, Islay, Barra, Harris and Lewis, as well as the Kintyre peninsula, are popular destinations for surfers, kitesurfers and windsurfers. Surfing schools offer great instruction and know the best spots for surfers of different abilities.
Paddleboarding and bodyboarding
On Tiree you can watch the experts in action during the annual Tiree Wave Classic and the island is also a hotspot for trying the increasingly popular watersport of Stand Up Paddleboarding (SUPs). Other sheltered spots for SUPs are found on the western edges of Lewis. Bodyboarding is a great family activity too and for the perfect conditions in spring and summer head to the gentle waters of Kiloran Bay on Colonsay.
The tranquil pursuit of sea kayaking, in both single and double boats, is the perfect way to view the coastal landscape and spot wildlife. Although kayaking is relatively easy to learn, it's important to take guidance from instructors who know how to navigate in tidal waters. Kayak Wild Islay (www.kayakwildislay.co.uk) offer local island guided tours while Skyak Adventures are recommended for paddling adventures from one-day to multi-day trips off the coast of Skye.
Uist, in the Outer Hebrides, is home to the Uist Outdoors Centre (www.uistoutdoorcentre.co.uk) where guided kayak outings take in the vast range of breath-taking views of the Hebridean coast from sea cliffs to sea stacks, arches, caves and mountains. It's the only expedition centre in Scotland accredited by The Nordkapp Trust which recognises centres of excellence in unique sea kayaking areas worldwide.
For something very memorable, how about a round-island kayak trip? A one-day outing might include a circumnavigation of the islands of Cumbrae, Kerrera or Bute. However Arran is the place to go for a longer trip that circuits the island over several days and includes overnight wild camping on the shore.
Two new sea kayak trails have been created in Scotland, including the Scottish Sea Kayak Trail. The first of its kind in Europe, the route of 310 miles stretches from Gigha off the Kintyre peninsula, to the Summer Isles, near Ullapool. Wilderness Scotland run guided trail trips.
A 93-mile Argyll Sea Kayak Trail is another great outing and extends over eight sections from Ganavan Sands, near Oban, to Helensburgh on the mainland, taking in various island coasts.
Coasteering and wild swimming
For an altogether more unusual way to travel the shoreline, why not try coasteering? It's a thrilling activity that sees participants (wearing wetsuits, buoyancy aids and helmets) traverse rocky-edged islands by scrambling and climbing on land before jumping into the water to swim inlets and across coves. Hebridean Pursuits offers a number of coasteering trips on islands such as Skye, Mull, the Uists and Colonsay and you can also try coasteering on the shoreline close to Raasay House, or the wilder rocky side of Barra, with Clearwater Paddling.
If being in rather than on the water appeals to you, then wild swimming might be the watersport for you. Wild swimmers can enjoy many hotspots on the islands including the Fairy Pools near Glenbrittle on Skye, and Traigh Na Beirigh on the west coast of Lewis. Bute is also a great place for a range of wild swimming spots including the bays of St Ninian, Scalpsie and Ettrick. On Jura, Carsaig Bay is popular for swimming and also has fabulous views.
The hardest part about a watersport trip to the islands is deciding where to go and what to do first!