323. Handa Island

July 2018

I made a decision on reaching the North Coast of Scotland that to visit every island would take so much time I might never finish the mainland. Instead I decided to concentrate on the mainland, with the intention of coming back to walk around most or all of the Scottish Islands. However almost as soon as I had made an exception, I will walk round islands where I can walk around them in a day. The previous day I had passed the quay at Tarbet where you could take a boat over to Handa Island, which is a small island and hence meets my criteria of being walk-able in a day. . Yesterday I had just missed the last ferry, which was disappointing.

When I arrived back at Durness yesterday there was an unusual cloud formation and I suspected that meant the weather was breaking. Sure enough, this morning it was wet. I set off for Scourie first, stopping at the shop there (and rather regretting that I hadn’t stayed in the campsite at Scourie, which was much nicer than the one at Durness and, importantly, quieter). Having hung around Scourie for a while, I headed on to the minor road leading out to Tarbet. I parked at the car park just a bit above the ferry departure point. It was raining and there was no one about and I wasn’t sure the ferry would run for one person.

Whilst sitting in the car contemplating what to do I was surprised to see the Durness Bus vehicle come down the road and stop. Passengers got out and headed to the ferry hut. I decided to head down to see if this meant I could get over to the island. I was in luck. It turns out this bus was being used by the same walking group I had met previously who managed to get ahead of me going over to Cape Wrath and were also going over to Handa Island today.

I joined them and we were soon donned up with lifejackets. I was the only person not a member of the HF Holidays walking group, which was slightly awkward, as everyone else knew each other, though several of them also remembered me from Cape Wrath and were interested to hear how I got on, given I was doing double the distance they were covering that day.

We had to wear life jackets for the boat trip over to the island, which as usual I made a mess of strapping up! Once done we set off for the short ferry crossing over the Sound oi Handa to the island. The boat used was a small Rib boat. Arrival was onto a beach where we disembarked via a metal “slipway” that was put onto the front of the boat and onto the beach were then met by one of the guides who lives on the island.

She walked us up over the beach to the little visitor centre hut.

Handa Island visitor centre

Here we paid our admission fees and got a map of the island. We had to stop for a talk giving the usual stuff about not diverting off the path and where the toilets were, what to see, where to go and also her mobile number in case of difficulties (not that most phones worked here).

Much of the path was on board-walk. Now we were then left to our own devices. The ferries returned subject to demand, there was no fixed schedule. So the advice was to head back to the hut when you were ready to leave and the ferry would be called once there were enough people. The walking group had a slightly awkward conversation over who would like to leave when and having to with the majority. I left them to it, since I was free to come back when I wanted and planned my route around the island. From the map I could see it was not possible to walk all of the coast, but it was possible to walk around 2/3 of it.

Handa Sound from Handa Island

Handa Sound

Heading away from the ferry and the hut the path climbed away from the shore briefly, soon reaching the remains of the old village. This was last inhabited in 1847 so there is little left, as it was uninhabited after the potato famine. Only the base of the walls can be seen now.

Handa Island former village

Handa Island former village

I continued ahead following the suggested anti-clockwise way around the island heading for the Great Stack. The path soon became board walked (there is a lot of board walk on the island!).

Handa Island

It headed past scrubby grass and heather. Now I had gained height I was back in the mist so visibility was limited. The next point on the coast is the Great Stack on the north coast, which was around 2km away.

Handa Island

Nearing the coast I found myself being dived on by the Great Skuas, as we had been warned might happen. They never actually touched my head, but came close and I was glad when I was past the area they were defending. Here is one of the angry birds!

Handa Island

Soon I reached the coast and was impressed. I hadn’t expected to find such high cliffs on this island. They are around 100 metres above sea level and vertical. On the cliffs themselves are numerous ledges packed with nesting birds.

Handa Island

One of the birds that can be seen on the island is puffins, and I was hoping to see some. Sadly none were about on the cliff tops that I could see and visibility of the ledges below was too poor to make them out.

Handa Island

Still there were hundreds of other birds to be seen, and it was a rather beautiful and impressive site. I continued west to soon reach the top of a deep rocky inlet. The cliffs here were out of bounds due to puffin nesting. However I could appreciate the stunning scenery, even if most of it was hidden in the mist.

I sat on a rock by the cliffs for a while in the hope the mist would clear. I did, briefly, spot a puffin, but not enough to get a photograph on. I turned left and continue around the coast on the good path. Mostly board walk and short grass. Further around the mist began to lift and I got a much better view of all the birds nesting. Guillemots were the most common that I saw. There must have been thousands.

Guillemots on Handa Island

Handa Island

As I headed west, the mist began to clear to reveal the ledges and stunning cliffs and caves of the north west coast of the island. It was much more impressive than I had imagined. I sat and watched them for a while.

Handa Island

As the walking group began to catch me up, I continued on. The cliffs now dropped in height and I was out of the mist. This meant I had a good view of the west coast of the island and it’s beautiful cliffs, now getting lower.

Handa Sound from Handa Island

The path now was mostly stone rather than board walk and a little harder going, but still easier than what passes for a footpath in this part of Scotland!

Boulder Beach, Handa Island

Handa Island

I soon reached the north west point of the island, Poll Ghlup. The path continues on the cliff tops here along this spectacular coast.

Handa Island

The coast of Handa Island

The coast of Handa Island

I soon reached what is almost another island, Meall a’Bhodha. Here the headland was low and narrow with just a thin strip of land keeping it connected to the rest of the island. Sadly access is not permitted to the end.

The coast of Handa Island

Beyond this I came to a few rocky inlets, which looked like they might once have been a small harbour, the cliffs seemed very straight, but I think it is natural. Out to sea, I was lucky to spot a seal.

The north coast of Handa Island

The north coast of Handa Island

Seal at Handa Island

I was really enjoying myself now, with the abundance of wildlife to be found on and around this beautiful island the real highlight. I soon came across a sheltered little bay. Here there were rocks that were dry and I was out the wind, making it warmer. I sat down and began my lunch, but typically soon found myself surrounded by the walking group who wanted to chat. When I had finished my lunch, I made my excuses and continued on.

I continued to spot a seal or two just off the coast of the island. Soon I reached Boulder Bay. From here the walk continued a little back from the sea edge and no almost at sea level, as I had descended from the high cliffs and the south and west of the island is much lower. Whilst not right on the coast the views were spectacular, with a couple of beautiful sandy beaches visible and the thin sound that separates the island from the mainland soon coming into view. The mainland too still had mist on the top of the cliffs.

Handa Island

Handa Island

Heading back to the hut I was re-assured to see other people here now that were neither the wardens nor the walking group. I had become a bit worried no one else had come over to the island apart from me and the walking group, so I’d have to leave with them and they might all be waiting. The presence of other people was good because it meant I could now be more flexible with timings. I decided to walk around the island a second time, now that the weather had improved!

Heading back on the path to the Great Stack.

Handa Island

This was now far busier, so I had to pass several people on the way and once again upset the Great Skuas.

This time the mist had gone, and I was so glad. I could now really appreciate the stunning scenery of this island, it was far far better than I had expected.

Handa Island

Handa Island

Handa Island

Great Stack, Handa Island

It was really stunning, and I took plenty of photographs.

Handa Island

The cliffs were some of the most impressive I had seen. Now I could also appreciate the wildlife, now I could see it and this time managed to get a brief photo of a puffin.

Puffin on Handa Island

There weren’t many, but there were some at least. This time I took things more slowly now I could see the amazing wildlife. There were so many birds, I hadn’t seen so many in one place since Flamborough Head on the Yorkshire coast.

Guillemots on Handa Island

Guillemots on Handa Island

Great Stack, Handa Island

Not only was the site of all these birds so impressive, but so was the noise!

Handa Island

After taking in the views I had missed earlier, I continued on the path back around the west coast.

The coast of Handa Island

The mist was beginning to clear on the mainland now, too. In fact I could soon see impressively tall rock stack at the Point of Stoer, which I’d see on a future walk (but not on this trip). I was looking forward to it already.

Boulder Beach, Handa Island

View from Handa Island

This time when I reached the wooden hut I stopped and chatted with other visitors and the warden. We had enjoyed ourselves and most people had spotted the puffins. It was a nice relaxing sit and when the warden deemed there were enough people for the ferry to run (half a dozen or so), she radioed for the ferrymen to come, whilst we were taken back to the beach.

Soon the ferry arrived and took me back to the island. After a quick visit to the toilets I headed up the small hill back to my car.

Hand Island is a lovely island to visit. The scenery is extremely varied but really the stars of the show are the wildlife and especially the birds around the stack. It is a very impressive sight and sound and I had a wonderful time visiting the island. I was certainly very glad that I hadn’t missed it out.

Here are details of the public transport needed for this walk:-

The Handa Island ferry runs during the summer months generally from early April to late September or early October, subject to the weather, Monday – Saturday. Boats typically run on demand (subject to sufficient passengers) between 9am and 2pm on the days of operation.

Here are the complete set of photos for this walk : Main Link.

This entry was posted in Sutherland and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to 323. Handa Island

  1. Wow! What a wonderful place. Good idea to go round again, as the second set of photos are stunning, and you got to see some puffins 😄

    • jcombe says:

      Exactly! It wasn’t an especially long walk to go around again and well worth it considering I couldn’t see that much of the birds the first time around. Glad you liked the photos!

  2. owdjockey says:

    Hi Jon, a really nice place to visit. When I passed by I just arrived at the quay and headed off towards Kinlochbervie. When I was walking on Fair Isle back in 2013 I was attacked from above by a Great Skua, the closer they get the bigger they are! It was like being attacked by your Christmas dinner!
    Not long now re: our advancement. Cheers Alan

    • jcombe says:

      Ah yes Fair Isle, another place I hope to go to soon. Sorry to hear you were attacked. They were quite intimidating on Handa but at least I didn’t suffer any injury. Yes hoping to be back on the coast next month.

  3. It looks wonderful. I don’t know if you carry walking poles but they are a good defence against skuas. I don’t, of course, mean beat them up! Hold one above your head and they see the top as the threat, not your head. A map, guidebook, or anything else you happen to have on you works just as well.

  4. Pingback: 325. Kylesku to view point south of Unapool | Round the Island

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s