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St Kilda, Mingulay & Barra Basking Sharks
Tour At A Glance
- Low impact small group guided by marine biologist
- Seven Activity Days
- Available May
- £1075 per person + Self Catering Cottage Accommodation (£100-£270 per person / 7 nights - depending on house)
- Snorkelling or boat based passengers
- Based from Castlebay Marina, Isle of Barra
We're super excited to offer this itinerary around the Outer Hebrides for 2020!
We're picking a time that usually has reasonably settled weather which is main thing required to make the crossing to St Kilda and the surrounding islands. This location is a lot more exposed than the inner isles so we're planning a longer tour to make sure we have enough time for a reasonable weather window.
This is around the main time of basking sharks arrival to the outer islands, so we also have great chances of encounters with basking sharks! There are also large seal colonies, resident bottlenose dolphins, deep water close to shore for larger whales and many islands of seabirds!
Fri 22nd May- Travel to Barra (own accommodation this night)
Sat - Fri - 7 activity days & 7 night self catering accommodation
Sat 30th May- depart.
This time of year is when we start to have the main arrival of basking sharks to the Hebrides, especially the outer isles prior to them coming inshore. For those that want to swim/snorkel, we'll be setup as usual to be able to swim with the basking sharks. This will be as per our normal low impact protocols and we'll hopefully be able to capture some scientific information about the first arrivals too!
All the locations we plan to go on this trip have chances of basking sharks and we of course have a busy itinerary. We'll use the opportunities as we come across it in all our travels around the area. We'll get some local sightings and make a call based on the weather conditions and plan at the time.
We have seven days to hopefully have a weather window to allow us to head out to these incredible islands! It's a long way offshore and the journey will take between 2.5 - 3hours each way.
We'll plan to land in Village Bay to explore around the ruins of the deserted houses of the last remaining residents, visit the museum and walk up around the hills for some panoramic views of the bay. This UNESCO dual World Heritage site is such an iconic location with over a million seabirds living here.
After our time ashore we'll hope to take a trip round the stacks of Stac Lee, Stac An Armin (which is the biggest sea stack in the British Isles) & Boreray. This is a really big day already and we'll have the same amount of time to head back to base in late evening. So this is likely to be a 12hr+ day.
We'll have our snorkelling gear and kayaks with us, incase there is a good opportunity to explore the islands by the water!
As exciting a prospect as St Kilda, sometimes known as the closer St Kilda! There is just as much history on this island, but it's like a wildlife and adventure paradise in one small island!
The east & west coast are very contrasting, with the east having a big sandy beach and turquoise waters, with the ruins of the village close to this landing point. Our landing here will allow exploring the island which also has a healthy puffin & seabird population.
The west coast is very rugged in comparison, with cliffs, stacks, arches, inlets and lots of exciting places to explore. There are some steep cliff lined passage ways, which could be possible to take the boat through, or perhaps by dingy, kayak, or if calm enough swimming. This location (in calm weather) has been on our bucket list for a long long time, so this is one of the most exciting parts for us!
We've allowed two days in the schedule for the Mingulay area, of course there is a lot of other wildlife here too- the deep water offshore is where we have the chance of some of the larger whale species. We'll be aiming for a good time ashore exploring the island, seeing the puffins and remains of the village. Again a lot of time for the west coast and then for the surrounding waters looking for wildlife.
Just south of Mingulay this island doesn't receive as much attention but it's just as impressive. There is a lighthouse at the western side of the island at the top of huge cliffs with the light sitting 693 feet above sea level! This lighthouse sits on the edge of the world and again we're super excited about the opportunity to visit here! Just looking out from this place over the open Atlantic is an experience you will not likely forget! Again there are a huge population of seabirds here and the surrounding waters hold a variety of large and small wildlife.
We'll hope to spend a couple of hours on the island along with taking the opportunity to explore the base of the cliffs if sea conditions allow.
If you have been with us to Coll would have seen the numerous Eriskay ponies that live there! Eriskay is famous for two major things, one of course the breed of ponies, but the other main one is the shipwreck of the S.S Politician. Better better known as 'Whisky Galore', the incident has been made into many books and films!
In 1941, the 8000t cargo vessel Politician went aground in a gale of wind with approx 260,000 bottles of whisky. She was bound for the US and as such none of the UK Duty had been paid on the whisky! As the wreck site was reasonably sheltered and close to land, a number of enterprising islanders procured some of said whisky. The consumption of this was purely for medicinal purposes of course, however the local customs man wasn't best pleased about this and kicked off a massive operation to try and recover it! The rest is history and we'd encourage you to have a read of the book before you come.
The shipwreck site, is fully submerged and lies underwater in a reasonably sheltered area north of Eriskay. Every now and then you still hear of a bottle of whisky being found! Although it is ideally a scuba dive, it does lie in shallow water and we'll snorkel around here on the chance we may come across an elusive bottle! Again another experience to tell the grandkids and to say you'd been there!
If we don't manage to find any intact bottles of whisky (maybe the chances aren't too high), then after a good explore around we'll land at Eriskay to visit the AM Politician pub for some food! Named after the famous wreck, there is a variety of artefacts, pictures and even some intact whisky bottles there too! Again this should be a really unique and memorable day.
Another great opportunity of these islands is the large grey seal population. Grey seals are much more interactive than our other species, the harbour (or common) seal. However we will have chances to see them too, they are just usually a little more cautious when they approach us.
With similar clear water & kelp forests as our summer tour locations then we'll have a chance to swim with the seals during our expedition.
For those that may join us to be boat based, then it's great to watch the seals in a sheltered lagoon and observe all their different behaviours.
As ever this we'll choose to undertake this activity at certain times. Initially after observations of the animals to ensure we're not disturbing them in their own environment.
As if there isn't enough packed into these islands, there is also a resident population of bottlenose dolphins! The Sound of Barra population are part of the same species we see around Oban, Coll, Mull area but there seems to be a pod who hang out around Barra and the surrounding islands.
Bottlenose dolphins do have a wide range worldwide, but our inhabitants are a regional variant of the species. This means that due to our temperate water temperature, these dolphins grow bigger than the same species in other locations. Think of them as the muscle bound rugby playing version of the species! This does mean that they grow very big with the largest individual recorded being over 4m and 500kg!
They are very acrobatic and we're sure to come across them a few times during our voyages around the islands.
Although we're using Barra as a base and most people travel there to visit the actual isle itself, most of our trips are heading off to all the surrounding islands.
It's likely we will encounter strong winds at some point so staying close to these islands is an option on these days. The waters here are surrounded by mainly rock & shell sand with little land run off. This means the Atlantic ocean is very clear in this location meaning good visibility for us exploring the area. There are many kelp forests, sea grass beds, rocky reefs, lagoons and miles of coastline!
In exploring these coastlines we can swim/snorkel for those who are keen, and if calm winds perhaps kayak/SUP, or land on various areas to explore ashore. There is a large archipelago of islands with a variety of sheltered areas which means we have a lot of options.
These islands are really on the edge of Atlantic and are very exposed. They are first in the firing line if there are any strong winds! Our plans are entirely weather dependent and we are fully expecting days where we can't go to sea due to high winds and heavy rain. We are planning this expedition at a time when we usually have settled weather but we should fully expect some bad weather during the trip (and hopefully be pleasantly surprised!).
We're planning to bring our van over to the islands and that will allow us to do some exploring on land if sea conditions are too rough. Whether this be on one of the beautiful exposed beaches, or around the cliffs and hills of Barra. Or down over the Vatersay causeway for some wildlife spotting, walking and a coffee.
If it's windy but clear and people are feeling energetic then a walk to the summit of Heaval behind Castlebay gives a lovely view over the village, harbour and islands. Also a trip to Kisimul castle in the centre of the bay is a must do when based here!
- 7 day tour itinerary
- Island Landing Fees on St Kilda
- Seven nights self catering accommodation
- Amazing wildlife, scenery and culture
- Knowledgeable and experienced guides
- Hot drinks and home baking snacks
- Onboard binoculars, books and information guides
What's Not Included
- Accomodation for Friday evening
- Equipment Hire - please see here for snorkelling gear hire.
- Additional entry fees e.g castles/ ranger walks
- Weather or wildlife guarantees!
- Food - the tour is based on self catering accommodation.
- Travel to the Castlebay on the Isle of Barra (ferry information here or fly and land on the beach!!!)