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St Kilda, Mingulay & Barra Basking Sharks
Tour At A Glance
- Low impact small group guided by marine biologists
- Seven Activity Days (Sat-Fri)
- Available Late May
- £1150 per person
- Snorkelling/swimming or boat based passengers
- Based from Castlebay Marina, Isle of Barra
Following out postponed 2020 tour, 2021 was a amazing trip which we are keen to repeat in 2022.
Fri 20th - Sat 28th May 2022
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 time of basking sharks arrivel 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!
Did you hear our postcast talking with the St Kilda rangers about life out on the edge of the Atlantic and those baby basking sharks!? If not look up shark-cast or listen online here.Book Now
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. It's a notoriously difficult place to reach so we can only hope for a decent weather window!
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.
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 grey seal, eagle, 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 via dingy or 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! One we didn't get in 2021 with the swell but fingers crossed for 2022.
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 (even 4-5 hours seems short) seeing the puffins and remains of the village. However everything remains at the mercy of the weather and we'll use each day to the best of what conditions will allow. We pass Mingulay on the way to Berneray, there is deep water not far offshore for large marine species, then both the time exploring the islands ashore, playing with the seas and then hopefully around the rugged west coast cliffs! A truly amazing location. Check out some of the drone footage from our visit here!
Situated just to the south of Mingulay this island doesn't receive as much attention but it's just as impressive. The 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 we're super excited about the opportunity to visit here again. Just looking out from this place over the open Atlantic is an experience you will not likely forget! There are a huge population of seabirds here and the surrounding waters hold a variety of large and small wildlife. Landing will be via dingy and a clamber onto rocks. Then it's around 1.5mile walk up to the lighthouse.
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. Circumnavigating the island surrounded by thousands of seabirds was a real highlight for us! The abundant birds, towering cliffs, restless seas and pounding swell made it feel an energising and powerful place! Check out some footage our visit here.
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. We put a few clips together of our visit here - it'll give you a bit of idea what's left of the ship!
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.
Our trip is very much exploration based and we'll be landing onto variety of islands via dingy. This can range from scrabbling up slippy seaweed rocks to motoring through waves onto the beach. This forms an adventurous part of the day and no guarantees to stay dry (waterproofs, shoes off and dry bag essential).
Usually we will land on a different island each day (last year Berneray, Mingulay, Pabbay & Sandray - Eriskay we had the luxury of a pier drop off!). However before booking - make sure you are aware of your personal fitness to undertake such a landing. You don't need to be an olympic athlete but fit enough to land safely in sometimes challenging conditions!
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.
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. Just need to have some luck the conditions come together for them turning up at this time as it's the start of their migration back to the Hebrides.
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 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!
Another of the Bishop's isles, nestled inbetween Mingulay & Sandray. The bay is another exposed location but has good pockets for landing ashore. The ruined village is tucked away in the middle of the dunes with important historical features nearly - such as the revered Pabbay stone, a 6th centry pictish ensribed stone. There are many walks surrounding the bay, up the hill towards the cliffs and seabirds of the west or even over towards Roisinish peninsula.
During this time there are many wildflowers blooming in the machair and a truly wonderful time to visit these isolated islands. The bay has lovely clear water, kelp forests and playful seals so a mixture of activities may be possible depending on sea conditions!
Sandray is probably our closest island landing to Barra- although it's still very exposed! We found just enough shelter to get ashore through some challenging swells here in 2021 but once ashore a whole lot of exploring opened up. Many climbed the hills behind the bay for amazing vistas of the surrounding islands, along with lots of inlets, cliffs and lagoons which held lots of different wildlife. Some elected for skinny dipping where as others relaxed and ate lunch along with searching for cowries on the beach! We had a further landing in the north during some windy weather, given the large land mass provided us shelter. Some more examples of what the options can be as we work with the conditions!
- 7 day tour itinerary (boat days weather depending)
- Island Landing Fees on St Kilda
- Guided shore and snorkelling excusrions
- Amazing adventure wildlife, scenery and culture
- Knowledgeable and experienced guides
- Hot drinks
- Onboard binoculars, books and information guides
What's Not Included
- Accomodation (upon booking we can give you some suggestions, there is ample camping, hostel, B&B,hotel and Self catering around the island)
- Equipment Hire - please see here for snorkelling gear hire.
- Additional entry fees e.g castles/ ranger walks
- Weather or wildlife guarantees!
- Travel to the Castlebay on the Isle of Barra (ferry information here or fly and land on the beach!!!)