When you arrive at Tarbet on the coast of Sutherland you already feel like you are as far away from it all as is possible in Scotland. Then, catching a tiny boat across turquoise waters to the island of Handa seems like nearing the edge of the world.
It gives a feeling of immense privilege to be somewhere so idyllic.
As well as the beauty of the place, Handa is special as it is home to 200,000 seabirds and is looked after by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. These birds include puffins nesting on clifftops as well as kittiwakes, razorbills and guillemots on precipitous rock ledges, and the most feared bird of all – the great skua, known as the bonxie.
As the boat drew up on a pristine, white sandy beach a ranger warned the skuas will dive-bomb anyone who goes near their nests. But it was hard to concentrate – such was the feeling that there was so much to explore.
Off I went, past an old, abandoned village. The last inhabitants of this island – except the current Scottish Wildlife Trust volunteers – emigrated to Nova Scotia following the 1847 potato famine.
Despite the harshness of winter here, I could only wish to live in such a remote spot, gazing out to the distant mountain peaks of Assynt.
With thoughts of escapism in mind, I had forgotten about the bonxies until I spotted one above, watching me. These aggressive birds have little fear of humans and won’t hesitate to attack if their nest is threatened.
My thoughts were now tinged with a nagging worry but because I was staying on the path, away from nesting grounds I remained safe.
I have experienced them previously on Unst, at the top of Shetland and there I needed to furiously wave my walking stick at them.
Soon enough, the cliff tops of Handa were reached and a huge sea stack – aptly named Great Stack – teeming with birds. A place to sit on warm turf and soak in the view up the rugged coast of the mainland and out to the Western Isles.
The return took me past a huge wall of cliff before a string of bays, until the final beach where the boat would take me back to the mainland. But would it come?
As I dipped my toes in the clear waters, watched a small crab on the tideline and drank in the landscape, dominated by the Lewisian gneiss found across the far north west, I rather hoped it had broken down and I would have to stay the night.
Location: Isle of Handa
Setting Sail: The Handa ferry operates from Tarbet every day except Sunday. Outward sailings are from 9am until 2pm, and the final return is 5pm. No pre-booking required.
Prices: Adult £15, child £5, under-5s free. Visit handa-ferry.com
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