Isle of Ristol

Day 11 of our virtual island bagging journey

Today’s journey: north coast of Scotland, west coast to Ullapool

Last 3 days step-up height achieved: 3797 metres

After a rest day at John O’ Groats we battled our way through the cyclists completing their virtual LEJOG challenge on Zwift and surfed across the Pentland Firth to Stroma (53m). On our way we rode the turbulent waters of the tidal race known as the Merry Men of Mey (nothing merry about Derek at this point though as he’d turned a bit green with the swell).

Then all of the islands between Duncansby Head and Cape Wrath (648 m), of which there were actually a surprisingly few. We ticked off Eilean Nan Ron (76m), known as the island of the seals, and Rabbit Island (45m) which was stacked to its ears with Thumper and his mates. Goose, the working-cocker, had a field day.

Then down the west coast of Scotland and the islands of its mighty inlets. First up Handa (123 m) with its spectacular north coast and Great Stack topped by a colony of puffins, once the location for one of the first records of climbing for sport. I wouldn’t want to try it with the wardens keeping watch today though! We then bagged Handa’s satellite islands and those of Laxford and Loch Inchard (693 m) followed by a short rest in Scourie.

We continued south to bag the islands of Badcall Bay (380m) and then on to those of Eddrachillis Bay (363m), the most significant of which was Oldany (104m). This was supposed to be tidal but we ended up having to swim. The shopkeeper in Drumbeg told us we weren’t welcome on this privately owned island as too many kayakers had gone out there and ‘wrecked’ it. She told me off for writing my book too, as she said ‘it was spoiling the place for locals’. Thinking Drumbeg was an unfriendly place we risked going to the Drumbeg Hotel later on and had a lovely warm welcome and met the new owners of Clachtoll Campsite there – definitely a place to go and stay one day.

We reached the beautiful archipelago of the Summer Isles after bagging the islands of Ennard Bay (216m). The drive in from Drumrunie was one of the most spectacular we have seen, surrounded by the surreal shapes of the legendary Stac Pollaidh, Suilven and Ben Mor. We stopped at our favourite place, Atlandhu, to head out to the tidal island of Ristol (72m), the still-being-renovated-and-soon-to-be-inhabited Tanera Mor (124m) and Priest (78m), Horse (60m) and Bottle (36m). We spent a bit more time in Cathedral Cave on Tannera Beag (83m) than originally anticipated as Derek wanted to do his police car siren impression and see how many times he could get it to echoe. Charlie then insisted we stop for a quick pint at the bar of the Summer Isles Hotel, so we did lose a bit of virtual time in this area.

Further south we headed Gruinard Bay, notorious for being the location of anthrax experiments during the war and now thankfully safe to visit after an extensive MoD clean-up operation. The rabbits here have two eyes and three ears, so honestly all is well. Since it was such a lovely virtually sunshine-filled day we bagged the other islands in the Bay (324m) whilst we were at it.

Our last island bagging adventure of the day was on the Isle of Martin (123m), just a stone’s throw away from Ullapool. A great little island for a quick spot of conservation volunteering before we headed to the Seafood Shack in Ullapool for a supper of hand-dived scallops, calamari, mussels, crab, oysters and fish. Derek wanted chips with his. The rest of us were being careful as we knew we had a long CalMac journey tomorrow across to the Outer Hebrides. Will report again in a couple of days.

Cumulative total of island bagging height – Cumulative total of 12,968 m (target total = 47,838 metres)

Method of travel – climbing a ladder up the apple tree in the garden; step ups on a Belfast sink; indoor staircase