This article has been written with the support of CalMac.

Kayaking and kit-surfing your way around Scotland's west coast islands

Speed Bonnie Boat

credit: Rachel Keenan

Exploring one of Europe's richest seascapes, Donald Reid suggests all sorts of ways you can get on the water to appreciate its beauty and challenges

In previous centuries, diverse maritime traffic picked their way through the Scotlands west coast islands. Everything from leather-hulled Celtic coracles and Viking longships to galleons of the Spanish Armada and grey-hulled warships have traversed the west coast's lochs, sounds, firths and Minches.

It's easy to forget that in the days before the mainland was accessed by roads, seaborne transport dominated along this coast which was part of a significant trading arc connecting places like the Basque region and Brittany with Ireland, the Orkney and Shetland islands, and Scandinavia.

Today, the fishing boats, ferries and cargo boats share the seaways with those using them for leisure and exploration. While these waters are widely known among committed sailors as fantastic waters for cruising, you don't need to own a yacht or have the skills to charter one to experience them.

Join island-hopping cruises in small, elegant converted wooden steam trawlers, or learn the ropes at a sailing school or one of the live-aboard yachts that set out on cruises around the islands; these experiences can last from a few hours to a few weeks. Smaller craft, particularly sea kayaks, have become a popular way to explore coastlines, and various operations based on and around the islands offer the chance to take classes, guided expeditions or day adventures.

Taking you even closer to the water, and occasionally into it, there are now surf schools based on the Atlantic coast of Lewis as well as on Tiree, which has an international reputation as a venue for surfing, windsurfing, kite-surfing, and the recent trend of stand-up paddling (or SUP).

If you fancy something with a bit more speed, then wild, wet and often bumpy rides on RIBs (rigid inflatable boats) and other nifty craft can fly you across the waves to spot wildlife (including whales, porpoises and other sealife), scenery or, in the case of the Corryvreckan whirlpool, the mysterious movements of the sea itself.

Operators to help you get on the water

Speed Bonnie Boat

• Alternative Boat Hire, Iona
• National Watersports Training Centre, Cumbrae
• Oban Sea School
• New Horizon Sailing School, Mull
• St Hilda Sea Adventures, Oban
• Selkie Explorers, Eigg
• Yacht Corryvreckan, Oban

• Argyll Cruising, Dunoon
• The Majestic Line, Dunoon
• Puffer Steamboat Holidays, Crinan
• Waverley Excursions, Oban (plus elsewhere)

• Arisaig Sea Kayak Centre, near Mallaig
• Eigg Adventures
• Kayak Wild Islay
• Kayak Scotland, Oban
• Raasay House, Raasay

• Blackhouse Watersports, Tiree
• Pete's Surf School, Kintyre
• Isle of Barra Surf and Coastal Adventures
• Surf Lewis

• Hebridean Whale Cruises, Stornoway
• Islay Sea Adventures
• Jura Boat Tours
• Seafari Adventures, Oban
• Sealife Adventures, Seil Island
• Sea Life Surveys, Mull
• Seatrek, Lewis

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