Hills: Sithean Mor (Handa Island)
Date: Saturday 6th July 2019
Company: Myself and Becky
Distance: 6km Time: 3Hrs
On Friday evening, we arrived at Tarbet to
check out logistics for a Saturday morning boat trip across to Handa Island.
A sign at the boat hut advised that due to inclement weather the boat had
not run that day or on the day previous. Fingers were therefore crossed that
the boat would be running the following morning. Given this was to be a trip
to a wildlife reserve, it was saddening to find a vast amount of plastic
littering the shore at Tarbet. Later in the evening, we made our way back to Scourie where we
spent the night along with other members of the Moray Mountaineering Club.
Early on Saturday morning, we drove back to Tarbet. As the first boat
was meant to depart at 09:00, and no-one had appeared by 09:00, we were unsure
if the boat would be running. However, by 09:30 someone eventually arrived
confirming the trip was on
After purchasing tickets (Adult: £15, Child: £5), we donned life-jackets
and waited for the RIB to come to the pier. Once
aboard, it took around ten minutes to reach Handa Island.
RIB to Handa Island:
arriving on Handa Island, we were greeted by the warden who provided a brief
overview of the island including instructions to stick to the path. As the
island summit is not on the path, I asked if we could briefly venture off
the path to go to the island summit. The warden confirmed, "Yes"
warden advised all present of potential attacks by the Skuas, informing
individuals to put their hand in the air as the birds will usually attack
the highest point. Having encountered Great Skuas (a.k.a. Bonxies)
previously on St. Kilda, Foula, Fair Isle and Hoy, I had previous experience
of their attacks and therefore knew to carry walking poles which can be put
in the air instead of ones arm.
From the small visitor centre, we set off
walking along the very obvious track.
Prior to setting off we were
each provided with a map of the island. We first passed some old ruins and
beyond the ruins ventured into Skua territory.
The first Skuas we
encoutered were all Arctic ones, a species I have only encountered once
previously, on Foula. Despite getting sufficiently close to get reasonable
photos, none of the Arctic Skuas attacked.
the ascent we could see a sea stack in the distance. I initally thought it
was Am Buachaille, near Sandwood Bay, but then realised I was looking south
and Am Buachaille was to the north. What we could see was the Old Man
Old Man of Stoer:
gained more height, we moved out of Arctic Skua territory and into Great
Skua territory. We were entering the domain of the Bonxie! Again, none of the
birds attacked. We could see a small lochan in the distance with seven Great
Skua sitting on the water.
eventually reaching the cliff-edge at Puffin Bay, we were rewarded with
great views. Despite being called Puffin Bay, this is not the best place to
taking in the views at Puffin Bay, we continued round the track towards the
Great Stack. During the ascent we met a man carrying out path repair work. Great quality work! We got talking for around ten minutes about
paths on various mountains.
On arriving at the Great Stack, I
approached the cliff-edge taking care not to go over the edge. The stack and
nearby cliffs are covered in seabirds. We could see thousands of Guillemot,
hundreds of Razorbill and Kittiwakes and perhaps around twenty Puffins.
Allegedly, more men have stood on the moon than on top of the Great Stack
which is apparently very difficult to climb.
The Great Stack:
Thousands of Guillemot on the Great Stack:
was nice to see some Puffins in the distance, Handa Island is definitely not the
best Scottish island to visit to see them. Fair Isle would be difficult to beat in this
around ten to fifteen minutes at the Great Stack before continuing on round
the island. On reaching the track high-point, we left the track heading
across featureless ground to reach the summit. During this very short
section of walk, we experienced our first attack of the day as a couple of
Bonxies decided to make their presence known. Thanks to holding our poles up
high, no contact was made.
At the summit of Sithean Mor:
returned back to the track and continued to follow it round the island. As
we made our way round the track, we encountered many more Bonxies.
passing a section of cliff-edge, we saw a Fulmar hovering in an updraft.
We then began
to lose height as we next made our way down towards Boulder Bay.
Following the clifftop path:
the final walk back to the small visitor centre, we passed a lovely beach which
unfortuanetly there was no access to from the path. We then passed several
Arctic Skua one of which was full-on attacking everyone walking past.
passing one of the Arctic Skua, I could see a ring on its foot. On
mentioning the ring to one of the wardens on our return, he wanted to know
what it said. It was difficult to make out, possibly Elvish, "Ash nazg
thrakatulûk agh burzum-ishi krimpatul"
After stopping for a quick sandwich and drink back at the Visitor Hut, we caught the next
boat back to Tarbet.
Handa Island is definitely worth a visit. It is
a good walk with great birdlife. If going I
would recommend taking a walking pole and also a bag to help clean-up some
of the plastic from the shore at Tarbet.