The 50 Islands Kayak Challenge in Argyll & the Isles
Are you ready for an exciting paddling challenge this year?
Then why not take part in our 50 Islands Kayak Challenge!
Argyll & the Isles has many islands around the coastline and on our freshwater lochs, from large world famous Hebridean islands to much smaller now uninhabited islands.
Working with local experienced paddlers, Geoff and Vonna, we have curated a list of 50 islands across Argyll & the Isles which are each very different and are great for kayakers to explore the spectacular and extensive coastlines and offering a different perspective on Scotland’s Adventure Coast.
Use the interactive map below or our area-by-area list to plan your 50 Islands adventures. Zoom in to locate the islands and click on each to get a little more information, or click each name on the area-by-area list to see where it is on the map. Start your adventure here!
What do we mean by an Island paddle?
What is the definition of “paddling an island”? Our islands vary immensely in size and circumference and also distance from the shore as your starting point. We're conscious that, due to safety and time constraints, a paddling trip to say Coll or Colonsay from the mainland isn’t realistic for anyone other than a very small minority of very experienced paddlers and we want the challenge to be achievable for any keen and capable paddler. As an example it was felt that the use of a ferry to get to Colonsay and then circumnavigating the island should constitute “paddling it”.
Similarly, it was felt that simply paddling across to an island should not constitute “paddling it” – the focus should be on circumnavigating and exploring the extensive and intricate coastline. However, a requirement to circumnavigate every island, although possible, again could push the challenge out of the reach of the keen paddler especially when Mull, Islay and Jura are included. It was felt that a requirement to have paddled at least 75% of the coastline of a larger island would set a real, but not impossible, challenge that could be undertaken in a number of stages.
How you can take part
We don't have many rules at all, it's easy to take part and most of all gives you the perfect excuse to come back and try something new and different islands each time!
- You can kayak or canoe to or around (even partially) the islands, in ANY order, and in your own time.
- There's no time limit at all. Do as many as you like this summer, or take a few years, it's entirely up to you!
- Each paddle is not a race. In fact, we encourage you to take your time and soak up the stunning scenery.
- You must participate safely at all times by following water safety guidance and letting someone know where you are and expected return time.
- Simply complete the entry form each time you complete 10 new islands and we'll reward you with a Wild About Argyll 50 Islands Kayak Challenge digital badge.
- You can include islands you've paddled previously too.
Some key tips
The 50 Islands around Argyll & the Isles vary in size and distance from the mainland - or from larger nearby islands. Some are easy paddles to get to and some more suitable for more experienced paddlers, so please do your homework so you know what to expect before you set off. And as all keen paddlers know, be aware of the local weather forecast and tide times for when you will be paddling, which will change daily and with the seasons. Understand your own level of competence for the conditions you will encounter to each island and ensure everyone paddling with you does likewise. Paddling with an inexperienced paddler will restrict everyone in the group and it is important everyone is fully aware of each others experience and capabilities.
Where will you kayak to?
Ferries & Parking
The ferry system in Argyll is largely operated by CalMac and is, for most, an essential complement to the Challenge. Car Ferries run from Tayinloan (for Gigha), Kennacraig (for Islay and onwards to Jura), Wemyss Bay (for Bute) and Oban (for Mull (and onwards to Iona), Coll, Tiree, Lismore, Kerrera and Colonsay). Kayaks are treated like cycles and the only charge is the personal (and car if you take it) ferry fare. Whilst kayaks can be carried on and off, be warned, some of the linkspans that connect boat and shore are very long and carrying loaded sea kayaks down them is not ideal and can be avoided by using an inexpensive trolley. The Council also operate ferries between Seil and Luing, and passenger ferries to Easdale from Seil, Lismore from Port Appin and Jura from Tayvallich. They do readily take bikes on the passenger ferries but always check ahead to see if they can take your kayak.
Car fares have reduced substantially in recent years with the Road Equivalent Tariff. Use of the car, for example to get across Mull, for a kayak trip to Iona or the Treshnish Isles is relatively cheap and recommended.
In addition, ferries can often be used for one way trips and are an excellent escape route if the weather turns. The Sound of Gigha, for example, is normally a safe paddle for relatively inexperienced paddlers, but should the wind get up it can get very rough. The ferry is a welcome safety net taking you back to Tayinloan, but remember to factor in the ability to get from the ferry port back to where the car is parked.
Access & Camping
Since the Land Reform Act 2003, outdoor enthusiasts in Scotland have a legal right of responsible access to open land and water, by foot or kayak. Every paddler has a right to cross open land to a launch point. However this does not apply to vehicles crossing private land and you may find you have to carry or trolley to a launch point. Normally however the most difficult task is finding somewhere to park and leave the vehicle. Argyll & Bute Council as access authority maps core paths and launch points.
The Access Rights include wild camping, provided it is on open – ie unenclosed land - and due respect is given to those working and living in the locality. You will normally find suitable camping spots along the coastline quite easily, although landowners at heavily used locations may be slightly resistant. Mke sure you have suitable kit with you as the weather can change quickly especially overnight.
Any activity involving water can be dangerous; paddling is what is termed a “Risk Assumed” sport – the onus is on you as the paddler to have carefully considered the location and conditions. In reality – if simple precautions are taken and you avoid windy conditions - paddling is probably safer than crossing the road and certainly safer than skiing. In poor conditions however, being blown off course or a capsize is possible. Emptying, getting back into the kayak in deep water or rolling it back up should be practised even though you will probably never need the skills if you take appropriate precautions.
There are many books and guides (e.g. The Canoeing Handbook published by British Canoeing) which contain advice on different types of kayak to use and what to wear and on various other pieces of equipment (spray decks, helmets, tow lines, buoyancy aids and Personal Flotation Devices (PFDs), trackers, radios etc) and how to use them. We do not intend to reiterate the excellent advice proffered other than to reinforce the advice that you should always carry a first aid kit and we recommend paddling in a group whever possible. We would also add that mobile phone reception is limited in some areas and it is therefore sensible to carry a tracker or emergency beacon.
The nature of the Islands is that they offer little shelter from any wind that might be blowing – you will no doubt catch it at some point as you circumnavigate the coastline of each island. Particularly on those islands exposed to the Atlantic swell and the dominant south westerly winds, you have to be prepared to simply wait it out. On some coasts such as Tiree and Colonsay , the winds generate substantial surf and make both landing and launch extremely difficult even for experts. If you are setting out in winds of F4 and above, think seriously about delaying your trip and always take considerable care; the consequences can be fatal. In the guide we note any potential wind safety problems of which we are aware.
Tidal flows throughout this area can be very significant and it is essential that you plan for them (or rather to miss them). Particularly notable are Sound of Islay (Islay/Jura), Corryveckan (Jura/Scarba), Grey Dog (Scarba/Lunga) and Cuan Sound (Luing/Seil).