Words John Silcox // Photos Alexander Rhind
Run to the hills with Phil Grundy and Simon Cole as they take it back to basics with a paddle boarding adventure on Scotland’s breath-taking Isle of Skye.
‘I’ve got one!’ roars Simon, his head cresting the clear water. He’s triumphantly waving his hand, in which he’s holding a spectacular scallop shell. ‘Look at the size of this beauty. It’s huge! We’re not going hungry tonight. And there are loads more of them down there!’ He promptly swims over to Phil, who is creating a makeshift raft out of two Red Paddle Co Voyager boards. As Simon clambers up, he tosses over the shellfish for his friend to inspect while he catches his breath and prepares to dive back down.
The pair are floating in the middle of a giant sea loch surrounded by formidable-looking hills to the east of the Isle of Skye in Scotland, which feels about as far from civilisation as you can get. There’s not a soul in sight, and the high sun is piercing the blue salt water that’s famed for its clarity and abundance of seafood. Scallops from here are a particularly prized delicacy and get shipped out to customers all over the world. The leading masters in the game are the father and son team from Sconser Scallops with over 30 years of experience farming and ranching scallops, who gave Phil and Simon a few words of wisdom on the shore before their mini diving adventure. If truth be told, there was never any real risk that the duo would go without dinner because there’s a Michelin-starred restaurant not 20 minutes away that serves local specialities.
However, they’re on a mission to get back to basics on this trip, and free-diving for dinner was top of the list. ‘The adventure began on the drive up, after we left behind the motorway in Glasgow,’ says Phil.
‘We took a breath-taking road up into the Highlands, past Loch Lomond and Glen Coe, the location for the Bond film Skyfall, and finally crossed the bonkers road bridge onto the island – there’s a bend in it!’
‘We wanted to come to Skye because it’s the ultimate destination for nature lovers,’ Phil adds. ‘It has the most gorgeous landscape and spectacular views. The locals are really friendly, and you can paddleboard everywhere – there’s nowhere better for an activity like this, in my opinion.’ Later, Simon and Phil take a hike into the foothills of the Black Cuillin mountain, via the old military bridge in Sligachan. With their boards on their backs, they follow the path up to its snow-capped peak, admiring the views and soaring eagles en route.
The following day, more water-based adventures await starting with a crack-of-dawn sunrise paddle from the jetty at Broadford. Greeted by a smattering of weathered local fishermen, full of energy and preparing for their working day ahead, Simon and Phil paddle off on the glassy still morning waters without another soul on the water yet. Returning to dry land even before the rest of the island is even up, they fill up on a hearty Scottish breakfast in a local cafe, haggis included of course before setting off to explore more of the magical island.
As the weather changes and the rain comes in the pair head indoors for a tour of the new Torabhaig Distillery – the perfect place to learn about the craft of whisky-making (and select a Scotch to enjoy after dinner). Torabhaig is the second ever licensed Single Malt Scotch Whisky distillery on the Isle of Skye and a beautiful place to have a wee-dram.
All they need now is a place to eat the previous day’s diving haul and bunk down for the night. A few miles up the coast, Simon and Phil find the ideal spot to set up camp. Just before sunset, they take a paddle around the iconic Eilean Donan castle, situated on a tiny tidal island where three sea lochs meet. In the golden sunset, the view is alluring – but so is the prospect of the campfire, grilled seafood and dram of whisky they’ll soon be enjoying. Cheers to that! SUP International
Optimising your adventure on the Isle of Skye
We talk to Donald Macpherson of Inverness based adventure company Explore Highland about the essentials:
‘Paddleboarding’s always safer in a pair, but even with back-up, it’s worth telling someone else where you’re going and when you’ll be back.’
Plan for the worst
‘Weather in remote areas such as this can be unpredictable, so it’s always worth packing waterproofs and extra layers to keep warm.’
Consider the tides
‘Always do your homework about the tides. Skye, for instance, is affected by Atlantic tides, and sea-loch conditions will change depending on the time of day.’
‘Please don’t drop rubbish – we want unspoilt nature to stay unspoilt.’
Boards featured: Red Paddle Co Voyager 12’6” and Voyager+ 13’2”