Story: The Outer Hebrides – Isles Of The Rummlin Kirn

Photography & words: Jean-Luc Grossmann

Place: Scotland

Language: Story available in English & French

The Outer Hebrides – Isles Of The Rummlin Kirn

Exploring the Outer Hebrides islands have brought Swiss brothers, Jean-Luc and Sylvain Grossmann to the ragged northwest coast of Scotland on the very edge of Europe. Here, islanders take deep pride in both their maritime heritage and gaelic ancestry, warning paddlers to heed the Rummlin Kirn, the rumbling noise of a strong tidal race through a narrow rocky channel.

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The expedition began in late April from the small village of Castlebay on Barra Island, the most southerly inhabited island in the Outer Hebrides. The east side of the island is punctuated by numerous inlets, separated by rocky points which allows for some good fishing. The west side has solitary sandy beaches which for the kayaker enables good opportunities for launching and landing, provided the surf isn’t too big. Throughout the archipelago, the weather changes rapidly. This photo was shot after a brief rain squall that quickly passed through, replaced within minutes by a clearing sky and late afternoon sunshine.

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Only eight miles long and five miles wide, Barra Island contains an astounding variety of landscapes, such as the rare machair environment, which supports more than 1,000 species of wildflowers, including lady’s tresses and wild rattle. Machair is a Gaelic word that describes a sandy dune pasture with a high shell count, one of the rarest habitat types in Europe. Barra Island is also home to a rare breed of wild sheep, which kept a wary distance from the paddlers’ camps. After leaving Barra’s rocky and fog-shrouded southwest coast, the brothers next crossed to the uninhabited islands of Sandray, Pabbay, and Mingulay.

“The rough and rugged west coast of Mingulay Island, located near the end of the Outer Herbridean chain, is characterized by numerous sea stacks, caves, arches, and narrow channels, home of the Rummlin Kirn.”
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A secluded cove with a white sandy beach on the southeast coast of Sandray Island provided one of the most beautiful campsites of the entire expedition. It was here that a wind-tossed sea, created by a big storm over the Atlantic, pinned the brothers to the beach for three days. Even after the storm subsided, the surf was still big enough that they waited many long minutes, timing the wave sets, poised for the right moment to paddle out through the breakers to make the three-mile crossing to Pabbay Island. From there, they continued to Mingulay Island and around Barra Point, the southernmost point of the Outer Hebrides, then circled back to complete their journey.
Wind is nearly continuous in the Outer Hebrides, creating an ever-changing interplay of light and shadow in the dry dune grasses. After passing Barra Island on their return trip, the Grossmann brothers camped one final night on Fuday Island, before ending their expedition at the town of Lochboisdale on South Uist Island, where a ferry leads back to mainland Scotland.

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