Blue sea, deserted white beaches, sightings of dolphins and home to thousands of sea birds, Handa island is a small piece of paradise. At least it was while the sun was shining and until the midges came out.
It’s situated just off the far north west of Scotland, an hour’s drive north of Ullapool. A small passenger boat runs from Tarbet, a tiny settlement reached by a steep singletrack road, and after a 10 minute boat ride we jumped out onto an idyllic sandy beach surrounded by clear, blue water.
The island is a nature reserve owned by the Scourie estate and managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. The sea cliffs at the northern end of the island house one of the largest colonies of sea birds in Europe. In season puffins can be seen, but they had all gone and instead we saw lots of skuas, large seabirds that are known to dive bomb onto people’s heads to protect their young. We also saw dolphins and seals in the seas surrounding the island and lizards basking in the sun.
In a normal year a warden from the Scottish Wildlife Trust would have met us from the boat but this year they were keeping their distance and we walked the 4 miles round the island alone, rarely meeting other visitors. There were no facilities with even the simple shelter being closed, and no boat back to the mainland until 2pm. As the ferryman said, we were on our own.
Apart from it being a lovely place to spend a day, I had a personal reason for wanting to visit the island. My ex-husband, Roland Ascroft, had been warden on Handa many years ago and had lived alone in the tiny shack on the island. I had heard stories of the birds and of the great storms when he would see nobody for days. This was before mobile phones and 4G and his only company was the radio where he used to listen to the shipping forecasts and to remind himself of the normal world, the traffic bulletins.
Today the sea was flat and the sky was blue but it would be a desolate place in a storm with no trees or buildings for shelter other than the warden’s small shack and only the sea birds for company.
Later we swam in the clear, cold waters of the Atlantic and ran barefoot along the deserted beach. Paradise indeed.