Sea Kayaking to Shangri-La, finding the impossible…

Posted By: Doug Published: 06/03/2023

Sat around the campfire with a wee dram in hand after a magical day on the water is for many of us what sea kayaking is all about. Having enjoyed many moments like this over the years I reflect on the wealth of stories that have been shared around the campfire, but there is always one that stands out; a sea kayaking adventure to find the mysterious Shangri-La of paddling that we all dream about. A place that is remote and untouched, surrounded in mystery and yet if found offers the sea kayaker a place that approaches perfection; this surely being the destination we are all searching for. Well with over 30 years of sea kayaking exploration behind me I would like to share a campfire story of my own trip to discover the unworldly destination of Shangri-La…

Leaving Mordor in search of the enchanted isles

Launching from the stony beach we were overlooked by huge dark and foreboding mountains. They rose out of the ocean, their summits swirling in mist with shrieks of birds blacker than midnight echoing down. The cliffs were huge and the ridges leading up into the mist were jagged, weather beaten and time ravaged. Looking out across a glassy calm ocean we could just see in the distance an island where the sun was shining and the land was welcoming. Pushing out from the shore we dipped our paddles in the water and started our quest to reach this distant land. Escaping the darkness of what lay behind, leaving what felt like Mordor in search of the enchanted isles we had heard stories about; not knowing what lay ahead or if the stories were true.

With kayaks cutting through the glassy water the claustrophobic feeling of the dark mountains soon left us, every paddle stroke taking us to brighter skies and a more peaceful place. Cheerful white birds started to follow us, some coming close as if to welcome and cheer us on our way. Time passed and so the hours passed, but stroke by stroke the enticing island that seemed so far away slowly showed itself to us. Before long we could make out a landscape bathed in sunshine consisting of white sandy beaches, green fertile lands, deer grazing with contentment and mountains free of mist, looking colourful and welcoming. It also became apparent there was more than one island, in fact a small archipelago with each island differing in stature but similar in character – welcoming and enchanted.

Arriving at and exploring the enchanted isles

Before long the mystical islands drew us in and with that shared a feeling of peace, tranquillity and solitude. We chose to land at one of the many pristine white sandy beaches that were abundant on the island’s northern end. Getting out of our kayaks the magic of these enchanted islands seemed to envelop us; leaving our footprints in the sand behind us we explored the beach unsure if anyone had set foot on these islands before. We had made it; the crossing was behind us and the fabled islands were clear to see. They seemed to be calling to us, encouraging us back on the water into our kayaks to venture deeper into their realm; welcoming us and encouraging us to explore and discover more of their hidden secrets.

Singing sands, cliffs, whales, sharks, eagles and camping

Time stood still in these enchanted islands, the days lasting forever and the nights short; one day blending into the next with all sense of time lost and merging into one. Our quest of discovery filled each second of daylight and the enchanted isles gave up so many of their secrets for our efforts. We found many more untouched beaches with one ‘singing’ to us as we walked across it, each step leading to a sound mystical to our ears. Whilst paddling between islands the guardians of these isles kept a constant and wary eye on us, these mysterious creatures of the deep known as whales were plentiful; often we heard their explosive shout as they surfaced before we saw a plume of spray or a fin to confirm they were nearby. Even the sharks in this distant land were gentle, friendly creatures; basking in the sun and watching us warily.

Evenings were spent in idyllic camp spots, surrounded by ocean and mountains with crystal clear streams providing the link between the two. These streams allowing us to swim and wash in the afternoon heat of the sun, this heat continuing long into the evening with the sun seemingly never wanting to set. When it did it would put on a light show like no other, oranges and reds in abundance as it set into the distant ocean horizon. Not wanting to leave these magical islands in darkness for long the sun soon showed itself again, once more with a spectacular light display as dawn arrived and signalled time for our quest of discovery to begin again.

Our quest continued exploring the wild and dramatic outer edges of these enchanted isles. Huge cliffs guarded these outer fringes, protecting the secrets of the inner isles from the ocean beyond that stretched as far as the eye could see. As we explored these prehistoric coastlines with cliffs, caves, arches and sea stacks all bathed in afternoon sunshine we could not help feeling a sense of awe; being so small in the heart of such immense surroundings. Frequently we felt we were being watched from far above in these distant lands, craning our necks we could see eagles up high monitoring our progress; perhaps ensuring our quest was on track.

A surprise feast to finish, but will we escape?

As we arrived at the last of these enchanted isles we were drawn to the sweet smell of fresh food and with that laughter and song. Soon discovering the source of this hospitality, we were encouraged to join in. Local produce was in abundance, lobsters bigger than I have ever seen before. The people were friendly and welcoming, stories were shared and drinks were poured; it was as if they were tempting us to never leave.

Despite time having stood still, we knew we were at a crossroads in our quest; if we did not leave now, chances are we never would. The people and islands were calling to us to stay, yet with heavy hearts we knew we must return to our own homes and with that start the open crossing back to middle earth. These enchanted isles had given us so much, in our quest of discovery we realised where we were – we had indeed found Shangri-La.

Shangri-La – it’s not impossible!

We can all find Shangri-La if we are patient enough, it just takes time and ensuring you have the right people around you for your quest. The above is my Shangri-La, a quest out to explore the Small Isles, leaving from Glen Brittle on Skye on a perfect summers’ week. What is your quest for Shangri-La going to be this summer, remember it is not impossible!


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