Outer Hebrides & St Kilda

Kate Gillwood set sail on an adventure of discovery  around the Hebrides and St Kilda 

Main image. Photo credit: Rex Sircus 

Within minutes of setting off on board the MV Cuma from Miavaig harbour on the Isle of Lewis,  what had been a random group of swimmers quickly became friends. As we shared our swimming  experience with each other, any anxieties I’d had about sharing a small space slipped away. The  encouraging and inclusive ethos set the tone for the holiday. I made new swimmy friends in one of  the most beautiful places in the world. The MV Cuma was perfect for setting out across the Atlantic  waves to search for lost tales of eerie waters less travelled. As a former research vessel it is basic  but cosy and holds an air of adventure in its sturdy frame. 

The group. Photo credit: Rex Sircus

The daily itinerary included an early morning swim before breakfast (even before coffee!) to wake  us all up and get us ready for more excitement to come. Through the week we were lucky enough  to reach the deep cove of Monach Isles, a famous Taransay bay and a beach on Harris like a  treasured childhood memory. Each island had different and new things to experience.  


Our first stop after a journey with porpoises as guides was a small cove on the island of Scarp. The  deep water was so clear you could see to the very bottom, 30 feet below. Arriving after a 2-hour  journey, it was exciting and a little scary to be jumping in but so refreshing. Our group had never  swum together before but we were in the safe hands of Alice Goodridge of SwimWild and her swim  safety expert guide, Sarah Wiseman. 

Getting in for the first swim of the trip, Scarp. Photo credit: Rex Sircus

I felt giddy with nerves climbing down the steps at the side of the MV Cuma into the water to swim  to the golden beach. We swam over jellyfish and the odd patch of sugar kelp with the sea bed  rising steeply to the exposed sand. It looked like no one had been here before. I did a wee jig of joy  on the beach before jumping back in.  

The next day our daily morning dip was followed by a hearty Scottish breakfast with excited chatter  about what new swims the day was to bring. When we learnt that we were to attempt to cross the  high seas to St Kilda the expectation rose. Those of you with knowledge of this area will know that  many a crossing is unsuccessful and boats regularly have to turn back due to the weather. But as  we set out on the intrepid 4-hour journey across the Atlantic I just knew we were going to make it.  For some time, we could not see land at all, then we spotted the faint but distinct outline of the  small islands. As we approached I could see the stacks rising out of the water, covered halfway up  in a layer of misty clouds. It was mystical and eerie with a distinct feel that nature is truly in charge  here. We were granted passage through thousands of gannets, fulmars, puffins and great skua.  We eased respectfully in to Village Bay, climbed down the steps into the almost inky water and  swam to the shore. It was the most iconic 300m swim I have ever done.  

First views of Boreray, St Kilda 

Boreray sea stacks, St Kilda. Photo credit: Rex Sircus.


Our two nights in Village Bay were filled with wonder, swimming through flocks of puffins resting on  the surface of the sea only to watch them furiously flap away in a panic if we got too close,  

exploring caves with waterfalls tipping onto our heads and marvelling at sea gooseberries, almost  translucent crystal jellyfish and comb jellyfish which light up as the edges ripple. I have never seen  

The group on shore, Hirta, St Kilda

things like this in the UK. I now understand why people call this place the edge of the world.

Ready for a morning swim, Village Bay, St Kilda 

Village Bay, Hirta, St Kilda. Photo credit: Rex Sircus

Swimming in Village Bay, St Kilda. Photo credit: Rex Sircus 

Kate Swimming in Village Bay, St Kilda. Photo Credit: Susanne Masters. 

Swimming through a waterfall, into a cave! St Kilda. Photo credit: Rex Sircus 

Underwater in the cave, St Kilda. Photo credit: Susanne Masters

Some of the group were sad to leave such a magical place, I was intrigued to see the next stage of  our expedition. We motored out of Village Bay looking back at the remote line of cottages on Main  Street. As we passed through the stacks I spotted a boat circling and instantly knew we were in for  a whale-sized treat. For about 20 minutes we watched a pod of minke whales feeding, cruising round and breaching out of the water. 

Leaving St Kilda. Photo credit: Rex Sircus 

Minke Whales, St Kilda. Photo credit: Rex Sircus


A few hours later in the distance I spotted a lighthouse which rests on Shillay, one of the Monach  Isles which lie to the west of North Uist. I could not believe my luck as we steered into the bay, the  light green water with white sand distinct from below. The day and night we spent here was  probably my favourite part of the trip. A small group of us who wanted to do a slightly longer swim  set off across the bay with kayak safety support, spying the nosy seals as their heads popped up  out of the water. I could now see the origin of the green colour of the water as I swam over light  green fluffy looking seaweed which floated gently as if in a breeze. The grey seals seemed to get  braver and we dived down to see their speckled bodies shoot past close under us as we crossed to  the next bay. Later I kayaked and ran along the beach, but the day ended with one of the highlights  of the holiday. At midnight we climbed back into the water to experience bioluminescence at its  brightest, fireworks sparkling out of our fingers and bodies as we dived below. 

The Monach Isles 

Swimming in the Monach Isles. Photo Credit Susanne Masters.  

Seals watching us swim. The Mornach Isles. Photo credit: Rex Sircus.


Our last swim was off Harris with the MV Cuma anchored in the bay. We took it in turns to climb  down the steps into the chilly, clear water and swam towards the empty, golden beach navigating  our way round a rainbow of jellyfish. We looked out for each other, battling the incoming tide  together, chop in our faces.  

I cannot describe how perfect this holiday was. We were treated to the best Hebridean weather  with sunshine, little rain and only a few clouds sheltering us. I revelled in being outside most of the  time. This swimming adventure gave me just what I love of Scotland 

Time to say goodbye. The whole SwimWild group. Photo credit: Rex Sircus.


Kate travelled with SwimWild on our Outer Hebrides & St Kilda Expedition. This expedition  is recommended for people with a sense of adventure, who are looking for swims up to 1  to 2km multiple times a day, can cope with some cold, and enjoy the unexpected, as well  as spots of brilliant sunshine if you are lucky!  

Accommodation: Onboard the MV Cuma, with small cabins and hearty food. Captained by  the highly experienced Murdo MacDonald and local crew.  

Originally featured in Outdoor Swimmer Magazine.  


Outer Hebrides & St Kilda expedition