The trip to Torrin always feels like a journey to the Gates of Mordor, as you turn onto the Elgol road from Broadford and drive across the moors, and out there on the skyline lurks the Black Cullin. It’s late, dark and the weather uncertain, because the last few years, Torrin has been a late autumn trip. This year was no exception with the trip being in mid-November and we had already had substantial autumn gales. The question was “what would the weather bring?”.
The Torrin Outdoor Centre is an former school owned by Highland Council and ideal for a trip late in the year. This year we had filled the place and had overspill with a few paddlers stationed in the backpackers in Broadford. We were all to be rewarded with some surprising paddling. Waking to a clear calm day on the Saturday morning we made a 9.00am departure to Elgol, parking up and setting of in a variety of groups either heading for Soay or Loch Coruisk.
Vee, John and Eric and I, chose Soay. The wind was behind us and the tide pushing us out as we undertook the four kilometre crossing to the island in around 40 minutes. On landfall we had a quick pit stop, climbing the boulder raised beach and exploring an adjacent steading. Then it was back in the boats without lingering, conscious we had short daylight hours to contend with. Although the swell was not great on the exposed west coast, sets of larger waves rolled in and broke dramatically on the cliff faces, as we paddled past, with caves too exposed to venture too close and booming, when a particularly big flood swamped them. All along the coast we could see a dark volcanic band in the rocks sandwiched between the sandstone. It took us a long morning to round Soay and to enter the sheltered inlet that was once, in the 1950s, the basking shark station, operated by Gavin Maxwell. The situation below the Cullins is magical, but you can hardly imagine what, the now placid and scenic station, must have been like. Rusting away is a huge steam boiler and equipment to render the shark oil. Stone drains, now overgrown with heather, must have channelled away blood from the fleshing area, and the loch would have run red with blood and stunk of rotting fish waste.
After lunch we pushed on, working hard against the tide as we paddled past the Cullins and looked up into the mouth of Loch Scavaig and Loch Coruisk beyond , but we were out of time for further exploration. We then headed up the coast past dark cliffs towards Elgol to land in the gloaming. On our approach we were treated to a brief sight of an otter, but others who had landed earlier apparently had watched the creature close up and it is well known to locals, habitually sleeping on the winding gear on one of the boats moored in the bay.
Saturday evening is a bit of a tradition at Torrin with a communal meal (always a bit late) and finished off with bread and butter pudding. This year, things definitely went awry though, as first we discovered one of the ovens had failed and then the cook in charge (yours truly) inadvertently switched the other off. I think people were starving before the venison burgers, chips and salad were all ready, and what had seemed an easy meal for 25 turned into a bit of a nightmare. Still all remained in good spirits and everyone got fed - eventually.
The next day was glorious and still, and we decided to put out from Broadford Bay, parking just down from the Coop. Again we split into smaller groups. The water was glassy with hardly a breath of breeze and the sky clear and bright blue. It offered all the groups ample opportunity for island hopping: for some that turned into island bagging (requiring kayak exit and terra firma standing on two feet, to count). It was Guillmon first, then the tip of Scalpay, before Longay and then Pabbay. Off Pabbay, I was ahead of my paddling group and looked up to see a dog otter, maybe 30 m away, on its back eating a large fish. I watched, and could clearly hear it loudly crunching through its meal. We stopped too and enjoyed the view across to the Crowlins from a shell beach, munching on a sandwich, before paddling back. We rounded the weekend off with hot drinks at the welcoming Cafesia in Broadford. A good weekend, with weather far better than we could dare to hope.