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Tour Highlights

  • Join us as we aim to traverse all of the 13 islands that make up the length of the Scottish Outer Hebrides from Lewis in the North to Berneray in the South

  • Trip designed for the adventure swimmer that enjoys crossings and coastal swims in challenging conditions

  • Accommodation on the beautiful Lady of Avenel, a 102ft Bringatine square rigger

  • Full safety cover by qualified experienced guides

Join us on two significant swimming expeditions, as we aim to traverse all of the 13 islands that make up the length of the Scottish Outer Hebrides from Lewis in the North to Berneray in the South. The Lady of Avenel, our vessel for the entirety of the trip, is a 102ft Brigantine square rigged ship. This will be one epic cruise and an exciting platform for adventure swimming and sailing alike.

You will discover an abundance of beautiful lochs, long sandy beaches and scenic landscapes whilst 'living' on the Lady of Avenel with your very own on-board chef. Expect to see an abundance of wildlife, both in and out of the water, making this trip a nature lover’s dream!

It only leaves one question...What are you waiting for?


Who is this trip for?

This trip is made up largely of crossings and some coastal swims. Conditions will be challenging, yet extremely rewarding. A good experience of swimming in challenging sea conditions is a must for this trip. Due to the nature of this trip and the length of our swims, there is a minimum swimming speed of 24min/km (38min/mile).


What's included?

  • Fully guided swimming holiday in the Outer Hebrides
  • Swim guides and full safety escort on all swims
  • Seven nights accommodation
  • On-board Chef
  • All breakfasts
  • All lunches
  • All evening meals

What's not included?

  • Travel to and from the start of the tour
  • Wetsuit hire

Related Links

Day 1

We meet our ship and accommodation, the ‘Lady of Avenel’, where we are given a tour of this classic rigger. We then depart from Castlebay and head North. During the journey, we will have our safety briefing and welcome dinner and explain the plan for the week ahead.

Day 2

In the morning we continue the journey North onboard our vessel to the southern point of Harris near the small community of Carminish where we begin our first swim of the trip by crossing to the Southern end of the uninhabited island of Ensay. From here, we carry onto Killegray, which is a rich breeding ground for velvet crabs and lobsters. We then take time to have lunch and a relax on-board our base, the Lady of Avenel.

In the afternoon, we complete the crossing of the Sound of Harris from Killegray to the Isle of Berneray which is connected by land to North Uist. In the evening, we cruise to Lochmaddy, North Uist’s main settlement where you have a chance to relax, look around and visit the Lochmaddy Hotel for a well-earned beer or glass of wine.

Day 3

The morning is given over to exploring more of North Uist’s stunning coastline. We enter the narrow sea loch of Loch Eport with its numerous channels and off-cuts - It’s a real exploration swim. Eaval Hill, the highest point on North Uist is an imposing backdrop during this. The Pobull Fhinn Stone Circle marks the final end point of the morning’s swim.

In the afternoon, we have a couple of short crossings as we swim to and from Benbecula. For the rest of the afternoon, you may take the opportunity to explore Benbecula a little more by foot or taking out one of the ship’s paddleboards or kayaks.

In the evening we have a meal on-board the ship and begin our passage down South Uist ready to be in position for tomorrow’s swims.

Day 4

Today we attempt to cross the Sound of Barra which separates South Uist and Eriskay from Barra itself. We use the islands of Gighay and Hellisay as stepping stones towards Barra and our finish point of the Eoligarry Ferry. The morning swim is the stunning crossing between Eriskay and Gighay. If there is time, there is a wonderful naturally formed canal that separates Gighay and Hellisay, which we can swim through.

After time for lunch and to rest and relax, the afternoon swim is between Hellisay and Barra, passing a number of low lying islands on the way. During this swim, it may be possible to see aircraft landing on Barra’s Traigh Mhor beach.

At the end of the day we motor round to Castle Bay, Barra’s main ferry port and our stop for the night, where there is a chance to pop ashore should you so wish.

Day 5

The Lady of Avenel journeys round to Vatersay where we disembark and walk to South Beach which sits opposite Sandray Island. This is a relatively short swim and a good start to our southern swim's section of the itinerary.

After lunch on-board the Lady of Avenel, there is time to go and explore the island. Sandray is home to a number of ground nesting birds due to the absence of any predators here.

In the afternoon we start to commence our more open sea crossings with our swim from Sandray to Pabbay, probably the most exposed yet. We finish near Pabbay Beach; one of the most visually stunning in the British Isles. Pabbay is named after Monks who used to live here.

Day 6

In the morning, we cross to Mingulay, which is an undoubted highlight of the trip. There are numerous coves, tunnels and inlets to explore. There is also an opportunity to explore the beach and the ruins of the old settlement which is a short walk away.

In the afternoon is the opportunity for the final swim between Mingulay and Berneray, the southernmost island of The Outer Hebrides. The swim itself is a relatively short hop and marks the end of our incredible journey.

Day 7

Due to the nature of where we are and the unpredictability of the conditions, this day is left spare to fit in any swims/delays experienced due to poor conditions earlier on in the week. Should we experience no delays, then rest assured, we will come up with some interesting and adventurous coastal swims to bring to an end a most extraordinary trip.

Day 8

We start the morning with a pre-breakfast swim, where we will have the opportunity to explore the southern coastline of Barra. Following this we will have our final group breakfast before departing and saying our goodbyes.

Trip Schedule

Start Point: Isle of Barra (Castlebay)

Start Time: 18:30 on Day 1

Finish Point: Isle of Barra (Castlebay)

Finish Time: 09:00 on Day 8

Trip Information

Equipment Checklist

In addition to your daily non-swimming clothes, we also recommend that you bring the following items:

Item Item
Swimming Costume (x 3) Towel (x 2)
Wetsuit Swimming Goggles (x 2)*
Sweater / Fleece / Thick Socks Sun Hat and Sunglasses
Waterproof Jacket Waterproof Sun Cream
Walking Shoes Woolly Hat and Gloves
Long Trousers Small Daypack
Aqua Shoes Thermal layers

*Try to bring one clear lens and one tinted lens for different light conditions.

Please note that SwimTrek will supply swim hats. We will have a limited supply/range of flippers, rashvests and wetsuits available on the trip, but we cannot guarantee sizes for all. If you have your own flippers, rashvest and wetsuit we would recommend you bring these with you in order to maximise your enjoyment of the trip. Please note that SwimTrek will provide water and electrolyte drinks in shared water bottles on your safety boat. If you prefer to use your own drink bottle, please feel free to bring one along.

Swimming Distances

During the tour we plan to undertake the following swims:

Swim Distances
Harris - Ensay - Killegray 2km
Killegray – Berneray 3km
Loch Eport, North Uist 2km
North Uist - Benbecula 1km
Benbecula – South Uist 1½km
Eriskay - Gighay 2½km
Hellisay - Barra 2½km
Vatersay - Sandray 1km
Sandray - Pabbay 3½km
Pabbay – Mingulay 2½km
Mingulay - Berneray 1km

Swimming Conditions

Swimming in the sea is a fantastic experience, however you should be aware that certain marine life such as jellyfish may be present during the swims. In all cases we will work on reducing your contact with these creatures, however if you suffer from anaphylaxis, please consult the office prior to booking.

Temperatures

Month Water Temperature* Air Temperature*
August 13 - 15°C / 55 - 59°F 15 - 17°C / 59 - 62°F

*Please note that these temperatures are indicative and should be used as a guide only.

Weather Caveat

For safety reasons, we rely on decent weather conditions when carrying out our swims. As a consequence, open water swimming holidays require a certain degree of on-trip flexibility which can result in changes to the planned itinerary. These changes often add a touch of uniqueness to your trip and will be communicated to you by your SwimTrek guides as quickly as possible.

As the Outer Hebrides are some of the most exposed islands in Europe the weather will play a key factor in all our swims and crossings. In 2016, we were unable to complete the entire itinerary on either of our two departures due to adverse weather conditions. For 2017, we have decided to schedule an additional day into the trip to give us a better opportunity to complete the scheduled swims.

Walking Conditions And Distances

Most walks take place on recognised paths and tracks, however there may be cases where we walk along trails or other unsealed surfaces and care should be taken in these areas.

Walk Distances
Berneray Island Walk 3km
Loch Eport, North Uist 5km
Across Barra 4½km
Across Vatersay 2km

Group Size and Boat Support

This trip has a maximum group size of 12. The group will be split into two groups, based on speed, with each group being accompanied by their own safety vessel/escort.

Boat support on this trip includes one main boat and two inflatable boats to be piloted by your SwimTrek guides and a local boat pilot. Please note that this boat support is subject to change without notice and cannot be guaranteed.

Getting There

The easiest way to get to Castlebay at the start of your trip is to fly into Glasgow International Airport and then catch a connecting flight directly to Barra Island. Alternatively, it is also possible to reach Castlebay by train and ferry from many UK destinations.

While we have outlined various travel options below, they are subject to change and should be used as a guide only. We suggest that you use the following websites to search for alternative flights, trains and ferry options for this trip:

Flights: www.skyscanner.net

Trains: www.thetrainline.com or www.scotrail.co.uk

Ferries: www.calmac.co.uk

Whichever route you choose to take, we recommend confirming your flights and other travel arrangements as early as possible in order to avoid price rises and availability issues.

Getting There - Flights

The following airlines offer flights to Glasgow International Airport from various British and European destinations:

Airline Departure Airport
Aer Lingus Cork, Dublin
Easyjet Belfast, Bristol, Faro, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted, Malaga, Palma
Flybe Birmingham, Leeds, Manchester, Southampton
KLM Airlines Amsterdam
Ryan Air Berlin, Brussels

Direct Flight From Glasgow To Barra

Flybe offer several direct flights per day from Glasgow International Airport to Barra. These flights take just over an hour and can be booked via: www.Flybe.com.

Once you arrive at Barra Airport, we recommend taking a local taxi to Castlebay, which should take no longer than 20 minutes and cost approximately £10-£15.

When you reach Castlebay, you will be able to see the Lady of Avenel in all her beauty, moored in the bay awaiting your arrival.

Getting There - Trains and Ferries

It is possible to travel to Barra via train and ferry from within mainland UK, however, please be aware that this requires a significantly longer journey than by plane.

Regular train services are available to Glasgow from within mainland UK and can be booked via The Train Line.

From Glasgow, you will need to catch another train to Oban. The journey takes just over three hours and costs approximately £40 for a return ticket. Information on train fares and timetables can be found at www.scotrail.co.uk.

Once you reach Oban, you can catch a CalMac ferry to Castlebay. This journey takes approximately five hours and costs around £30 for a return ticket. Information on fares and schedules can be found at www.calmac.co.uk. Please note that it’s also possible to combine your travel plans from Glasgow by purchasing a ‘Rail and Sail’ ticket. For further information about this option, please visit: www.scotrail.co.uk.

When you reach Castlebay, you will be able to see the Lady of Avenel in all her beauty, moored in the bay awaiting your arrival.

Practical Information

Accommodation

The Lady of Avenel is a 102ft Brigantine square rigger with 12 guest berths and staff quarters. Built originally in Poland in 1969 as a tug vessel she was refitted in 1992. Soon to make her film debut, the Lady of Avenel will be appearing in ‘Through the Looking Glass’, the sequel to Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland. All cabins on the Lady of Avenel are offered on a Twin or Double share basis.

Meals

All meals are included on this trip, cooked by our very own on-board chef. With years of experience working on various vessels, this trip offers a high standard of food, fuelling you for your swims during the week.

Extra Expenses

You should bring extra money with you to cover such items as trips to the occasional island pub and shopping on the few islands that have towns. The local currency is British pound (£).

Passports And Visas

The Outer Hebrides is part of the United Kingdom. Non-residents of the U.K. require a full passport to enter the country, which should be valid for six months beyond the expected length of stay. Citizens of most countries, including all E.U. member states, U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand are given ‘leave to enter’ the UK. Citizens of the EU do not need a visa to enter. Please note that visa regulations are subject to change and we advise that you check your own visa requirements prior to travel.

Vaccinations

There are currently no essential vaccination requirements for U.K., however it is advisable to re-check this information eight weeks before you travel. You should also ensure that your immunity to tetanus and polio is up-to-date.

  • It was a fantastic experience to be aboard a magnificent ship, to swim in pristine waters surrounded by wildlife.

    Gary S. UK - 2016
  • Definitely an "off grid holiday" . Swimming the Hebrides was stunning, on the ocean, at the edge of the world.

    Andrew R. UK - 2016
  • I can't do justice to the experience I have had in words. Utterly fantastically amazingly wonderfully excitingly thrillingly magnificent is getting close though..

    Georgia C. UK - 2016
  • A completely wild and adventurous trip - a complete one off and a huge traveling and swimming highlight! So many thanks to all the wonderful staff who made it possible!

    James B. UK - 2016
  • Sharing our swims with dolphins and seals - and no other humans in sight except us Swimtrekkers!! Open water swimming at it's absolute best!!

    Rachel P. UK - 2016
  • Excellent week! Stunning area to be able to swim and sail !

    Jenny H. UK - 2016

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Accommodation

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Lady Of Avenel

A 102ft Brigantine square rigger. With 12 guest berths and epic cruising grounds to offer, the Lady of Avenel provides an exciting platform for adventure swimming and sailing.