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Outer hebrides scotland

Tour Highlights

  • Discover some of Scotland's most spectacular scenery as we aim to traverse the 10 islands that make up the southern section of the Scottish Outer Hebrides

  • Complete a series of challenging crossings and coastal swims between and around the area's stunning islands

  • Relax between swims on the beautiful Lady of Avenel tall ship, a 102-foot Bringatine square rigger which is our home for the week

  • Enjoy delicious meals on board the Lady of Avenel, all of which are prepared by our very own on board chef

  • Explore some of Britain's most remote and isolated islands on a truly unforgettable swimming adventure

Join us on an unforgettable swimming expedition as we aim to traverse the 10 islands that make up the southern section of the Scottish Outer Hebrides. From South Uist in the north to Berneray in the south, we swim amongst some of Britain’s most spectacular landscapes, all whilst living on board the beautiful Lady of Avenel, a 102-foot Brigantine square rigged ship.

Over the course of the trip, you will discover an abundance of beautiful lochs, long sandy beaches and scenic landscapes whilst enjoying your time out of the water on the Lady of Avenel ship, complete with your very own on board chef. You can expect to see a huge range of wildlife, both in and out of the water, which makes this trip a nature lover’s dream.

This truly is an epic expedition and an exciting opportunity for adventure swimming and sailing alike.


Who is this trip for?

This trip is made up largely of crossings and some coastal swims. Conditions will be challenging, yet extremely rewarding. Swimmers should have a strong understanding and experience of swimming in challenging sea conditions and be capable of completing the average daily swim distance of around 4km (split over a minimum of two swims) prior to the start of the trip. Due to the nature of this trip, there is a minimum swimming speed of 25 min/km (40 min/mile). No sailing experience is required, however, the ship’s crew are happy for you to assist with on-board duties as much or as little as you like.


What's included?

  • Fully guided swimming holiday in the Outer Hebrides
  • Swim guides and full safety escort on all swims
  • Six nights accommodation on board the Lady of Avenel tall ship
  • Our very own on board chef
  • All breakfasts
  • All lunches
  • All evening meals

What's not included?

  • Travel to and from the start of the tour

Daily Itineraries

Please note that the below daily itineraries are an example of the swims that may take place during the course of your trip, however, actual swim locations and distances will vary according to local weather and sea conditions. Your SwimTrek guides and local boat pilot will determine the most suitable swim locations each day and will communicate the plan with all guests as soon as possible.

Day 1

To kick off our trip, your guides meet you at the Castlebay pier and accompany you to our ship and accommodation for the duration of the trip, the Lady of Avenel. After a tour of this classic rigger, we then hold a full trip briefing followed by a unique acclimatisation swim as we swim around Kisimul Castle which sits in Castlebay. Following our swim, we depart from Castlebay and head north arriving at South Uist. On arrival, we hold a welcome dinner and chat further about the plan for the week ahead.

Day 2

In the morning we begin our first swim of the trip by crossing from South Uist to Eriskay, which furnished the storyline for one of Scotland’s most famous tales; Whiskey Galore. The swim is an ideal introduction as the crossing is short and the location is protected. We then take time to have lunch and a relax on board our base, the Lady of Avenel.

In the afternoon, we undertake a more ambitious crossing of the Sound of Barra as we use the islands of Gighay and Hellisay as stepping stones towards Barra and our finish point of the Eoligarry Ferry. The swim between Eriskay and Gighay is stunning. If time permits, there is a wonderful naturally-formed canal that separates Gighay and Hellisay, which we can swim through.

Day 3

After a hearty breakfast, the first swim of the day is from Hellisay to the Aird Mhor ferry on 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.

In the afternoon we carry out an idyllic coastal swim from Earsairidh Lagoon to Brevig Bay on Barra’s east coast. Underwater kelp forests are present below us as we swim. 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 head ashore if you wish.

Day 4

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 5

In the morning, we cross to Mingulay, which is an undoubted highlight of the trip. There are numerous coves, tunnels and sea cliffs 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, we have the opportunity for a 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 6

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 7

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 have our final group breakfast on board the Lady of Avenel before saying our goodbyes.

Trip Schedule

Start Point: Castlebay Pier, Isle of Barra

Start Time: 19:00 on Day 1

Finish Point: Castlebay Pier, Isle of Barra

Finish Time: 10:00 on Day 7

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) Sweater / Fleece / Thick Socks
Wetsuit Wooly Hat and Gloves
Swimming Goggles (x 2)* Thermal Layers
Sun Hat and Sunglasses Long Trousers**
Waterproof Sun Cream Waterproof Jacket
Small Daypack Walking Shoes
Towel (x 2) Aqua Shoes / Sandals

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

**We also recommend gaiters/rubber bands for protection from ticks when trekking.

There are no safes in the cabins on the Lady of Avenel, so valuables and other belonging are brought on board at your own risk.

Please note that SwimTrek will supply swim hats and 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. If you would like to use a wetsuit, rash vest or fins during your swims, please ensure that you bring these with you.

Important: It can be very cold both during and between swims, so we advise all guests to bring appropriate swimwear and clothing in order to be as comfortable in these conditions. We recommend that all guests bring plenty of layers which can be added and removed as required.

Swimming Distances

During the tour we plan to undertake the following swims:

Swim Distances
South Uist-Eriskay 1km
Gighay/Hellisay Canal 1½km
Barra Lagoon Coastal 2km
Sandray - Pabbay 3½km
Mingulay - Berneray 1km
Eriskay - Gighay 2½km
Hellisay - Barra 2½km
Vatersay - Sandray 1km
Pabbay – Mingulay 2½km

Please note that these swims are an example of the what may take place during the course of your trip and should be used as a guide only. Actual swim locations and distances will vary according to local weather and sea conditions.

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.

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. If you do not wish to walk any of the trails, you are welcome to remain on board the ship.

Walk Distances
Across Barra 3½km
Mingulay 2km
Across Vatersay 2km

Temperatures

Month Water Temperature* Air Temperature*
August 12 - 15°C / 54 - 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. There is an additional spare day scheduled into the trip to give us a better opportunity to complete the scheduled swims.

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 ship 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 Airport. 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: Skyskanner

Trains: The Train Line or ScotRail

Ferries: CalMac

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.

Option 1: Flights From Glasgow to Barra

To search for available flights into Glasgow International Airport and then from Glasgow to Barra, please visit SkyScanner.

Once you arrive at Barra Airport, we recommend taking a local taxi to Castlebay, which takes approximately 20 minutes and costs £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.

Option 2: Trains and Ferries

It is possible to travel to Barra via train and ferry from various UK destinations, however, please be aware that this requires a significantly longer journey than by plane. Regular train services are available to Glasgow and can be booked via: The Train Line

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

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 CalMac.

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: ScotRail.

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 102-foot Brigantine square rigger ship with 12 guest berths and staff quarters. Originally built in Poland in 1969 as a tug vessel, she was refitted in 1992. The ship made her film debut in 2016 in ‘Through the Glass’, the sequel to Tim Burton’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’.

All cabins on the Lady of Avenel are offered on a twin share basis and include bunk beds. There are six guest cabins in total, with four slightly larger cabins which include a sink and two slightly smaller cabins without a sink. All guests and crew use shared bathroom facilities with two bathrooms located close to to the cabins on the lower deck and a toilet located on the upper deck.

Please note that due to the limited number of cabins on board, there are no single supplements or non-swimmer places available on this trip.

Luggage

Due to the limited space in the cabins on board the Lady of Avenel, we strongly recommend that guests bring soft, duffle-style luggage and that it is restricted to a maximum size of 40 x 70 x 40cm

WiFi and Mobile Reception

There is extremely limited wifi and mobile phone reception on board the Lady of Avenel and it is entirely dependent on our exact location and signal strength. To be safe, it should be assumed that you will have no access to 3G, 4G or WiFi for the duration of your trip.

Meals

All meals are included on this trip and are prepared by our very own on board chef. With years of experience working on various vessels, our chef offers a high standard of food which will keep you well fuelled for your swims during the trip.

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 U.K. and do not need to apply for a visa. Please note that visa regulations are subject to change and we advise that you check your own visa requirements prior to travel.

Health Information and Recommended Vaccinations

For comprehensive health information for people travelling to the UK, including all recommended and required vaccinations, please visit Travel Health Pro. Please note that this information is subject to change and you should re-check this site regularly prior to your trip.

Travel Plugs & Electricity

The Lady of Avenel features UK-style power points in some cabins and in communal areas.

For a useful source of information on the different electrical outlets, electrical plugs, and electric sockets, please visit ElectricalOutlet.org.

  • Flexible, challenging but non-competitive. A great mix of people. Skilful, knowledgeable and good-humoured staff. I felt safe but not cosseted or regimented.

    Crispin, H. UK, 2017
  • A magical experience, exhilarating in every way, wild water, stunning scenery, beautiful and awe-inspiring natural landscapes

    Helen, W, UK- 2017
  • I will never forget this week; incredible wild off grid swimming experience. Seals and dolphins outnumbering humans. I can't imagine any future trips matching or coming close to how brilliant this was. Thank you Swimtrek

    Nicola O. UK - 2017
  • Great scenery, clear water, all in the company of like-minded swimmers. Swam with dolphins and seals and had a great time. Unforgettable.

    Andrew B, UK - 2017
  • The Outer Hebrides trip is a wild swimming paradise.

    Andrew T, UK - 2017
  • An amazing experience with friendly people, expert crew, and guides that helped and encouraged me. An adventure: challenging and safe.

    Jane N, UK -2017
  • Swimming every day in pristine water, at magical locations, with like minded companions. How could it be better?

    Robert M, UK - 2017
  • 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