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Tiree, Scotland

15:12 21st February 2012 by Letitia Hristodorescu
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Tiree is statistically the windiest & sunniest place in the British Isles!As the most westerly island in the Inner Hebrides is also picks up a lot of Atlantic swell. It has nine windsurfable beaches where you can sail in down-the-line, perfectly flat water or cross-on mush all on the same day! No surprise then that it hosts the biggest wave event in the UK: the Tiree Wave Classic. Adam Cropper visited the island just before this event to see whether it lived up to the hype.

 

Fact File

Windy Season October to March
Water Temp In Summer 17 degrees
Wet Suit? Short sleeved suit in summer, winter steamer anytime else.
Flight Time (From UK) 4hrs by ferry from the mainland (Oban)
How To Get There

It’s fair to say, getting to Tiree is a mission, but that’s what makes it special. You need to get yourself + car/van to Oban which is on the west coast of Scotland; about two hours drive north of Glasgow. From there you get a Caledonian MacBrayne ferry for the 4 hour trip through the Sound of Mull, out to the Island of Coll and finally landing on Tiree. The summer timetable (April to mid-October) sees ferries run every day. Come the winter schedule they only go on a Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. A return ticket for 2 persons & a less than 5m vehicle costs just over £200 on the summer timetable and £165 in the winter.

Fly

Yes, you can fly to Tiree with a daily flight from Glasgow International Airport except on Sundays. However, the plane is a small one and the captain won’t be able to squeeze on your bags of windsurfing kit. But if you have a very good friend that will drive your van/kit up there, it is the pimpest way to arrive in Tiree! The one flight a day is operated by British Airways/Logan Air and will cost you £95 return.

Driving on the Island

You can seriously clock up the miles on Tiree. We did 500 miles during our two week visit! Fuel is expensive on the island (111p per litre in Oct 2006)so fill up at the petrol station just before Oban on the mainland. The roads are all single lane with passing places. The locals either drive incredibly slow or stupidly fast. It’s best if you drive very sensibly and give way to tractors, school buses and Wily Angus on his way to the beach!

How The Wind Works

Tiree is subject to the same weather systems as the rest of the UK but because of its position it does tend to get most of the Atlantic lows and with it decent swell. Therefore you would calculate that spring & autumn are the best times to go. However, August Bank Holiday has been known to go off and you can spend a week in October with no wind. To guarantee a gale of a time go in January. The Gulf Stream keeps the water warmer than you would think but you will still need as much neoprene as money can buy!

The Sailing Spots

The island seems purpose shaped for windsurfers. Beaches face in all directions and with the island being so flat there is very little to block or unsettle the wind. There is also a shallow loch with a flat sandy bottom, ideal for beginners and experts alike. Beaches listed in clockwise order from the ferry port.

Gott Bay

Beach faces: South-east to South-west. It is a classic ‘C’ shaped bay.

Best wind direction: Works in everything depending on what you want. South-east for small jumps & rides in top left hand corner looking out to sea, but generally regarded as a safe, flat water freeride beach. Southerly gives bump & jump, north-west is offshore, ideal for speed and in a south-west wind plus big swell you can get pretty good waves.

Worst wind direction: Everything works!

Tide: Quite a walk out at low tide.

What’s on the bottom?: Sand with one line of rocks from the hotel.

Any hazards: None.

Suitability/levels: All.

 

Crossapol

Beach faces: South/South-east.

Best wind direction: West.

Worst wind direction:
 South or South-east.

Tide: High tide gives you a wind shadow off the dunes in a westerly, other than that it doesn’t matter when you sail.

What’s on the bottom?: Sand.

Any hazards: In the very middle of the bay, there is the mast of an old sunken wreck at low tide.

Suitability/levels: Good place to learn to wave ride unless massive.


Balemartine

Beach faces: East.

Best wind direction: North/North-east at the north end of the bay.

Worst wind direction: West

Tide: Works in any state.

What’s on the bottom?: Sand.

Any hazards: Some rocks in the middle of the bay but loads of room.

Suitability/levels: All, but this is not a wave sailing beach.

 

Balephuil

Beach faces: South/South-west.

Best wind direction: North-west.

Worst wind direction: South or South-west.

Tide: Wind shadow at high tide from the sand dunes & cliffs.

What’s on the bottom?: Sand.

Any hazards: None.

Suitability/levels: Can be quite gnarly in a north-west blow.

 

Maze

Beach faces: West.

Best wind direction: South or South-east.

Worst wind direction: West.

Tide: Waves drop off with the falling tide when it’s not that big.

What’s on the bottom?: Sand.

Any hazards: Rocks to the right of the bay looking out to sea and small clump of rocks in the middle of the beach which is sometimes hard to see at mid-low tide.

Suitability/levels: The clean, powerful waves are testing for the best windsurfers and have broken many a mast over the years.

 

Balevullin

Beach faces: North-west.

Best wind direction: South-west.

Worst wind direction: North-west.

Tide: Almost unsailable at high tide due to swirling rips in the bay, but it is fine at mid to low tide.

What’s on the bottom?: Sand plus a great big rock in the middle of the bay.

Any hazards: That rock and to the left of that looking out to sea it’s quite rocky.

Suitability/levels: West gives cross onshore jumping. South-west gives waves, bigger and punchy to the left of the bay looking out to sea. The wind can be really fickle on the inside, combine that with big swell and you can get a proper rinsing!

 

The Green

Beach faces: North.

Best wind direction: West, but you can also get onshore conditions if there is no ground swell. This can sometimes be the only place with any waves.

Worst wind direction: South.

Tide: Works fine at all states.

What’s on the bottom?: Sand.

Any hazards: Some rocky outcrops at either end of the beach and beware of the farmer and his livestock!

Suitability/levels: Most people will manage on most days.

 

Balephetrish

Beach faces: North.

Best wind direction: Not really a wave beach, but any onshore winds can provide some bump and jump conditions when there is no groundswell elsewhere on the island.

Worst wind direction: Easterly.

Tide: Works in any state.

What’s on the bottom?: Sand and small boulders in some areas.

Any hazards: None.

Suitability/levels: Any.

 

Balephetrish Reefs

Reefs Faces: Roughly North-west.

Best wind direction: South-westerly.

Worst wind direction: Southerly.

Tide: The bigger the swell the more water you want on the reefs to keep them manageable but big spring tides do not work.

What’s on the bottom?: Rock – and lots of it!

Any hazards: Wind direction & strength changes.

Suitability/Levels: An advanced level of sailing is recommended before taking the reefs on!

 

The Loch (Bhasapol)

This loch is home to Wild Diamond Windsurfing, an RYA Level 5 recognised centre. All levels are catered for in abundance. The large area of the loch in front of the launch area is shallow with a sandy bottom, perfect for learning. The Loch is also the windiest spot on the island in any wind with south in it and it can make a difference on those rare marginal days. The Loch is private however and a minimal launch fee is payable to Tiree Windsurfing Club.  Wild Diamond Windsurfing generally handle the payment of this fee.

Water State

The beauty of Tiree is that it can provide bolt flat water and down-the-line sailing at the same time – you just have to pick your beach. For example, in a typical south-westerly blow you would get down-the-line sailing at Balevullin, port cross onshore at The Maze, starboard cross onshore at Crossapol and flat water at Gott Bay.

Instruction And Kit Hire

Equipment hire as well as tuition for all levels is available from Wild Diamond Windsurfing. Wild Diamond also have a shop based behind the Tiree Lodge hotel at Gott Bay.  The shop has a full mail order service and additionally carries a full range of spares, hardware, wetsuits and other neoprene supplies at all times and is open year round (by arrangement during the quieter months).

« Willy Angus runs Wild Diamond and he is always on hand to give advice except when it’s going off, then he will be outsailingyou on the water! They also teach kitesurfing, surfing and you can rent a kayak off them for the no wind days. They will also help you source accommodation on the island. Go towww.tireewindsurfing.com or contact Wily directly on

01879 220 399       or       077121 59205.

Accommodation

Houses

Our advice would be to book far in advance if you want to rent a nice place. The houses on Tiree fall into two categories: big old farmhouses where the residents move out during the tourist season or live next door AND small, traditional black houses/cottages which have been done up very nicely usually by someone who lives on the mainland. The best places tend to be booked up year after year by the same people and being windsurfers, not everyone will take you on. This can be very frustrating when ringing though the Tiree accommodation list and it is mainly due to student windsurfers who have, in the past, packed 10 people into a 4 person house and ruined it for everybody! Wild Diamond will certainly help you out if you are struggling. Go to www.isleoftiree.comfor more help with accommodation. As the island is only 12 miles long and 3 miles wide, it really doesn’t matter where you stay.

Hostels

Wild Diamond run a bunkhouse sleeping six costing £180 for the week or £150 if you’re booking a course through them.

The Millhouse Hostel sleeps 12 in bunk rooms and has two twin rooms. They also have a Farm House with 3 double bedrooms. Both places are very modern, very clean and run by the local vets. Go to www.tireemillhouse.co.uk

The Hynish Centre is a hostel sleeping 24 but this tends to take group bookings as they cook your breakfast & dinner for you – perfect! During the Tiree Wave Classic it is full of competitors and it also takes school groups in the summer. However, if you are a party of 10 or more, it will take you as well. Go to: www.hynishcentre.co.uk.

Hotels/B&B’s

Be clear; there are no Hiltons or Travel Lodges on Tiree! There are two hotels & six guest houses all which are listed here: www.isleoftiree.com.
Glebe House is very nice as is Kirkapol House. The Scarinish Hotel is much better than it used to be and the food has improved immeasurable. The Lodge is not as good but the rooms are warm, the bath water is hot and the food is edible (just).

Camp City

If you want to camp then do so on the flat bit of grass opposite The Lodge Hotel. This is called Camp City! You don’t have to pay but this has been allowed so you don’t camp anywhere else.

Food

The two hotels do food; the Scarinish being favoured over The Lodge. The Glassary (01879 220684) was the only decent restaurant on the island until the Elephants End opened this year (01879 220694) although you will need to pre-book dinner there.

The Tiree Rural Centre (next to the airport) has a wonderful café serving light lunches and the best afternoon tea on the island. We can vouch for the cakes being home made as the owner, Anne, is seen late at night baking away in her kitchen!

There are two main food shops: the Co-op & Crossapol Stores. The Co-op is very well stocked but of course relies on the ferry which gets in most days around 11am so if you want fresh stuff don’t go in until after that. Crossapol Stores has the monopoly on newspapers & magazines and sells household goods as well as food. Fresh fish can also be bought here every Wednesday. There is a butcher next to the Co-op where you can buy local meat.

Nightlife

Tiree nightlife can be very lively all be it at one place: The Lodge Hotel. During October, with the Wave Classic, it becomes the centre for all debauched evening activity! However, it is fairly lively every weekend of the year.

Bored Of Windsurfing
  • Kitesurfing & Surfing through Wild Diamond
  • Cycle Hire from the Millhouse Hostel (01879 220435 ) or MacLennan Motors by the ferry port (01879 220435).
  • Vaul Golf Club (01879 220729)
  • Horse rides (www.tireeonhorseback.co.uk)
  • An Turas: Visit the 2003 Scottish Building of the Year at the ferry port. Umm…..is all we will say!
  • Gift hunting: Go to the Blue Beyond for some art, Fiona’s Craft Centre for some tartan and Beachcomber for your jumper.
  • Swim with the Seals: Watch out though, the big ones are quite intimidating close up!

Hot Tips

Internet access: The Lodge Hotel has wireless broadband. You buy a £5 ticket from the bar which gives you one hour’s worth of use. Tiree Business Centre in Crossapol will also connect you up.

Doctors: Dr.Holliday (known as Dr.John) is a very good Doc and is used to dealing with all sorts of emergencies. If needed, you will be flown off the island to Oban which has a decent hospital. We know this because we have used the medical facilities for a case of mumps, glandular fever and a suspected broken neck brought on by diving into a shallow rockpool of water. All sailors made a full recovery! Phone  01879 220323  for the surgery.

Conclusion

A unique island with some awesome wave sailing beaches as well as flat water heaven. You’ll fall in love with the place!!

Tourist

Adam Cropper, designer of TurfDog Land windsurf boards, and the whole Boardseeker Team who have spent countless weeks on the Island.

Adam is sponsored by StarboardTushingham &Onboard surf & sail

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