Go There: Highlands And Islands Of The UK

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Matt Capel. Photo: Will Bailey


Go There: Highlands And Islands Of The UK

Frozen Kegs In The Northern Reaches Of The United Kingdom

Where: Northern UK and its islands, situated square in the path of some of the north Atlantic’s most furious rumblings, and due west of Norway’s southern edges.

What: Ask any surfer where their top twenty surf destinations would be and I’m sure the UK wouldn’t be in there. But if you head north and have patience and a thick wetsuit, you can be rewarded with some uncrowded, cold perfection, as the northern coastline of the UK is riddled with hundreds of quality waves. The rocks are mainly flagstones from the Givetian and Eifelian stages of the Middle Devonian period (about 390 million years old), typically thinly bedded gray siltstones and mudstones, and unusually for sediments of this age the folds in the strata are very open, so the rocks at most outcrops are only gently inclined. Right…what does that mean, exactly? Slabs galore.

When: In the summer you can get flat spells that last weeks, swarms of midges, and loads of rain. In the winter it’s flat-out freezing and the coast gets hammered by massive storms that come charging their way down from the arctic. In the small windows between storms, there are days of complete perfection. However, unless you put the time in and sit through it all, you’ll miss them. April through June, and September through December are the ideal months. The north Atlantic storms send in huge swells that come straight out of deep water and fold onto the shallow shelves producing some of the best heavy, hollow waves in the world.

Why: There’s something about spending your days in freezing wind, wading across fields of cow shit, and surfing with no one out that appeals to some. When the sun is out and there are waves, it’s an amazing place to be. Very few crowds, no Germans, deep-fried Mars bars, and sticking with the Celtic tradition of drinking more than your liver can process—it’s a great social scene.

How: Fly into London, then connect to Newcastle, England, or Inverness or Glasgow, Scotland. Pick up a rental car, an Ordnance Survey map (which details the coastline and water depths), and off you go. We’re not going to completely spell out every nook and cranny, but there are plenty of good ones.

Places To Stay: There are countless options for lodging. Cheap youth hostels (around $16 USD a night), bed and breakfasts (B&Bs), pubs, camp sites, and hotels. The most popular choice in these parts are the pub/B&Bs. They typically offer a full fry-up breakfast to start the day, then a warm fire, pub meal, and a lively bar in the evening.

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Places To Eat: There are numerous options for a feed. Local delicacies include haggis, fried Mars bars, and black pudding. A combination of foreign and local, ancient and modern has produced a diverse array of dining options, but you won’t beat the local fish and chips.

Babes And Dudes: You’d be lucky, even in summer, there are no bikinis in sight here, mainly angry farmers.

Crowd Factor: Like most places in the world, the well-known spots get crowded on their day, but within a few minutes’ drive and a quick dash across a field there are equally as good waves with no one out. In the more remote areas, you can go for weeks without seeing another surfer, if you see one at all.

Stuff To Bring: In the winter, your thickest wetsuit, like a 6/5/4, hood, boots, and gloves are essential. In the summer, a 4/3 with boots is bearable. There’s a huge range of waves, offshore bombies, long pointbreaks, heavy slabs, and punchy beachbreaks, so depending on what tickles your fancy, a full quiver can be utilized. For clothes, you’ll want some thermals, waterproofs, and a good pair of wellies. Days spent wandering around fields looking for waves will wreck your shiny Nikes.

If The Surf Is Flat: It’s a pretty magical place, along with the beautiful mountainous scenery the ever-present history will keep you captivated, so get your wellies on and go for a walk. Reminders of the mystical and medieval past are all around. Standing stones, ancient farmhouses, WWI boat wrecks, every era from the Neolithic through the Bronze Age, to the Viking years and beyond—the landscape is littered with a rich history that gives the area a slightly haunted feeling.

The deep-sea fishing is these parts is second to none, so grab a rod and get after your supper, but if you don’t get a bite, there’ll be an open fire and a great atmosphere in any of the local pubs, with a full range of quality ales and whiskeys on offer.—Will Bailey

For a detailed and super accurate surf report and spot breakdown from the region go to magicseaweed.com

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