Hamish reflects on his Irish circumnavigation

Posted on September 24, 2014 @ 12:50 PM in Canoeing

'If you are good enough you are old enough' is perhaps most associated with Matt Busby when referring to his all conquering Busby Babes, however this famous quote can now also be applied to 19 year old Castlerock native Hamish Wilkinson who recently became the youngest person to circumnavigate Ireland by kayak.

Hamish also became the first to do so in a traditional Greenland kayak with Greenland style paddle.  In a vote of confidence towards traditional techniques, Hamish built his craft with the assistance of his father John, a renowned local boat builder.  Known as a 'Selkie' this kayak is wooden framed with a nylon skin and bar a few brass and bronze fittings there is no metal screws, fastenings or modern glues and adhesives.

Following a few weeks rest and relaxation CanoeNI.com caught up with Hamish to reflect on his amazing achievement:

CanoeNI.com: What was the most exciting element of the trip?

Hamish: The most exciting element of the trip had to be the rough weather. Particularly off the west coast, where the swell was huge. Watching waves break in deep water was definitely a highlight, and a bit of a scare all in one. The most satisfying aspect was the changing landscapes throughout the trip. It was nice to be able to get in the boat somewhere in the morning and then get out in a totally different spot at the end of the day with the mornings campsite off the horizon.

CanoeNI.com: On the flip side what was the most arduous element?

Hamish: The toughest and definitely most frustrating part of the trip was the weather. I had northerlies most of the way up the west coast, something which really started to get under my skin, particularly as I had hoped to benefit from the tailwinds from prevailing southerlies.

The real seal on this being the most difficult part  of the trip came when I turned into Donegal Bay and the wind switched to an easterly! In my face again! Easy to laugh at now but at the time it was pretty demoralizing.

CanoeNI.com: What did you most miss about home?

Hamish: I easily missed my bed most of all! What crossed my mind a lot though, was that I missed the stability of land, you could stop and rest whenever and not move with the wind and tide.

CanoeNI.com: What piece of equipment could you not have done without?

Hamish: The most essential piece of equipment is a tough one. To be honest I don't really have a definite answer. The boat immediately springs to mind but that is somewhat obvious! I guess it would be my stove, a smaller version of the Trangia. Since it was smaller I was able to boil water and cook with a minimum of fuel. Very handy as fuel was not that easy to come by in the more remote sections.

CanoeNI.com: How satisfying was it to paddle a boat you had crafted along with your dad?

Hamish: The boat element was very satisfying. It had a real positive effect on me I think. Firstly because it, in many ways was a bit of home, but more so because the boat was built for me exactly. It was not a shop bought bit of 'one size fits no one' kind of thing-the measurements for the boat were astonishingly detailed, and when I paddled it, the difference was really extraordinary. 

Also it meant if something was going wrong I only had myself to blame!

CanoeNI.com: Thinking about NI in particular - what was your favourite section of coastline?

Hamish: The best bit of the NI coastline was hands down the Causeway Coast. Maybe sounds a little clichéd as it is my home patch, but I really found it was the most scenic for me anyway. My tastes have always lent towards dramatic cliffs. That said the Gobbins deserves a mention-sadly though reconstruction was going on there when I passed and the climbing ropes and building materials festooning the cliffs took away from the view a bit.

Outside of NI a few bits caught the imagination. The Dingle peninsula with the Blaskets, Sybil Point and Mount Brandon was stunning. The cliffs off north Mayo were craggy and impressive while Slieve League was majestic even with its head in the clouds.

CanoeNI.com: What's next?

Hamish: I am not sure! I have vague plans about Iceland, but may take the chance to do something land based next year instead. Whatever happens, I think it will be my last solo trip anyway! I will take someone along to help carry the boat next time!!

Hamish spent 70 days on this expedition paddling a total of 1600km / 1000 miles.

- 3 days awaiting tracker replacement
- 3 days for Kims wedding
- 64 days actually on expedition
- 52 days on the water
- 12 days on shore weather bound

An excellent day by day account can be found on his blog

Hamish is also fundraising for Greenpeace and Action Cancer

Latest comment posted by Robin Forsythe on November 17, 2014 @ 10:32 PM

Hamish's story was very inspirational. I have been aiming to just kayak the river Bann to Castlerock but life keeps getting in the way! Read more >

Chris Scott
Chris Scott

Having 'retired' from competitive sailing he is trying to find something new to fill the void. Currently mixing it up with 10ks, trail running and adventures with his two year old son.

OutdoorNI.com does… Sea Kayaking

Posted on September 14, 2012 @ 8:40 AM in AdventureCanoeingBeaches

OutdoorNI.com does Sea Kayaking is the latest in our regular blog feature OutdoorNI.com does - which is our opportunity to showcase the exciting outdoor activities available in Northern Ireland.

OutdoorNI’s Sarah Nelson spent an afternoon Sea Kayaking on the North Coast Sea Kayak Trail with Simply Sea Kayak  .   Here’s how she got on…

Sarah Nelson - Simply Sea Kayak

It’s not often blue skies and sun shine make an appearance in Northern Ireland – especially if you have planned to do something outside!  Normally with the mere mention of a trip to the beach the clouds descend and the heavens open so you can imagine my surprise (and obvious delight) when there wasn’t a cloud in sight as I made my way to the sandy shores of East Strand Beach, Portrush for my first taste of sea kayaking. 

After arriving at the beach and enjoying a quick walk round the impressive new pedestrian promenade I met the rest of the group joining me for the kayaking session and was introduced to Gareth and Steve our friendly and enthusiastic instructors for the afternoon.  Straight away it was time to get stuck in and we were kitted out with all the necessary gear including waterproof jackets, buoyancy aids and spray decks (a sheet made out of water-tight cloth sized to fit over the opening, or cockpit, of the kayak to prevent water coming in).  It wasn’t long before we were all sitting in our kayaks on steady ground for a very literal ‘dry run’.  After learning how to adjust our boats to suit our own measurements we were taught what to do in the event of a capsize - luckily for us the conditions were pretty much perfect so any chances of an impromptu swim where very slim, nevertheless it was most definitely an essential piece of information to learn.  Ensuring we had the foundations for an enjoyable journey on the water Gareth and Steve taught us how to handle the paddle, coming round us one by one to make sure we had the correct technique down before we headed out to test our new found skills.  It was then time to buddy up and carry our crafts down to the beach – the first arm workout of the day and certainly not the last!

After a shove in the right direction we were off - skimming across the waters of the spectacular North Coast Sea Kayak Trail. As I glided along with minimal effort over the crystal clear water I almost forgot where I was letting my mind wonder with thoughts of the Caribbean until the Northern Irish accents behind me confirmed such idyllic places do actually exist right on our doorstep! We continued to paddle along in twos, kissing the coastline and exchanging banter along the way.  After putting our steering skills to the test getting up close to the rocky coastline we then began to make our way over to the impressive skerries – a chain of small islands formed from cooled volcanic lava.    

Keen for us to experience the beauty of this section of the coast that can only be explored by water Gareth and Steve pointed out the wildlife on the island including the large population of breeding seabirds and told us to look out for the rabbits  – I’m still trying to work out how they got there! In an effort to help us appreciate this rich area of fossils Steve challenged us to kayak as close to the island as possible without playing dodgems with the rocks – all I can say is thank goodness plastic doesn’t dent! 

Deciding we had to get evidence that the sun actually does shine in Northern Ireland the guys got out the Go Pro camera for a group shot - it was time for the first serious manoeuvre of the day.  Thinking I was coping rather well with the 180 degree turn after looking over to see everyone waiting for me in a perfect line and Steve remarking ‘I’d hate to see you reverse a car’ (which I have to admit isn’t a pretty sight!) I eventually managed to slide into position for the Kodak moment. 

Photo shoot over we continued to navigate between the basalt islands whilst a few friendly seals popped up to say hello.  Before we knew it, it was time to start heading back in with the current behind us to give a welcome helping hand as we paddled our way back to East Strand. 

Having previously never paddled before I really did feel that I had achieved a lot in an afternoon with the guided journey allowing me to put the skills learnt at the start of the session into practice.  It also gave me the opportunity to experience just a small glimpse of what the North Coast has to offer to sea kayakers, opening my eyes to the endless possibilities for day paddles and expeditions on Northern Ireland’s Coastal Trails .   

It is safe to say that ever since our paddle the rowing machine is no longer doing it for me! I’ll happily swap a workout in the gym for clear waters, stunning views, and a fresh breeze any day. However not only was my introduction to sea kayaking a good work out it was definitely a memorable experience and one that has left me unable to think of a more relaxing and peaceful way of experiencing an unique perspective of Northern Ireland’s incredible coastline.

Activity Provider:

Simply Sea Kayak





Introduction to Sea Kayaking

Cost per person, per day:  £45.00

(includes all specialist equipment,  no experience required)

Know someone who might like to give this a go?  You can purchase the ‘North Coast Sea Kayaking Experience’ online from the OutdoorNI.com Gift Voucher page.  




Latest comment posted by Calum on May 3, 2013 @ 4:26 PM

Looks great fun, there's nothing better than being out on the water with the fresh air hitting your face, a real delight! Great pics, thanks for sharing! www.firstclasssailing.com Read more >

Sarah Nelson
Sarah Nelson  Marketing Officer

Sarah joined the marketing team of Outdoor Recreation NI in 2011. A firm believer in giving anything a go at least once (unless it involves jumping out of a plane at 6,000ft!) she is always looking for new adventures in the outdoors and can often be found wandering the Mournes or Glens of Antrim attempting not to get lost!

The Lough Erne Island Challenge Begins

Posted on July 18, 2012 @ 8:20 AM in Canoeing

Keen canoeist Nick Wolsey has almost completed his self made quest to land on every island on Strangford Lough.  Not content with this he has already embarked on a second challenge to circumnavigate every island on Lough Erne.  This is no small task considering it is rumoured there are 365!!  

Nick has kindly written a guest blog for CanoeNI.com on his account of the first steps (or paddle stokes) of this challenge. 


On the last Saturday in June my daughter Melissa, faithful hound Molly and I set off for Carrybridge on the River Erne for the first full trial of the Mothership concept. (thanks Mary in Oxford for the name.) We arrived at 8pm and stayed the night at our normal dock. First thing in the morning we were up and away, heading south to Naan Island. 

  Mobile Bothy set up at the Naan Island jetty by 9am.

We planned to base ourselves here and explore the surrounding islands by canoe.  I managed three trips from here, on the first trip up to Sunday lunchtime I was accompanied by my daughter, then the afternoon trip and Monday morning trips it was just me and my hound.

Naan Island Map 

First Trip

We set off north into wind with the intention of circumnavigating Naan Island. As we reached the north end of the island we were exposed to a stiff northwest wind and decided to turn back as the waves were uncomfortable.

Heading north along Naan Island

Heading south again.

We then headed for the sheltered south end of the island.


The calmer south end.

We skirted the reed beds connecting Naan West with Naan South and found a grassy area to land for an early lunch break. The water lever was a foot higher than normal and we could paddle right into the long grass.


Heading into the grass.

Naan Island South picnic site. 

We spotted a bird nestbox made from wire mesh and straw, it was not inhabited. 

 Second trip 

In the afternoon the wind had died down and swung round to the southwest, at about 3pm while my daughter had a snooze in the Bothy I set off southeast to explore Mountjoy Island. It had a small area of grass as a picnic/camping area with a garden shed containing a plastic table and chairs.



Heading round the island the rest of it was overgrown and impossible to land on, the reed beds were very peaceful and eventually I backed into the reeds for a teabreak, Molly was not amused at not getting out to explore.

Reed bed teabreak 

I headed into wind partly sheltered by Creaghananure Island then turned northwest back to base. 

Third trip 

In the morning the wind had swung round to the southeast so I set off with Molly (teenagers don’t do mornings !) to explore Creaghananure Island. Like most of the small islands on Lough Erne most of this island was impenetrable due to dense undergrowth overhanging the water, but the south end was clear under the trees and looked as if it may have been a historic defensive position. Someone has provided a long bench seat with a great view. 

View from Creaghananure bench. 

As I explored the interior I disturbed some sizable beast which went crashing and then splashing towards the north part of the island. Then as I made my way back to the boat I came across a completely stripped and dismantled skeleton of something sheep sized, this was laid out in order of dismantlement implying non human consumption, at this point a shiver went down my spine and I hopped into my boat and left sharpish ! 

It was probably just the two swans I saw later that made the crashing noise, probably !

Funny how your mind plays tricks when you are on your own, with just an overfriendly hound for protection.

I then paddled over to Edergole Island as the furthest point of the trip.

The run back to the jetty was downwind so I fitted up the sail ready for use, but first I paddled back across to the bay on the southeast side of Creaghananure and here experienced an epiphany.

I came to the realisation that this is the only way to fully experience the beauty of Lough Erne. In a small boat, no engine, in the reeds with the swans and coots, close to an overgrown island untouched by man, with a faithful hound for company.

This was brought into sharp focus by the contrast with the big boat waiting with its home comforts at the jetty. The cruiser is useless for appreciating the lough, it can only access about 10% of the lough and is severely restricted as to where you can stop ( I have yet to try the anchor ). It is like watching the lough from a distance through a television screen. It is noisy, smelly and intrusive, but I love the convenience, not have to set up camp and then pack up in the morning. The Mothership concept works and I have the best of both worlds.

The last part of the trip was by sail with a gentle tailwind. By the time I got back to the big boat my daughter was up and wanted to head south to Crom. We cast off and motored south, reaching Crom by lunchtime.

Crom jetty

Fourth Trip

After lunch we had a long walk to tire out the dog and the daughter, then at 3pm I set off on a mission to check out Bloody Pass. This is an expedition I have wanted to do for some time to see if it is possible to paddle all the way round Inishfendra island. A causeway has been built at Bloody Pass and the rumour is that it is impassable.

Crom map.

I set off up river into the wind, it was hard work, but the concept was that if the Pass was impassable at least I could drift back down river with the wind. On the chart the turn-in is marked with post 23J.

23J Marker.

Bloody Pass.

Across a stretch of open water we came to a choked up channel leading to the causeway. Because the river level was a foot higher than normal it was possible to push through the reeds right up to the causeway, but if the level was lower than normal it would leave a marshy area that would be hard to portage. The causeway had a barbed wire fence with an electric strand on top, but at one end there was a gap where the wire strands could be unhooked and the boat passed through. On both sides of the causeway the cows had churned up the ground and left their usual deposits making the going heavy.

The Bloody Pass Causeway

At last I made it into the open lough south of Inishfendra, and a gentle tailwind blew me back towards the Crom junction. After half an hour of gentle paddling Gad Island with Crichton Tower came into view.

Gad island

Crichton Tower

Crichton Tower is a folly built to give a focal point to look at from the main Crom Castle. The door was open so I landed and had a look, the ground floor has a domed roof with a hole in the centre for a ladder. The upper floor has no roof, and no access to the battlements. A little disappointing.

Time to head back to the Crom Dock, I had no watch and thought I might have been out longer than expected, but when I got back to the big boat I found the whole trip had taken just two hours.

The river level is still rising.

No canoeing on the Tuesday, damp and windy. We motored back to the Noble Dock, stopping for lunch at Knockninny. The Mothership/Canoe combination works very well, the amount of canoeing dependant on the weather and the patience of those with you. Must arrange to bring a canoe enthusiast with me next time, or maybe just Molly.


Latest comment posted by CanoeNI on October 30, 2013 @ 11:42 AM

Marge, Thanks for your interest re this blog. There are a number of ways you can access the mapping: The map is taken from the OSNI Lough Erne Activity Map which can be purchased at ... Read more >

Nick Wolsey
Nick Wolsey  Keen Canoeist & Volunteer Canoe Ranger

By day Nick Wolsey is a technical instructor with Shorts/Bombardier which involves a lot of worldwide travel. As such he likes to spend his spare leisure time enjoying canoeing at home in Ireland.

Nick has almost completed a self made quest to land on every island on Strangford Lough. This quest has developed further to paddle around all of the islands on Lough Erne.

Nick is also a Volunteer Canoe Ranger assisting CanoeNI.com regularly inspect the canoe trails.

Trannish Island Bothy – A look through the keyhole

Posted on March 7, 2012 @ 12:37 PM in Canoeing

The launch of Trannish Island Bothy has added yet another feather to the cap of the award winning Lough Erne Canoe Trail.

The bothy which was officially opened on Friday 9th March 2012 will be available for it’s first guests from Easter 2012.  So make your bookings early, as demand is already very high.  


Trannish Island is situated on Upper Lough Erne and the closest designated access point is from the Share Discovery Village (Number 9) who also mange the bothy.  Depending on wind direction the bothy is approximately a 45 minute paddle from the centre.

However it is not necessary to paddle from the centre, Trannish Island is well placed on the trail and key code access means you can go directly to the island on your journey north or south along the trail.

This ‘Through the Keyhole’ preview showcases the facilities available for paddlers in this restored cottage.

The bothy is situated a short walk from the landing site, a dredged harbour with slipway access – this is indicated clearly from the water by a tall Red Indian style Totem Pole.  The bothy is not visible from the water but a short walk along a gravel path will bring you its secluded location within the trees.  There is a small shed just through the first gate to hang your wet gear and store equipment to save you having to carry it to the bothy.

The front door leads to the communal area with kitchen facilities and wood burning stove.  There is cold running water in the sink but note that the gas cooker is not available to guests so it is important you bring your own means of cooking.  This communal area along with all the other rooms are well lit naturally by south facing skylights, however you will need to bring your own lights for night time. Again the electric lights powered by a generator are not available to guests.  

There are two side rooms.  The first situated behind the fire place could easily sleep six people side by side on the raised wooden floor.  The bench and coat hooks provide ample storage place.

The second room is situated on the other side of the communal area.  The twin level flooring is suitable can sleep three people on each level.

Fire wood should also be brought along to fuel the wood burning stove however from time to time SHARE will undertake small amounts of tree thinning and pruning as part of ongoing management.  Feel free to use any branches you find laying on the ground but please do not cut any branches from the trees.

There is a substantial campsite outside the bothy, unfortunately we do not have any photos as this area was being re landscaped during our visit.  Once the grass has been resown this will provide and excellent flat campsite with shelter from the trees.

Both bothy residents and campers can make use on the covered BBQ areas, self composting toilets and showers (heated by solar power).


As the pictures clearly show this bothy and campsite will provide a fantastic overnight experience but it will require the complete cooperation of all visitors to help with maintenance and upkeep.  To maximise yours and others experience on Trannish please familarise yourself with the bookings notes.

All bookings for the bothy should be made by via the Share Discovery Village.



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Chris Scott
Chris Scott

Having 'retired' from competitive sailing he is trying to find something new to fill the void. Currently mixing it up with 10ks, trail running and adventures with his two year old son.

BBC Countryfile Showcase North Coast Sea Kayak Trail

Posted on November 21, 2011 @ 5:57 PM in Canoeing

The soon to be launched North Coast Sea Kayak Trail featured on BBC Countryfile on Sunday 27th November.  Despite some grim November weather, presenter Ellie Harrison enjoyed a great day paddling along the trail with Robin Ruddock from Ruddock Sea Kayaking and Canoeing.

As part of her trip Ellie viewed the refurbishment of a old cottage which was once the nerve centre of the Port Moon Bay Salmon fishing industry in County Antrim

The Port Moon Bothy will be officially launched in March 2012 to coincide with the launch of the North Coast Sea Kayak Trail and will offer an open fire, composting toilet, lounge area, drying room and sleeping space for eight adults.

 At CanoeNI.com we are very excited about the launch of the trail and bothy. With the opening of the new Giant’s Causeway Visitors Centre coinciding with the undoubted increase of international tourists as a result of the Titanic centenary, we are expecting a real boost in tourism numbers to County Antrim next year. The North Coast Sea Kayak Trail will offer a completely unique way to explore the Causeway Coast and the converted bothy at Port Moon is fast becoming the most talked about and indeed most spectacular accommodation in Ireland.”

The bothy will be managed and maintained by the Causeway Coast Kayak Association (CCKA).

Following a recent chat with Robin Ruddock, Secretary of the CCKA, he explained  “We are delighted to see construction start on this project which will really bring this old cottage back to life. We are expecting a real boost in trail users next year and Port Moon Bothy will enable us to host visiting kayakers as well as provide an incredible location for our own club meetings and social gatherings.”

The CCKA hope to display some of their collection of historic kayaks in the rafters and artifacts from the salmon fishery on the walls to create a truly authentic atmosphere for all who use the bothy.

Visit CanoeNI.com to find out more about the launch of the iconic North Coast Sea Kayak Trail and indeed the refurbishment project of this old cottage which is not planning on relieving its maritime heritage any time soon. 


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Chris Scott
Chris Scott

Having 'retired' from competitive sailing he is trying to find something new to fill the void. Currently mixing it up with 10ks, trail running and adventures with his two year old son.

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