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Visits to the Shiant Islands

Stay on the island

You are extremely welcome to stay on the Shiant Islands, a small group of islands in the Minch between Skye and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, north-west Scotland.

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On the islands

The house is extremely basic. It has chairs, tables and a fireplace. It is best to bring some bags of coal and some kindling. There is no electricity, running water, telephone or loo. Mobile phones work but you obviously can't recharge them. There is a gas cooker with 4 rings, a grill and an oven which is fuelled with (red) gas cylinders, a small one of which you should bring with you. There are plenty of pots, pans, cutlery, cups, plates etc. It feels overcrowded with more than 6-8 people.There is a water tank by the house which is seldom completely full.

I ask people to go to the loo in the intertidal zone and to remove all unburnable rubbish in bin liners which can be put in skips on Stornoway quay. Burnable rubbish should be burned very carefully either on rocks below the high tide mark or, cleanly and tidily, in the house fire. Please don’t bury any rubbish or leave it lying around.It is best, I have found, to sleep in tents and to use the house as a kitchen-cum-sitting room. You obviously need wet weather clothes, gumboots, towels, drying up cloths, torches, radios etc etc


The Shiants are dangerous on land and sea.Do not climb cliffs. A boy died behind the house in 1986 doing that. The sea is tricky and needs great care. Many people in the past have drowned there. Before you go, you will need to absolve Tom Nicolson in writing from any responsibility for anything that happens to any of your party.Take life jackets and a handheld VHF radio, on which you can contact Stornoway Coastguard on Channel 16 if anything goes wrong.


A dinghy is needed to get over to Mary Island. House and Rough island are joined by a shingle beach and can be visited without a dinghy. If you have a dinghy, ask the boatman if he can tow it behind the boat from Stornoway or even bring it on deck.There is no all-weather anchorage or mooring. Tie the dinghy up well. Unexpectedly high tides can wash boats off the beach.


You must bring all your food and other supplies with you although nothing of course can be refrigerated. There is a cupboard in which food can be stored. You can order it from the Stornoway Co-Op on 01851 705005. Ask them to box provisions up for you and put the boxes inside black plastic bags. When things go to the Shiants in boxes, the boxes have a way of falling apart when they get damp on the boat. It is easier manhandling things on and off the boats if the boxes aren't too big.

This, as an example, is for three hungry men for four days - please bear in mind there is a considerable amount of supplies from previous visits so regular items will be there in abundance:

1 large Bag of Alpen

1 large Box of Shreddies

2 large loaves of white Bread (not sliced)

1 box of teabags

1 jar of coffee

4 cartons of UHT long life milk

2 lbs salted butter

1 jar marmalade

2 packs dry cure bacon

1 dozen free range organic eggs

1 bottle sunflower oil

2 boxes oatcakes

2 lbs cheddar cheese

12 slices ham

12 oranges

2 large bars chocolate

1 leg of lamb for 4

1 piece of roasting beef for 4

1 large packet of shells pasta

1 lb mushrooms

2 tins tomatoes

5 lbs potatoes

1 cabbage

12 sausages

2 tins mushroom soup

1 large bottle Ribena

1 bottle whisky

12 cans lager

3 large boxes of matches

4 boxes firelighters

3 large bags of coal

1 box of 24 candles

1 pckt J-cloths

1 bottle Fairy Liquid

2 rolls bio-degradable loopaper

1 roll of binliners


There is open access to the islands for individuals and groups throughout the year in accordance with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. But they are sensitive places, particularly at certain times of year, and if you want to minimise disturbance to the birds and sheep, please get in touch with Tom Nicolson on this email address ( If you would like to stay in the small house on Eilean an Tighe, please email Tom Nicolson to discuss the dates you want to go and to ensure the house is not already occupied.

Key to the house

To be got from Tom Nicolson. There is no charge to stay there.

Boat to the Shiants

Boats currently licensed to take you there from Stornoway are run by Charles Engebretsen on 01851 702304 or 01851 702303. Also Seumas Morrison, Tel: 01859 502007.Cost negotiable, expect something in the region of £700 return.


Please try and leave the place better than you found it; disturb the birds as little as you can; please do not move any stones on any archaeological site; take away all your rubbish (don't bury it).


Now the birds and wildlife at the Shiants need your help to keep the islands rat free. There are populations of brown rats on all of the nearby coasts and it would only take one rat (if a pregnant female) to lead to a fresh population of rats becoming established. It’s important to ensure the rats don’t get there at all. If you are visiting the Shiants by boat, even if you don’t intend to land, here are some things you can do to help keep the islands protected from reinvasion by rats.

Pack any food in rat-proof lunch boxes on the day that you are travelling Carefully check any bags or gear that may have been stored in a garage or shed. Make sure a rat has not stowed away somewhere. Rats are really good swimmers. If you happen to find one alive on board, don’t push it into the sea – it will swim ashore and could set up home on the Shiants if within a mile.

Please don’t land at the Shiants if you suspect that you have a rat onboard. Take any waste away with you. Report any rat sightings to the SNH and RSPB as soon as possible at the address below:

RSPB Scotland, Eve House, Beechwood Park, Inverness, IV2 3BW. Tel: 01463 715000,



Adam Nicolson's Sea Room: An Island Life (HarperCollins Oct. 2001) is a full description of the islands' history and natural history.