Handa Island

In more detail

Handa Island

The island of Handa is situated on the northwest coast of Scotland in the region of Sutherland. The Scottish Highlands and Hebridean islands are some of the most popular tourist attractions in the world, and Handa island is no exception.  The island is steeped in history, abundant in wildlife and also has some of the most beautiful sea cliffs that the northwest coast has to offer. The North Coast 500 (NC500) has become an incredibly popular tourist route in recent years and Handa island should be on everyone’s list of top places to visit for wildlife, scenery, and history.

Handa island is now owned by the Balfour family of the Scourie Estate and is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The island attracts around 5000 visitors a year and is managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust.

Handa Island History

The island compromised of 764 acres (309 ha) and translates from Old Norse for ‘Sand Isle’, appropriately the island has some stunning sandy beaches to the east.  

The island was once inhabited full time, but was also used as a popular burial ground in early times. Its popularity for human burial was due to the fact that bodies were often dug up by savaging wolves on the mainland. The Sound of Handa was enough of a deterrent which meant the island became a holy location and a small chapel was built on one of the beaches to the south east, the beach was later names ‘beach of the temple’. Due to local superstition they also believed evil spirits couldn’t cross the open water of the sound.

The inhabitants of Handa island were said to be similar to those at St Kilda, a parliament was held most mornings to distribute the most important jobs for the day. The height of the population was 65 persons in 1841 when there were a total of 11 black houses on the island. The remains of the black house village can still be seen now on the main footpath. The inhabitants of Handa worked the land; rearing livestock, growing produce, shore fishing and also harvesting birds and eggs from the cliffs as a food source. Despite their varying food sources, a potato famine in 1848 nearly bought the inhabitants to starving and by 1851 the majority had immigrated to Nova Scotia.

Part of the remains of the old Black house village

Handa Sea birds and Wildlife

The cliffs have been mentioned in ‘Scotland The Best’ by Peter Irvine, as one of the best places to see sea birds in Scotland.

There are around 250 breeding pairs of Atlantic Puffins on Handa Island. The puffin can be seen sitting on the water going about their daily business. There are around 100,000 breeding seabirds on Handa compromising of Atlantic Puffin, Common Guillemot, Great Skua, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Arctic and Common Tern, Snipe, Skylark, Rock pipit, Shags, and Razorbill.

Other wildlife around Handa can be seen such as Grey Seals, Common Seal, Harbor Porpoise, Common Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin, Killer Whale (Orca), Eurasian Otter, Minke Whale. At certain months of the year, Handa can be a great spot for whale watching.

The Handa Island Stacks and Seabirds Tour tour gets close to the Great Stack.
The cliffs have been mentioned in ‘Scotland The Best’ by Peter Irvine, as one of the best places to see sea birds in Scotland.

There are around 250 breeding pairs of Atlantic Puffins on Handa Island. The puffin can be seen sitting on the water going about their daily business. There are around 100,000 breeding seabirds on Handa compromising of Atlantic Puffin, Common Guillemot, Great Skua, Black-legged Kittiwakes, Arctic and Common Tern, Snipe, Skylark, Rock pipit, Shags, and Razorbill.

Other wildlife around Handa can be seen such as Grey Seals, Common Seal, Harbor Porpoise, Common Dolphin, Bottlenose Dolphin, Killer Whale (Orca), Eurasian Otter, Minke Whale. At certain months of the year, Handa can be a great spot for whale watching.

stacks and seabirds tour - visit Stack Of Handa
The water around Handa island is great for bird, whale and dolphin watching. Atlantic Puffins can be seen on the water around Handa island

Handa Island Stacks & Seabirds Tour

Handa Sea Cliffs

The Sea Cliffs at Handa can be up to 100 meters (328 ft) in height and made out of Red Torridinian Sandstone, they are some of the oldest rocks in the world. The sea cliffs are covered in sea birds and are some of the most spectacular in Scotland.

An open viewing deck is a perfect place for viewing the sea birds and cliffs at Handa island
The Great Stack of Handa is 115 meters high, and is something of a climbing legend but is covered in sea birds throughout the summer months. It is one of the best spots for seeing the nesting sea birds close up such as the guillemot, razorbill, and kittiwake.

The Great Stack of Handa was first climbed in 1876 by Donald McDonald from the Isle of Lewis. Now the Scottish Mountaineering Club has been known to venture out in the winter months to scale the stacks once the birds have left for the winter.

 

Visiting Handa Island

At North Coast Sea Tours, our Handa Island Stacks and Seabirds tour departing from Kylesku provides a superb half day tour including the unique opportunity to view the breeding seabirds perched on their narrow ledges and the dramatic sea cliffs from below. Information on this non-landing tour here – Handa Island Stacks and Seabirds Tour

For a landing visit to Handa Island with no tour of the cliffs and coastline a ferry service is provided by – Handa Ferry

stacks and seabirds tour - visit Stack Of Handa
The boat in between the Handa island and the Great Stack of Handa. Sea birds can be seen on the cliffs close up

Handa Island Stacks & Seabirds Tour