Last November I fell in love. Not with a person, but with a small, remote island in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland called Taransay. The island is barren and uninhabited, so you might well imagine a desolate and gloomy place, but it was without question the most stunning island I’ve ever beheld. The soft, white sandy beaches and aquamarine waters were more gorgeous than any tropical island I’ve been to. The island is pristine, with rolling machair (Gaelic for wildflower-filled) meadows, gargantuan rocks, and interesting archaeological sites.
Well known after being chosen as the location of the BBC series Castaway 2000, the tiny island became part of Borve Lodge Estate when it was purchased by pharmaceutical magnate Adam Kelliher in 2011. (You read about Borve Lodge Estate in the December-January issue of Covey Rise, in the feature “Western Isles Woodcock.”) Taransay has evidence of habitation going back some 10,000 years, and it has a firm place in Celtic pagan folklore. Throughout history it was the site of fierce battles, including the Massacre of Taransay in 1544, when the Morrisons of Lewis invaded. At one time three villages thrived on Taransay, but the population dwindled, with the last remaining family moving to the Scottish mainland in 1974 when the island became principally a place for sheep grazing.
Today, guests can enjoy walked-up snipe shooting as I did, arranged through Borve. Snipe are medium-size wading birds with short legs and long straight bills, similar in aspect to woodcock. They are mottled brown with pale buff stripes on the back. Not only do they make excellent sport, but they are also glorious to eat gently roasted.
To reach Taransay, we boarded the estate’s landing craft, The Verley Anne. A leftover from the Falklands War, this eccentric vessel certainly aroused the inner child in me. After loading up the amphibious vehicle called an ArgoCat, not forgetting the dog and shotgun, we began the 40-minute voyage to the island.
En route we spied indigenous wildlife including puffins, seals, and a golden eagle. I enjoyed the clean Hebridean air, wilderness, and solitude. As the landing craft moved onto the white-sand shore, I marveled at how isolated from mankind but brimming with wildlife the area is. How different was this Tuesday from my typical weekday in gridlocked Mayfair!
The manager of Borve Lodge Estate, Steve Woodhall, and I had the 3,500-acre island to ourselves for the entire day. Within seconds of quietly walking through the boggy grass, we’d flushed our first snipe. But it was a jack snipe, which are protected and not a legal game species. Slightly smaller with an ever so slightly shorter bill than the common snipe, the two species are easy to mistake. The key to telling them apart is by how they fly. The Jack snipe flies low and rapidly drops down again, whereas the common snipe zigzags and flies off high. Being able to correctly identify quarry in the heat of the moment is not easy. When in doubt, don’t shoot.
We continued walking along the coastal rocks and marshy grasslands in search of the diminutive bird. My veteran cocker, Archie, knew his job well. He quartered through the tussocky grass in front of us, not ranging more than 15 feet. If he went too far, I turned him on the whistle. In a flash, two common snipe lifted. I wasn’t quite quick enough for the first bird, but I killed the second with my second barrel.
To succeed at this kind of shooting, you need quick reactions. My heart was pumping in my chest. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied another two snipe trying to make a getaway. Without a second of hesitation, I connected the muzzle to the first bird’s flight line and did the same for the second. To my astonishment, I’d shot a left and right: another two birds for the pot. Enough for a well-earned meal for Steve, my wife, and me.
That night we took the birds back to Borve Lodge Estate, where the chef prepared them served with traditional bread sauce, tatties, and roasted root vegetables. If you’re interested in doing it yourself in the kitchen, you’ll find other recipes and information about gamebirds in Game: A Cookbook by Tom Norrington-Davies and Trish Hilferty.
GETTING TO TARANSAY
Taransay is made up of two land masses connected by a narrow isthmus, with spectacular white-sand beaches, rugged cliff faces, and heather moorlands. The island became part of Borve Lodge Estate when it was purchased by the Kelliher family in June 2011. It’s noted for its flora, with an abundance of wildflowers growing on the island’s machair grasslands. As the only hunting-trip outfitter to Taransay, Borve Lodge Estate never plans a trip to the island too far in advance, as the weather can be so wild and unpredictable as to make passage perilous. Normally, you’ll need to check with Steve Woodhall on the morning of your intended voyage to see whether it’s safe to cross the Sound of Taransay. Even then, the crossing can be choppy, so you’ll need sea legs! The estate’s landing craft (seen in the pictures with this feature) is far from glamorous; it’s a military-type workhorse rather than a commercial vessel with creature comforts, but its ruggedness adds to the sense of adventure. Crossing the sound, you may spot a host of seabirds such as golden and sea eagles, so be sure to bring binoculars. You may also be lucky enough to see gray seals and basking sharks, as well as other marine wildlife. When the weather is calm and the sun is shining, Taransay can feel like paradise. (However, that might not be the case during hunting season, from August through January.) It really is the most enchanting island.—Selena Barr
KIT BAG AND HUNT INFO
A days walked-up snipe shooting on Taransay costs £220 (about $280 US) per gun (minimum booking £675 or $850 US). Borve Lodge can accommodate up to six guns in one party or up to 10 in two separate parties. Price includes transportation from Borve to the island and light lunch. For more information, visit borvelodge.com
Zoli Expedition EL: £4,800 ($6060 US)
NSI SIPE cartridges: £310 ($390 US) per 1,000
Leica Geovid HD-B Binoculars: From £2,650 ($3350 US) edgarbrothers.com