Bound for Soay in the St Kilda archipelago, Scotland with the NE cliffs of Hirta behind. Credit: Richard McLellan.

The Joys of Island Bagging

The What, Why and How of Island Bagging in the UK

When I first heard of the Marilyns, I was also told of the fabled stacs of St Kilda; 'The Wall’ beyond which no one had, at that time, passed. So began my awareness of island bagging as an activity in its own right.

First, reach your island...

I have always loved Calmac ferries with their smells of diesel and new paint, a moment of peace after a hectic departure from work and long drive. The deserted white beaches and marram grass of the Western Isles were a total surprise to me; anywhere else in the world they would be mobbed with people.

Then, I bought a kayak and a roof rack. It’s so rewarding to reach an island under one’s own steam, find a suitable landing site, possibly get tossed into the water, and then explore its wildness. I love to observe the relaxed birds, identify flowers, and find the lichen-encrusted stones of old crofts.

Occasionally, the sea warns you that you have not quite timed it right and all you can do is look at the islands as you bob up and down on the swell.

Variety is the spice of island bagging

Of course, once landed, one also must bag the island’s summit. Sometimes, such as within the saltmarshes of Norfolk, that’s a very moot (and muddy) point; mainly you are uplifted by the never-ending summit views of blue seas, grey rock and green vegetation in the super-clear light. A particularly memorable trip was through the watery channels of Uist, bagging hills and islands, returning at sunset, with seals and sea otters interacting with us.

The on/off nature of the trips adds to the fun. To bag an island, you need a bit of luck, with the alignment of the weather, the tides, the bird nesting season, other like-minded individuals, accessibility of the landing (maybe barnacles, maybe slime) and, for many, a skilled and willing skipper. Until one actually has returned, nothing is certain. Some are a piece of cake. We watched the weather for over 5 years and had several false starts (practice- runs) before the final elation of summiting the St Kilda stacs.

How to arrange island bagging trips

Skippered charters are where RHSoc really comes into its own in helping to arrange access to the less accessible islands. The Society has enabled me to connect with others who share the cost and the effort of coordination.

In our Members' area we have more details on Advice for Bagging Island Marilyns not accessible by public transport including which boat charters are best for different Scottish islands, plus contact details.

There is a real depth of knowledge among RHSoc members about boats, landing sites, technical issues and access arrangements. I have learned that there  are lots of definitions of an island. Personally, I have focused on SIBS (Significant Islands of Britain) but sometimes a Haswell - Smith or a Squib tempt me. The boat travel is very sociable and you get to know people who are as quirky as you are! The sense of shared achievement on the way back is palpable and will be recalled when one meets on a hill years later.

Arrival at Scarba,. Argyll and Bute by charter boat. Credit: Richard McLellan.


Members can use the island bagging resources within the members’ section of the website, including the page containing advice for reaching Island Marilyns not accessible by public transport, including contact details of experienced charter boat skippers. There’s an excellent recording of a talk on UK island bagging by Bob Kerr, one of the top British island baggers. As well as some inspiring trip photos, Bob explains the different definitions of an ‘island’ and their associated bagging lists. There’s a booklist as well.

Denise McLellan

Climbing mountains has been a lifelong passion for Denise. Mostly, Denise walks with her husband, Richard. She finished her Corbetts in 2015 but is still working her way through Munros. As Denise lives in Birmingham, her main focus is on English and Welsh Tumps and Humps, but she is nearing completion of English and Welsh Marilyns. Internationally speaking, Denise focuses on Ultras, that is mountains with 1500m of prominence, and has done over 225 of these. Denise also sails, skis and kayaks and bags islands, trigs and benchmarks.

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The Relative Hills Society is a friendly, informal group, aimed at helping folk meet their climbing and walking ambitions, and have fun in the hills.
We aim to promote an interest in climbing the British hills that are prominent relative to their surroundings.
We welcome new members. Members join us to read our Annual Journal, check out our Halls of Fame and join us on Members' Events and Trips including an annual trip to St.Kilda.
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