The Sound of Arisaig sits between Fort William and Mallaig on the west coast of Scotland. It is often dubbed the ‘Scottish Caribbean’ because of its white sandy beaches and crystal-clear turquoise waters. There are plenty of fantastic mountains and land-based ecosystems to explore in the area. The Sound of Arisaig refers to the sheltered seas stretching from Arisaig in the north to Glenuig in the south. A route taking in Loch nan Ceall, Loch nan Uamh, and Loch Ailort.
The Sound of Arisaig provides opportunities to see harbour seals, common dolphins, porpoises, otters, and white-tailed eagles – as well as various sea birds and amazing underwater ecosystems with kelp, starfish, and jellyfish galore. A crossing to the Small Isles of Eigg and Rum (which would take you just outside the Sound itself) might also reward you with sightings of minke whales, orcas, puffins, and perhaps (if you’re very lucky) basking sharks.
Without a doubt, the best way to experience the wildlife in the Sound is by jumping in a sea kayak. The waters are often calm and with the help of a local guide, even novice sea kayakers can get out on the water for a half or full-day paddle. If you fancy a bit more of an expedition, multi-day trips are also available. If kayaking isn’t your thing, wildlife watching boat trips leaving from the Arisaig marina offer a great alternative. You can read more about our trip kayaking in the Sound of Arisaig here.
Average rating: 5.0 (very good)
Average cost: the cost of a sea kayaking trip varies depending on length, starting at around $87 for a half-day trip per adult and $127 for a full day trip. A five-day sea kayaking and wild camping adventure (including all food, equipment, and guide fees) costs around $866 per person. Arisaig Sea Kayaking Centre provides some great options and comes highly recommended by WildSide. Boat trips typically last around 2-3 hours and may allow you to get out to the Small Isles of Rum and Eigg. They cost upwards of $33 per person.
Best time to visit: it’s best to visit between May and September as it can be a bit chilly otherwise and this is also when the best wildlife watching opportunities arise. May and June are typically a bit drier than mid-summer and have the added advantage of there being fewer midges – although they’re not as warm.
How to get there: you can reach Arisaig by train from Fort William in just over an hour, with the added excitement of this route being the famous Harry Potter line which takes you over the spectacular Glenfinnan viaduct. Fort William is connected with direct trains from Glasgow and you can even get the sleeper train directly from Euston station in London.
Typical activities: beyond the sea kayaking and wildlife watching boat trips described above, there is fantastic walking in the area and it is well worth visiting the Small Isles from either Arisaig or Mallaig. From Fort William, can also climb Ben Nevis which is the highest mountain in the UK.
Number of reports: 1
Last updated: 2021
WILDLIFE IN Sound of Arisaig
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the most popular species that can be seen here are:
Common Dolphin – 100% of Wildside users (1/1) reported sightings
A quarter of the world’s dolphin population visits Scottish waters, and the Sound of Arisaig is a great location to spot them. Unlike minke whales and basking sharks, common dolphins will come into the Sound of Arisaig itself and are best seen from the water – either by kayak, on a ferry crossing over to the Small Isles, or on one of the specific wildlife watching boat trips mentioned above. We spotted pods of dolphins in Loch nan Uamh on our kayaking trip!
Common dolphins are very social animals and are normally found in groups. They love to jump out of the water and will happily approach boats to bowride so make sure you get a window seat or get out on deck if you’re on a boat or ferry! Common dolphins are slender with a distinctive hourglass pattern on their sides, including an obvious yellow-cream area starting behind their long, narrow beaks.
Eurasian otter – 100% of Wildside users (1/1) reported sightings
Eurasian otters can be encountered across much of the coastline of the Sound of Arisaig. Wherever seaweed is draped on rocks, otters are likely to be close by. They rest in the seaweed and catch their food in and around it too. Otters can be difficult to spot as their dark brown coats mean they’re expertly camouflaged. Many of the rocky peninsulas in the Sound of Arisaig are tricky to get to on foot. So an approach by water again offers the best opportunity to spot otters. Dawn is the best time to see them, especially around rocky outcrops. If you see a head bobbing in the water from a distance and you’re struggling to tell if it’s an otter or a seal, look for the flick of the otter’s tail as it dives underwater.
Harbour Porpoise – 100% of Wildside users (1/1) reported sightings
Porpoises can be spotted close to shore in shallow waters around the Sound of Arisaig. They can often be identified by the loud ‘chuff’ noise they make as they come to the surface to breathe. Unlike dolphins, porpoises are shy and will typically avoid boats so make sure you have your binoculars to hand. It can be hard to know whether you are seeing a dolphin or a porpoise. Especially when you’re seeing them at a distance and you don’t see their whole body. Taking a look at the shape of their fins can really help. Dolphins have curved fins while porpoises’ are more triangular in shape.
Harbour seal – 100% of Wildside users (1/1) reported sightings
The majority of seals in the Sound of Arisaig are harbour (or common) seals. Despite their name, this species is rarer than the larger grey seal. They can be differentiated by their smaller size and shorter head with a more concave forehead. Harbour seals also have V-shaped nostrils and are typically grey in colour with dark spots. The skerries (the small rocky outcrops) in the mouth of Loch Nan Ceall out from Arisaig village are a great place for seal watching. Keep a reasonable distance to not disturb them as they will slip into the sea if you get too close. Seals will also often pop up fairly near to your kayaks when you’re out and about on the water.
White-tailed eagle – 100% of Wildside users (1/1) reported sightings
White-tailed eagles became extinct in the UK in 1918 due to hunting and habitat loss. In 1975 they were reintroduced to the Isle of Rum which dominates the skyline when you’re in the Sound. So the white-tailed eagles in this area haven’t had to travel far from their original reintroduction location. Based on our trip, we found that if you spend time on the water, you stand a good chance of seeing a white-tailed eagle soaring above the coastline. The white-tailed eagle is Scotland’s largest bird of prey. Its sheer size is a key way of identifying this species. In good light, the pale head tails on adult birds are obvious, while younger birds are dark and shaggy.
Photo credit: WildSide team member Elsie Blackshaw-Crosby