The Minch

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The Little Minch, view towards Lochmaddy
Map if Hebrides and the Minch

The Minch is the broad seaway which separates Great Britain and the islands of the Inner Hebrides from the Outer Hebrides.

This water is conventionally divided into two parts;

  • The Minch or The North Minch lies between the west coasts of Ross-shire and Sutherland to the east and the Isles of Lewis and Harris to the west;
  • The Little Minch, also known as The Lower Minch to the south is the narrower straits between Skye to the east and Harris and the Uists to the west.

The Little Minch opens into the Sea of the Hebrides and is regarded as the northern limit of this sea,[1] while the Minch opens in the north into the open Atlantic Ocean.


The name "The Minch" generally refers to the main part of these waters, between Ross / Sutherland and Harris / Lewis, though is the Minch and the Little Minh are regarded as a whole, the name The North Minch may be used.

The North Minch is known in Gaelic variously as An Cuan Sgìth, An Cuan na Hearadh or An Cuan Leòdhasach (The Straits of Skye or of Harris or of Lewis), while the Little Minch is an Cuan Canach (The Straits of Canna).

The Norse, who long ruled amongst these islands, called the Minch Skotlandsfjörð.[2]

Gerographical detail

The International Hydrographic Organization classify the Minch and Lower Minch as part of "the Inner Seas off the West Coast of Scotland".[3]

The Minch ranges from 20 to 45 miles wide and is approximately 70 miles long. It is believed to be the site of the biggest meteorite ever to hit the British Isles, known as "the Ullapool bolide impact".[4]

The Lower Minch is about 15 miles wide. In June 2010 Eilidh Macdonald became the first person to swim the Little Minch, taking 9.5 hours to cross from Waternish Point on Skye to Rodel on Harris.[5][6]


The Minch is a busy shipping lane — two and a half million tons of shipping pass through the channel each month. Commercial ferry services across the Minch are operated by Caledonian MacBrayne.

A Traffic Separation Scheme operates in the Little Minch,[7] with northbound traffic proceeding close to Skye, and southbound close to Harris.


In the south, its entrance is marked by lighthouses at Barra Head, Ushenish and Hyskeir. On Skye, there are lights at Neist Point, Vaternish and An t-Iasgair.

The Outer Hebrides are marked by Weavers Point, Eilean Glas, Tiumpan Head and Butt of Lewis.

To the east are Rubh Re, Stoer Head and Cape Wrath lighthouses.[8]

Other navigational aids

A buoy marks Eugenie Rock (named after the vessel which grounded there in May 1859)[9][10] and the nearby Sgeir Graidach. Previously, these hazards were marked by a red-painted beacon on Sgeir Graidach,[11] the foundations of which can still be seen at low tide.[12]


The Minch Project is a collaboration of local councils either side of the waters and Scottish Natural Heritage which aims to reduce pollution, minimise erosion, minimise litter and promote tourism — in particular wildlife tourism such as dolphin watching — in the Minch. Pollution is a particular concern as it is a busy shipping route.

Outside links


  1. C.Michael Hogan. 2011. Sea of the Hebrides. Eds. P.Saundry & C.J.Cleveland. Encyclopedia of Earth. National Council for Science and the Environment. Washington DC
  2. Anderson, Joseph (Ed.) (1893) Orkneyinga Saga. Translated by Jón A. Hjaltalin & Gilbert Goudie. Edinburgh. James Thin and Mercat Press (1990 reprint). ISBN 0-901824-25-9
  3. "Limits of Oceans and Seas, 3rd edition". International Hydrographic Organization. 1953. Retrieved 7 February 2010. 
  4. 'Biggest UK space impact found', BBC News.
  5. Churchill, Caroline (4 June 2010) "Record-breaker: speed bonnie Eilidh, over the sea from Skye." Glasgow; The Herald.
  6. "Swimmer completes Minch challenge" 4 June 2010 BBC News - Highlands & Islands. Retrieved 28 August 2011
  7. Chart C66 :Mallaig to Rubha Reidh and Outer Hebrides. Imray. ISBN 978-1846235016. 
  8. "Lighthouse Library". Northern Lighthouse Board. Retrieved 15 January 2011. 
  9. "Site NG29SW 8026". Canmore. RCAHMS. Retrieved 20 September 2012. 
  10. "Site NG37NW 8001". Canmore. RCAHMS. Retrieved 20 September 2012. 
  11. The Western Isles. Imray. 2001. pp. 80. ISBN 0 85288 698 1. 
  12. Speight, Toby. "NG3486: Sgeir Greadach". Geograph. Retrieved 20 September 2012.