Easdale’s stone skimming championship is a great excuse to visit a car-free Scottish island that’s rarely found on the normal tourist trails.
Easdale, a tiny Scottish island of just 10 hectares and 58 people, has the smallest population in the Inner Hebrides archipelago. But each year, hundreds of competitors and spectators flock to the island from around the world for what might be the island’s biggest event: the World Stone Skimming Championships.
On Intrepid’s new Premium Scotland trip, travellers will daytrip to the island and visit the competition grounds for a chance to try their arm at the childhood pastime turned competitive sport.
Easdale is an island of green turf, whitewashed cottages and – most memorably – grey stone. From the mid-1600s to the mid-1900s, Easdale was the centre of the Scottish slate industry, with as many as seven quarries and 500 residents. With the advent of new roofing materials in the 1900s, the Easdale slate industry declined; the last quarries closed in the 1960s.
In 1983, one of Easdale’s flooded slate quarries found an unlikely new purpose: the site of the first World Stone Skimming Championships. The idea was conceived by an Easdale resident, the late Bertie Baker. It turns out slate isn’t just an ideal roofing material. It’s also the perfect skimmer.
‘Like all the best ideas, it just came up in the pub,’ says Kyle Mathews, one of the event organisers. ‘They had about 20 people enter that year.’
The event was revived in 1997 as a community fundraiser and – barring a three-year break over the Covid pandemic – has run ever since. The contest’s cap of 350 competitors entered the 2023 Championships in September, with Finn Dower, a 16-year-old Scot from Perthshire, emerging as the winner.
How to skim a winning stone
Competitors at the World Stone Skimming Championships each get three attempts and must use Easdale slate. ‘The slate has unique patterns in it, and that allows us to identify it as being from Easdale,’ says Kyle. ‘It’s got iron pyrite (fool’s gold) in it, so it glitters in the sun.’
Uniquely among such competitions, the action takes place in an enclosed space with the back wall of the quarry across the pond. ‘No other stone skimming championship has a wall at the other end of it,’ says Kyle. ‘So, when our competitors stand upon the Skim of Destiny – the stone that they must throw from – they look up and they see this 20-foot-high wall of slate staring at them, and they actually find it quite intimidating.’
The back wall is 63 metres away. In the competition’s early years, it was rare for someone to hit the wall, but since 2010 someone has managed it every year. In the event of a tie, the winner is decided in a three-skim toss-off, with the total distance of the three throws added together to determine the final score. In 2023, four people hit the back wall, but Finn topped the toss-off and was crowned champion with a cumulative result of 170 metres.
By his own admission, Kyle isn’t the most accomplished stone skimmer, but he’s picked up some tips by observing the champions over the years. ‘To get the most distance, you want to try and get low to the ground,’ he says. ‘And you want to try and get your stone to hit the surface of the water at an angle of about five degrees. And you want to try and spin the stone as you throw it; that carries it through the best way.’
Though the island is at its most festive during the Championships, it’s worth visiting at any time of year. For a small island, Easdale is surprisingly easy to get to: the three-minute ferry ride operates every 30 minutes from the Isle of Seil, itself accessible from mainland Argyll via the 18th-century Clachan Bridge.
Get the chance to see how you stack up
Intrepid’s trip visits the island on a day trip from Argyll to Seil and onwards to Easdale. There, travellers experience the serenity of laidback Hebridean life, in contrast to city centres such as Edinburgh or Inverness (which also feature on the itinerary).
‘The island has an incredible panoramic view,’ says Kyle. ‘Everywhere you look, you’re seeing beautiful Hebridean topography, and you can see a bunch of other islands; the Isle of Mull, the Isle of Jura, the Isle of Islay.’
Something you won’t see are cars; Easdale is completely car-free. ‘Everybody has a wheelbarrow; all our shopping and luggage go in wheelbarrows and then we bring them to our houses,’ says Kyle.
Of course, the pinnacle of any Easdale trip is a toss on the championship quarry itself. ‘It’s not like Wimbledon, where you can’t get into Centre Court,’ says Kyle. ‘Here at Easdale, anytime you visit you can come down and try your chance in the championship quarry, see if you measure up.’
You’ll be in good company – people travel from as far away as the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand to compete in the Championships. ‘It is truly the World Championships,’ says Kyle. ‘We have people who have skimmed all their lives; it is such a ubiquitous sport. Most people have skimmed at some stage; people have nostalgic memories with their families. And some people are just naturally good at it.’
And if you’re not naturally good at it? ‘You know, it’s a great excuse to come to a bit of Scotland that is stunningly beautiful,’ says Kyle. ‘And it’s not on the normal tourist trail. ‘