The Skye-made gift guide (for those who can’t visit this summer!)

Over the winter I’ve been making notes to write a visitors guide to Skye.

Unsurprisingly, it won’t be much use whilst we’re in the current COVID-19 lockdown!

So I’ll save publishing that until we get to the other side of the outbreak.
By then I’m sure we’ll all be craving the opportunity to stretch our wings and explore new places!

I hope that by the time we reach the end of this we’ll have an increased sense of appreciation of all the things we took for granted before. It’s been too easy to forget how lucky we are to have the health, wealth and freedom to travel.

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See you here again soon!

There are uncertain times ahead, and I’m aware that the pre-coronavirus Guide To Skye could be very different to the post-corona one as the loss of trade takes it’s toll on our wonderful small, independent businesses.

So I want to publish a little blog post about some lovely things you can still purchase to support Skye-based companies.
Now, I know that times are tight and a lot of us are going to have less money to spend over the next few months but if you’re looking for a special gift or a treat to cheer yourself up then look no further!

At the time of writing, all the businesses mentioned are conducting online orders or selling gift vouchers. This is subject to change in accordance to government guidelines/postal services so please contact the seller to check postage/availability details.

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The ‘Elishadder’ throw in ‘seapray’ by Maggie Williams

A hand-woven ‘Elishadder’ throw
From Westcoast Weavers
Being stuck indoors means that it’s time to appreciate the things that brighten up our homes.
My first choice of homeware treats would be one of these gorgeous throws.
Hand-woven by Maggie Williams (of the former Elishadder Gallery) from ‘supersoft’ lambswool on a 200 year old loom, these pieces are inspired by the colours of Skye.
The throws make a beautiful investment piece. For those of us who are watching the pennies at the moment, check out some of the smaller but just-as-lovely items in the Westcoast Weavers online shop.
Elishadder throw, £130, http://www.westcoastweavers.co.uk

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Super-local, seasonal fine dining by Calum Montgomery at Edinbane Lodge

Lunch at Edinbane Lodge (gift voucher)
Edinbane Lodge by Calum Montgomery
The hospitality industry was one of the first economic victims of the outbreak and, of course, that’s had a massive effect for many people on Skye. One way of supporting businesses like restaurants and hotels is to buy a gift voucher for use at a later date when they have reopened.
Skye is famous for top-quality produce and award-winning restaurants and the place that’s been on everyone’s lips over the last couple of years (both figuratively and literally!) is Edinbane Lodge.
Skye-born chef, Calum Montgomery, has a stellar CV and his latest venture has been racking up the awards since opening in 2018. The food is skilled and innovative but my favourite thing about his menus is the emphasis on locally grown, fished or foraged ingredients. If you’re curious about the taste of seaweed or wild mushrooms then this is the ultimate place to try them. Highland hospitality and top Scottish produce all in one bundle, not to mention the fact that it’s more affordably priced than most other restaurants of a similar calibre.
3 course lunch £40, http://www.edinbanelodge.com



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I love my hand-knitted sheep hats!

A knitted sheep hat 
By Isle of Skye Art Studio
I get a lot of comments on the sheep hats I wear in my Instagram photos. The most common is the question, “Where did you get it?”
My ones come from my artist friend, Marion Boddy-Evans. Well, to be precise, it’s her Mum who knits them and they’re sold here from Skyeworks Gallery in Portree.
Because they’re handmade and they take a long time, they’re quite limited. However, now that the world is going into lockdown we’ve all got a bit more time, it’s worth enquiring to see if you can get a special commission (like the one I’m wearing in the photo -I asked for an extra big bobble!)
POA, http://www.marion.scot

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Skyeskyns are truly #madeinSkye

A traditionally hand-tanned sheepskin
From Skyeskyns
Perhaps an unusual recommendation from someone who avoids eating meat, but Skyeskyns sources their skins as a by-product from the local abattoir thus helping to use up all parts of animals reared on Skye. This family business usually invites visitors into their tannery to see their master craftsmen at work using traditional techniques but for now you can buy online instead. Check out their Mimosa Collection which uses tree bark as a natural tanning agent to reduce environmental impact.
Social distancing means that many of us won’t feel human contact for a while. In the meantime, snuggling into one of these traditionally-tanned sheepskins might be the closest thing we can get to a cuddle!
Mimosa small white Highland rug, £79, http://www.skyskyns.co.uk

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‘The Storr’ railway-style poster by Peter McDermott

Railway poster art print – ‘The Storr’
By Peter McDermott at Aird Old Church Gallery
Skye is an island filled with artists. If you’ve visited here you probably won’t be surprised by this… the light and colours of the landscapes here provide endless inspiration.
There are so many talented creatives that it’s hard to choose just one to write about.
But Peter McDermott is a personal favourite. His contemporary watercolours are gorgeous (I especially like ‘A blustery spring day’ -The Quiraing).
If you can’t afford an original artwork or print at the moment you can still buy a little piece of Skye with one of his graphically retro railway poster prints.
If you can’t gaze at The Storr for real this summer at least you can have one on your wall to enjoy instead.
A3 Railway poster, £9.95, http://www.airdoldchurchgallery.org

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Seashore foraging with Skye Ghillie



A wild fishing, foraging or wildlife-watching walk with Skye Ghillie
By Mitch Partridge AKA Skye Ghillie
Like the hospitality industry, outdoor guides have also taken a big hit from cancelled bookings. Luckily, many are offering gift vouchers. Not only will that help keep businesses afloat, it also gives the buyer/recipient something to look forward to at the end of the crisis.
No nature-lovers visit to Skye would be complete without a trip out with Mitch from Skye Ghillie. I was very lucky to go on a nature walk with him before I even moved to Skye and he started me off on my own foraging journey. From woodland foraging to fungi hunting, deerstalking, fishing or wildlife spotting -there’s not much about wild Skye that Mitch doesn’t know. Give him a shout and he’ll tailor your trip to suit whatever it is that you’re interested in most.
Mitch is currently offering 20% off guided activities with ‘Look Ahead & Book Ahead’ vouchers, http://www.skyeghillie.com

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It’s always time for Raasay Gin


Isle of Raasay Gin
From the Isle of Raasay Distillery (not quite Skye but we’re siblings!)
And last but definitely not least…
If everything gets too much you can always pour yourself a giant glass of wonderful Raasay Gin from an award-winningly pretty bottle!
(The giant glass is my reccommendation, not theirs. I’m sure the distillery would advise you to drink responsibly…)
70cl bottle, £34.95, http://www.raasaydistillery.com

This is just a small selection of the amazing local businesses we have on Skye.

Many of my personal favourites, such as the fantastic Skye Baking Company and Inside Out (outdoor gear), are fully closed at the moment and not taking online orders.
You’ll see them in my Skye Guide later on in the year instead.

Keep safe and thank you for supporting our local businesses!
x

 

Skye – Officially Home!

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Good morning from North Skye (don’t be fooled, it’s only been sunny for 0.1% of 2020 so far) 

Hello! It’s been a while, hasn’t it!

I’ve been absolutely rubbish at keeping this blog updated.
But, as anyone who follows me on Instagram or my other social media knows, I’ve had plenty to write about!

I’ve moved house, started renovations on a new studio, adopted a couple of embarrassingly small dogs, been travelling around on my #82Islands challenge and been up to all kinds of fun work stuff.

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Wakin up in the Harris hills as part of my #82Islands challenge (blog post on this visit coming soon)

…And now we’re all stuck inside to try and stop the spread of coronavirus.
It’s just the beginning of the outbreak here in the UK and it feels surreal, almost hypothetical.
My daily life hasn’t changed too much, I live quite a solitary lifestyle, but even here we need to be super conscious and take it seriously.
Anyway, this isn’t a blog post about the outbreak, there’s plenty about that elsewhere (I’ve written a lot about it on my social media anyway).
This is just a quick update, then hopefully this extra time can mean that I can catch up with the rest of my blog posts. Perhaps they can then be a distraction for those of us wanting to read about something other than the virus situation.

Firstly, the thing that’s kept me most busy this year…
I’ve got a new home -a permanent one!

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Omg, does this mean I’m a grown up now?!

After 5 years of renting, Skye is now officially home.
I guess I’m definitely not the new girl anymore (although when you’re an island incomer you’re always thought of as ‘new’, even if you’ve lived here for 60 years!)

Buying a property here was more than just finding a house…
It was deciding to put down roots, to choose to stay in Scotland, to put a flag in this life and say “yep, I want this one!”
Scary stuff for someone who finds it hard to commit to things as minor as choosing what to have for breakfast!

The whole decision was been made A LOT easier by the fact that my new home is, quite literally, my dream house…
It’s on the shore with views across to the mainland, with huge windows, a field, a cowshed and even a garden hide/snug to sit in in he evenings and watch the otters.

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My new pups, Mouse and Benji, approve of the move!

My friends knew that I was looking to buy and offered me first dibs when they decided to sell their modern cottage.
I almost bit their hand off at the offer!
I can’t quite believe it. Though I feel like I’ve done my time in a cold, dark and damp place… I loved my old rental house but it couldn’t be more different (I don’t need to wear a hat indoors now!)
I’m also feeling incredibly lucky to have moved here before we were all put under house arrest!

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I loved this old house but I won’t miss the windows blowing in during the January storms!

I’d love to share lots of photos but I’ve learned over the past year that I need to be a bit more security conscious (I’ve had social media followers turn up at my door -err, creepy!)
Besides, there’s nothing worse than someone showing off anyway, especially at times like these where we’re all stuck at home and not everyone is lucky enough to have a garden or outdoor access.

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Waking up on Harris as part of my #82Islands challenge. I’m not travelling outside of my neighbourhood at the moment but I’m very lucky to have similar views on my doorstep.

 

I’m still working out whether I should be writing about the outdoors or the island at all at a time like this.

Whether it’s a distraction and travel inspiration for when we get out the other side…
Or whether it’s smug and unfair on those who can’t get outside as easily.
It’s a tricky one for those of us who promote the #GetOutside ethos. We all need to do our best to act responsibly and make sure we follow best practice.
Comments and thoughts welcome!

In the meantime, stay safe and well.
Lots of love from Skye, x

82 Islands… #1: The Isle Of Skye

It’s begun…
And where better location to start the project than on my home island of Skye?

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Skye is also known as Eilean a’Cheo (‘The Misty Isle’) and it certainly lived up to it’s name as I kicked off 82 Islands this week…

I already bivvy, swim and beach clean as much as I can here so I decided to choose a location I’ve never slept in before for my first camp-out.
The wonderful thing about Skye, and the Highlands and Islands in general, is that however much you explore there’s always somewhere new to discover. It’s one of the best things about living here.

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A slightly soggy sea view…

The weather has been pretty rubbish. Nice and warm but with strong winds and lashing rain. Not ideal of course, but if I’m put off by the rain then I may never get going (this is Scotland after all and the reputation is there for a reason!)

Bags swiftly packed and I found myself toddling down a path towards one of the most spectacular set of waterfalls in North Skye, Lealt Falls.

Now, this trip is about responsible tourism and a growing issue is geotagging which is causing thousands of people to flock to specific locations that often aren’t able to handle the increased pressure.
It’s something I’m going to have to consider whilst doing 82 Islands…
I’ve decided to mention Lealt here because it has recently been updated with viewing platforms and parking areas so it has the infrastructure to handle more exposure.
I won’t say exactly where everything is on my trips, though, and one of the joys of visiting these islands is wandering off the beaten track and finding places that aren’t on every tour companies’ tick-list.

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One of North Skye’s natural beauties

The rain meant that I was to do my first bivvy alone but, on the plus side, it also meant no midges or crowds.
I carefully wound down the path and felt a quickening pulse as I heard the enormous crashing of the waterfall before I even saw it.
Lealt Falls are always spectacular but after all these showers it has a power that’s almost ferocious.

It was certainly fuller than last time I was there…
We were filming a music video for the band, Niteworks, and the story was a kind-of Alice In Wonderland journey.
Same weather though and I was equally soggy then and now (though the previous time was on purpose to make it look like I’d just come out of the waterfall -you can watch it here)

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That waterfall again…

My awe was swiftly cut short.
As I walked along the waterside I came across something that’s becoming a more and more common sight in our natural spaces. It was not what I wanted to make my first video diary about…

Yuck!
As I said in the video, accidents happen. But it’s all about how we leave these things.

So, that wasn’t great but, if anything, it shows exactly why I need to use 82 Islands to promote a Leave No Trace way of travelling.

I decided to set up camp on the shore instead.
It’s a pretty cool area as it used to be home to the old diatomite works. What’s left now are stony ruins with rusting chimneys, barrels and machinery.
Diatomite is a rock formed out of the shells of single-celled creatures (diatoms) that is used in things like paint, toothpaste and dynamite. It was quarried 3 miles above the shore and transported down by hand for processing and shipping.

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The old factory and chimney camouflaged against the rocks

The industry died out in the 60’s and these dark shells of buildings are the only sign that this used to be a busy place.
The jagged remains of the walls echo the weird shapes of the rocks above, hidden and revealed by moving mists.

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Using my trusty Kelly Kettle stove. Campfires leave scorch marks but one of these on a rock is clean and tidy

I found a flat, open spot to sleep.
Setting up camp is quick when you’re bivvying, let me give you a video tour…

As you can see, there’s no point in fighting the rain, you might as well just wrap up and make the most of it!
A supper of curry and a homemade naan cooked over my Kelly Kettle stove kept me warm (not to mention a few drams of whisky -proper central heating!)

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My camp kitchen. Curry and dough ready for cooking

Why does food always taste better eaten al fresco?!

Being late May, the daylight stretches well into the evening and after eating I pottered around the beach looking at the interesting stones on the shore… from egg-shaped pebbles with barcode stripes to huge, wave-carved rocks that looked like nature’s answer to Henry Moore.

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Water-smoothed stones

As the drizzle turned to chunky rain I retreated to bed with a whisky hot chocolate and fell asleep listening to the droplets hitting the waterproof surface of my bivvy bag.

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Night night!

Morning brought more rain. That wasn’t a surprise.
The surprise was getting up, making a cup of tea, and then realising that it wasn’t even 4am yet!
The fact that it never really gets properly dark at night is much more obvious when you’re sleeping outside! The spooky mists and sodden clouds made it even harder to tell night from day.

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Misty cliffs

But I used the early time to wander around the ruins and pack up before the first visitors started to peer down from the viewing platforms above.
Between the jagged walls grew dog roses and tiny flowers. Pink thrift grew from between two bricks. Nature reclaiming the factory.
I collected rubbish from the shore -the usual offenders of old rope and plastic strapping.

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Dog roses in the ruins

The quiet hour meant I could also slide into the pool of the waterfall without an audience.
I like swimming alone. It means I don’t have to worry about putting on a swimsuit or being conscious of my body. It has a freedom where I can muck around and giggle to myself or float and just listen to the birdsong.
Plus, when I say ‘swimming’ I should say that I’m more of a wallower, hippo-style.
The pool at the bottom of Lealt is wide, deep and peaty. When you look at your legs under the water they have a warm sepia glow; it’s like sitting in a big cup of stewed, chilled tea.

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Waterfall bathing

When people see photos of wild swimming they always ask, “But isn’t it cold?!”
In all honesty, yes it is.
The first touch is icy and often unappealing. It takes a few minutes to get used to it but soon enough it starts to feel better. That’s how I felt getting in and out at 5am on a rainy Saturday morning. I couldn’t have felt more awake!
Which is what I needed for the task ahead…

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The most effective alarm clock!

‘Don’t just leave it as you found it. Leave it better.’

I’m making this my 82 Islands mantra.
Unfortunately that meant one thing… clearing up the mess that had greeted me upon my arrival.
I always carry a supply of emergency compostable dog poo bags in my rucksack and these came in handy to clear up the poopy wet wipes left on the path. Some rocks from the river covered the stuff I couldn’t pick up.
Now, I’ve got a pretty strong stomach but this was grim. I gagged my way through the entire operation whilst cursing the person who left it there.
But it’s gone and safe, and now other visitors don’t have to be distracted from the beauty of the place like I had been.

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Yuck yuck yuck yuck

Back at the car I made myself a coffee and drank it on one of the platforms overlooking the waterfalls below and their overhanging trees.
I had the place to myself and the mists against the lush green vegetation reminded me of something prehistoric. I hummed the Jurassic Park theme tune to myself (this is something I do often and really recommend it!)

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Now THIS is a brew with a view

As I left I passed a couple of donations boxes and rummaged around to put in a few quid.
When things are available to us for free it’s always tempting to take advantage of that and enjoy a cheap day out but there’s often a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes.
Sometimes, however hard we try, we make an impact simply by being at these places and donating where we can can help offset that.
For me at least, this was the least I could do for a bargain of a sea-view room with a private pool and a 90m tall shower!

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A donations box and (on the right) the reasons why they’re needed!

LEAVE NO TRACE: 3 THINGS
(I think that each island visit will highlight a few things that need remembering. Here are the ones for Skye…)

STICK TO THE PATHS
It’s often tempting to stray to the outsides of paths, especially if the path itself is muddy but please try to stay on the main path as much as you can. This is to help avoid extra erosion and damage to native plants.

HELP, I NEED THE LOO!
Whilst it seems like these places are wild and quiet, they’re actually often used by people for work and pleasure. Please take any wet wipes or tissues with you (they don’t dissolve in the rain and can still be there a year later!)
Solid waste should be dug into a hole at least 6 inches deep or taken with you using a dog poo bag. Please use the public loos wherever possible.

DONATIONS WELCOME
If you see a donation box please chuck in a few coins. The fact that the box is there shows that it’s maintained by volunteers and that it relies on these for the upkeep. Just the cost of a cup of coffee from everyone will make a huge difference and help your future visits be more pleasant too.

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One done, only 81 (!) to go…

82 Islands!

On Friday I revealed my upcoming project, 82 Islands, on social media. The positive response was overwhelming. 
Of course, I’M dead excited about it, I just hadn’t expected others to be too! 
Combining my love of islands with a Leave No Trace message is something that’s far too fun for me to seriously call it a ‘challenge’ or ‘adventure’ but I’m looking forward to sharing it all with you as I go.

Here’s what 82 Islands is all about…

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I’m feeling restless.
It’s now been a whole year since I spent six weeks on the uninhabited Shiant Isles and two years since we completed a year of living off-grid in the woods.
Definitely time for another project.

It’ll be no surprise to hear that I have a fascination with islands.
After all, I decided to relocate to Skye, leaving my family and friends a 13-hour drive away. It’s not always easy but I think it’s worth it.

Why are we drawn to islands?

Is it the proximity to the sea and the way living by water affects us mentally? Is it the idea of being solitary or in a closely-knit community separated from wider society? Or could it be the most basic thing of all where, through media culture, we’re conditioned to associate the idea of an island with ‘paradise’?
I suspect it’s a combination of the above plus many other things.

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For me, there’s also the urge to get to know these places. To meet them. To learn their personalities. Because the most brilliant thing is that each and every Scottish island I have ever visited has a completely individual character.

This was something I became fully aware of on my Shiant Isles castaway trip last year.

Even this little archipelago of relatively small islands showed that each one had a completely different nature.
The Gaelic names of the islands are Eilean Mhure (Mother Island), Garbh Eilean (Rough Island) and Eilean an Taighe (Home Island).
These correspond to the different characters of each… Rough Island is high and craggy. Mother Island is a fertile grassy plateau holding the possible remnants of religious buildings. Home island is, unsurprisingly, where the last human settlement was.

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From the scrubby hills of Rough Island (Garbh Eilean), looking over to the fertile plateau of Mary Island (Eilean Mhure)

More well known is Lewis and Harris. They might be one land mass but they’re two distinct entities; Lewis with it’s evocative, expansive peat moors and Harris with those famous ice white beaches.

Each island has it’s own specific mix of flora and fauna, geology and history.
This is part of my attraction to islands (in addition to seeking solitude amidst nature, of course) and is why getting to know just one isn’t enough.

BUT…
There’s a responsibility in spending time in such unique natural places.
Especially for those of us who broadcast our experiences whether that be through writing, photography or social media.

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Sights like this at the iconic Neist Point are becoming more common and pose a wildfire threat as well as looking ugly and making the rest of us really pissed off!

There’s a dichotomy going on between the way we interact with wild spaces.
Whilst it’s important that we promote things like getting outside so that people can connect with the landscape and want to protect it, there’s also a downside… more footfall means more erosion, litter and other damage.

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Seriously people?! (Taken at the Falls of Falloch)

We could never close National Parks or warn people off visiting the Hebrides but what we can do is educate people to care for them properly.

Because of this I’m also going to use this trip as a way of spreading the Leave No Trace ethos. It’s something that’s close to my heart as Skye is an island that struggles with irresponsible campfires, rubbish left by roadsides and lack of loos.
I want to make sure my visits don’t negatively impact the islands and encourage others to follow suit.

More than that, I’d love it if we all started following something I’ve heard of many times in regards to staying in bothies:
‘Don’t just leave it as you found it. Leave it better.’

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‘Leave nothing but footprints…’

THE ADVENTURE:

Last autumn Ordnance Survey and Sheffield University created a poster of all of Great Britain’s largest islands.
It’s a really cool image where they included all islands over 5km square and charted their dimensions, length of coastline and population (if any).

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The inspiration

Like a lot of people, I saw this and thought, “That’s awesome! I’d love to visit all of those”
As time went on, the idea never really left me and so here we are!

Over the course of the year I’m going to be staying on all 82 of Great Britain’s largest islands.
The trip will be supported by Ordnance Survey and #GetOutside but it will be self-funded and I’ll be planning my journeys to fit around my work (and when I can afford to travel!)

I’m lucky in that Skye is pretty much in the middle of all the islands.
71 of them are in Scotland, England has nine and Wales has just two.
…I think this might be the only time that Skye has ever been in a convenient location!

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I’ll become extra familiar with crossing The Minch

My aim will be to get to know these places. To meet them; their people, their nature, their history..
It might not be as extreme as some of the things I’ve done previously but it’ll still be a big undertaking and on each island I’ll be doing the following things…
-At least one night bivvying.
-A mini beach clean.
-A wild swim.
-And the creation of an artwork. Probably a sketch but I’ll see where the inspiration takes me!

…It might sound like a lot but it’s worth noting that a sea swim in Shetland in January would be a very quick thing!

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Beach cleaning is one of the simplest ways to leave a place better than you found it



The emphasis of each visit is to enjoy the islands responsibly and mindfully; to gain a little bit of familiarity with the individual character of the island rather than take part in fast tourism or just ticking a name off a list.

For once, this will be a more social trip (not just hiding away like a hermit each time, though I might do that once or twice on the uninhabited ones…)
I’ll be inviting others to join me along the way and hoping to meet some local residents as I go. I’m especially keen to invite camping newbies or people who might not have the confidence to start alone.

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Leave No Trace bivvying: still a better view than most hotels

 

We’ll see what happens… I have a feeling that this will evolve and adapt as the year progresses!

If anyone reading this feels like joining me or has any suggestions of things to do or people to connect with on each island please let me know.
I’m still working out a few security protocols but watch this space for opportunities to join in as I’ll be posting those here too.

I’m also still open to sponsors so also give me a shout if you think your brand would make a good fit for the trip!

Eeek, I’m very excited!

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Okay this photo is half excited, half frozen but it proves my point about quick swims at least!

 

Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans…

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Okay, must get back into action here…

It’s been a while hasn’t it?

Well over 6 months by the looks of it…

So much for moving to Skye for some time-out from the whooshing pace of city living… with each year here my life seems to get busier and busier!
It’s not a bad thing, my life is pretty exciting, but it has meant that I’ve neglected my blog a bit.

I think this is partly because I haven’t known where to start.

It’s a bit like when you see an old friend after a decade apart and they ask what you’ve been up to… so much has happened that you get a bit of a mental block.

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I’m a rubbish public speaker but talking at Countryfile Live was pretty darn awesome!

I could do a whole essay to try to catch-up but I reckon that would be boring for both of us so instead here’s a quick debrief…

-I’m still living on Skye (and loving it)

-I still spend my days making and selling artwork.
When I’m not doing that I’m usually working on some random charity/conservation/art/outdoors project that pays poorly (if at all) but adds a bit of extracurricular interest.

-The last year has been non-stop. From representing Ordnance Survey at Countryfile Live to scoping out uninhabited islands, it sure hasn’t been quiet (as the saying goes, “you can sleep when you’re dead”. Though I wouldn’t mind a little period of calm!)

-I’m happy and healthy. Single and content. Just plodding along and taking life as it comes really.

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Being sent on a mission to a tiny archipelago in Shetland has been a particular highlight which I really should’ve written about…

There’s only one* thing missing from my life at the moment and that’s been writing and blogging.
It’s the only thing on my To Do list that never gets crossed off!
(The words ‘get back into blogging’ have graced my New Years Resolutions list for at least the last two years in a row)

Technically, I’ve still been documenting my Skye life online, just through other social media sites…
Instagram in particular is a great way of ‘micro-blogging’ (you can find me here). Because you only post a photo at a time with a caption underneath it’s far easier to use on the go than a full-blown blogging site like this.
But it’s not quite the same…
From now on I’ll try and do both.

If you have anything you’d like me to blog about in particular please let me know. Otherwise I’ll just waffle on as before! 🙂

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Still madly in love with this island

*This isn’t technically true. I’m very much missing having a furry friend around the house. It’s a fact that dogs make life 100% better.

My kit list for a weekend in the wilderness

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A room with a view!

Yesterday I opened a message from my friend, Clare.
She’s going camping for the first time soon and, knowing I love sleeping under the stars, she wondered if I could advise on what she should take.

I’ve had a few friends ask me similar things recently so, rather than replying to everyone privately, I thought I’d share my thoughts in a blog post.

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Wild woman! Looking dishevelled after 6 months of living in the woods (photo by Rob Pattinson)

The first thing I should say is that I’m certainly no expert on camping, this is simply what works for me! It’s my basic starter list.
If you’re a seasoned camper you might think there are too many items… Or you might think I’ve missed things.
For some folk a stovetop coffee pot is a vital necessity, for others it’s a proper pillow or a good book… Whatever makes you happy!

Each different style of camping has a slightly different packing list.
Are you taking a tent? Bivvying? With tarp or without? Have you got a camper van? Are you going to build your own shelter or dig a snowhole?

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Making a basic shelter using found materials and existing structures (photo from my island trip)

I usually choose to bivvy, the most basic way to sleep wild.
There’s no tent involved, just a waterproof (aka bivvy/bivvi) bag to keep out the elements. There are no walls so you can fall asleep watching for shooting stars. If lots of rain is forecast I’ll also take a tarp so I can sit outside of my sleeping bag.
I’ve based my list on this way of sleeping out but it’s easy to adapt. If you’ve got a campervan with all mod-cons feel free to replace practical roll mats and tarps with heavy bottles of wine -enjoy!

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Cider with Pip the pup on a recent camp out

Over time you’ll find out what works best for you. You’ll swap the things that you rarely use for little luxuries or favourite foods.
Sometimes I’ll have a bag stuffed to bursting that I can barely carry and at other times I’ll pack little more than sleeping gear and a toothbrush. It all depends on my mood, where I’m going and what the weather is like.

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I rarely camp out without a book or two; it’s the perfect opportunity to switch off and chill out.

That said, it took a long time for me to learn that I didn’t always need to fill my bag with additional stuff ‘just in case’. I used to make sure I packed clothes for all eventualities, a spare set in case I got wet, some clean stuff, maybe I might need this extra thing, how about a choice of breakfast foods or books?

Then I bought the ‘Microadventures’ book by Al Humphreys* and my whole attitude to sleeping out changed.
A microadventure is an achievable adventure that is short, cheap, simple and usually close to home. They can be enjoyed on a weekday night, after work, even just in the back garden. And you don’t need much stuff.

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Bivvying near Inverness airport -a cheap and fun way to catch the first flight of the day

The bit that really stood out to me was where Al (with apologies to his Mum!) said he doesn’t always bother taking spare socks or pants if he’s just heading straight home the next morning.

It reminded me of doing a similar thing during sixth form. On weekends, after raiding someone’s parents’ wine cellar we’d grab as many coats and scarves as we could and trundle out into the night in the direction of Windsor Great Park. Once there we’d curl up under a big oak tree and giggle and get spooked by nocturnal noises until we fell asleep. At dawn we’d wake up, shivering and damp, with huge smiles on our faces.
We’d call it ‘going trekking’ and laugh about it as we walked home towards the inevitable ticking-off.

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From the archives… Baby Katie & friends getting spooked by owls in Windsor Great Park circa 2002.

In many ways, reading ‘Microadventures’ was a lesson in returning to that youthful spontaneity. We don’t need expedition-style prep to enjoy a night or two under the stars. It’s simply about having fun.

Since we’re here I want to take this chance to tell camping newbies the rule number one of enjoying wild spaces…
Leave No Trace!

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Litter, firepits and scorch marks -bad camping practice that ruins these beautiful places for everyone (photo from Facebook group ‘Glen Etive: The Dirty Truth’)

This probably seems obvious but, with a growing interest in wild camping, there’s been a huge (and not very nice) impact on our natural environments.
I see it first hand here in Skye but it’s a growing problem across the UK so it’s important that we all know how to camp responsibly.
There are a number of basic principles that all new campers should know and I’ve detailed ‘The Big Three’ that I think are most important in my previous VIB** blog post here.

So, after all that, here’s what I’d pack for a weekend living wild…

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Tea, chocolate and a good book in a beautiful place… perfect!

MY BASIC WEEKEND KIT LIST…

SLEEPING
The main activity! My sleeping bag and bivvy take up a good 75% of the space in my rucksack (mostly because I’m a stuffer, life’s too short for rolling and folding a sleeping bag).

Sleeping bag
Rollmat or air mat: I prefer a military-issue rollmat, not as comfy but I usually pop the others!
Bivvy bag: Over my sleeping bag to keep me dry.
Tarp/waterproof blanket/tent (optional): An optional additional barrier against wet weather. I like to take a small tarp so that I don’t have to retreat to my sleeping/bivvy bag when it rains at mealtimes.
Bungees/paracord/tent pegs (optional): For securing tarp (or tent). Bungees are especially helpful as you can also use them to secure bulky stuff like roll mats to the outside of your bag.
Pillow (optional): I never bother, choosing instead to use a rolled-up jumper or whatever is at hand  but some people find it makes a big difference to the quality of their sleep.

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Enjoying a cosy lie-in thanks to my trusty Alpkit bivvy bag

PERSONAL KIT
This will obviously vary depending on how long you’re off-grid for and also how mucky you don’t mind being!

Toothbrush and toothpaste
Soap: Those small, individually-wrapped soaps you get from hotels are perfect.
Lip balm/hand cream: These aren’t essential but I find both really helpful, especially if I’m away for more than a couple of days.
Spare socks, underwear and baselayers: Unless it gets wet you only really need to change the layers closest to your skin. It’s only a weekend and no-one’s judging you! I never bother with pyjamas or swimming kit as it’s easier just to strip off.
Warm kit: Hat, neck buff, gloves. Even if it feels warm it’s worth having these just in case the temperature takes a dip.
Waterproofs
Towel (optional): You can get great lightweight camping towels that fold up neatly. I prefer a ‘proper’ towel despite the bulk.
Tissues: I add these with reluctance as seeing dirty scrunches of tissue paper discarded in natural places is one of my biggest pet peeves… If you need a wee why not embrace your wild side and try out some moss instead? If you must use tissue always bag it up and take it away with you.
Tissues can also be handy for fire lighting, drying tech and runny noses.
Sanitary items (if needed): As above, please take your rubbish away with you!

Compostable dog poo bags: For used tissues, sanitary items and even, ahem, number 2’s! (Remember not to flush the bags themselves when you get to somewhere with plumbing)

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You can’t beat nice dry socks after a long walk!

COOKING/EATING
Part of the pleasure of camping for me is a brew with a view, a quickly-scoffed chocolate bar after a long walk or a dram of whisky whilst looking at the stars.

Tin mug: I always take two as one can double up as a cooking vessel.
Cutlery: I don’t bother with specialist camping cutlery as I usually break it or lose it! A fork, dessert spoon and a couple of teaspoons usually do for me (with my regular bushcraft knife)
Mess tins
Cooking system: There’s a huge variety to choose from. The easiest type to start off with is a simple gas canister with a stove attachment. My favourite is a Kelly Kettle system which uses natural fuels. You can see a range of different types here. Take a look around to see what suits your needs best.
Metal scouring pad: I’ve sacrificed far too many pairs of clean socks and knickers because I’ve forgotten to bring something to wash up with!
Food & drink: This is a whole blog in itself so I won’t make a list here. Just be aware of weight, ease of cooking and whether things will keep without being refrigerated. Take more calorific food than you would eat at home and don’t forget treats!

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A ready-to–heat pouch of curry quickly warmed in a cup over the stove/fire is my favourite easy supper

SAFETY:
You probably won’t need most of these but you might regret it if you forget them!

Headtorch: I take two, just in case!
First Aid Kit: You can make your own or buy a ready-made kit (Lifesystems has a great selection here) I also like to add extra medicines such as burn gel, rehydration sachets, Imodium, Anthisan, etc.
Insect repellent and an O’Tom Tick Twister.
Emergency shelter/silver blanket.
Map & compass (if needed)
Mobile phone/GPS/radio: To call for help in case of emergencies. Be aware that in remote places you may not get phone signal. I use a GPS Spot Tracker and have an old Nokia as a back up.

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Don’t let injuries or disabilities keep you inside. You don’t have to hike a mountain to enjoy camping out (I ended up in this cast after a trip in my house -staying indoors is risky!)

PRACTICAL
The handy stuff.

Water bottle: I take multiples as well as a collapsible water carrier.
Lighter/matches/flint and a back-up.
Knife.
Superglue, string, duct tape: For repairs… I never regret packing these!
A waterproof bag or two: For keeping things dry, storing rubbish, wet clothes etc. Alpkit’s drybags are my favourite.
Trowel: To dig a 6-8″ hole in case nature calls. Check out this article to see how to poop responsibly in the woods without causing harm to the environment, other people or wildlife.

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A few strategic scraps of duct tape stopped the tiny holes in my tarp from ripping further. It’s not that tidy but it works.

MY FAVOURITE HANDY EXTRAS
These are the things that I take to make living outside a bit easier or more comfortable. You might agree or think they’re a waste of space. That said, once you’ve tried a hot water bottle on a frosty winter night it’ll be hard to go back!

A Kelly Kettle: Probably my favourite bit of kit for spending time outdoors. In the right conditions I can boil water faster than my electric kettle at home. I use it for making hot drinks, filling hot water bottles and for even heating water for laundry. It’s more useful than 80% of my ex boyfriends.
Hot water bottle: Pure joy for frozen toes and long chilly nights. I now find it quicker, easier and more fuel efficient to make a HWB than to build a fire (not to mention less risk to the environment!)
Whisky: Central heating.
Large bags for beach cleans/impromptu litter picks.
Slip-on sandals/wellies/Crocs: for putting on quickly around camp.
Bottle opener/tin opener: Forget at your peril!
A small axe/hatchet: Good for making kindling. Equally good for digging, levering and for opening cans when you’ve forgotten the tin opener!
A notebook and pen: A bit of peace usually gets my mind sparking with new ideas and future plans.

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My beloved Kelly Kettle boiling water for my morning brew

…Aaaaand a rucksack to carry it all.

It looks like a long list when written down like that but it all packs up fairly easily, especially if you attach bulkier items like mats or Kelly Kettles to the outside of your pack.
Sometimes it’s also handy to bring a smaller backpack for when you’ve set up camp and want to go exploring. I call this my ‘handbag’ and use it for keeping a bottle of water, my safety kit (phone, emergency blanket, first aid kit etc) and warm/waterproof clothes close to hand.

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Big enough bag?!

The safety stuff is pretty important but the rest of it is all just personal preference.

Hopefully my basic guide is of some help but it’s also worth checking out other blogs for different ideas. What things would you add or remove?

Happy Camping folks!

>Very Important Blog, please read!  camper van cuppa[/caption]

**
*

**Very Important Blog, please read! 

*Buy this book. You will not regret it.
Al has probably been my biggest inspiration in getting outside so far. He makes it feel manageable and easy as well as exciting and his enthusiasm is infectious. Microadventures taught me a whole new way of enjoying nights spent under the stars with the ‘5-9’ idea and a more casual approach to adventuring. He’s also written a much more comprehensive guide to packing than I have here!

The first rule of camping: Leave no Trace!

One of the most important guidelines for anyone keen to enjoy the great outdoors is this…

Respect the natural landscape!

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With wildfires raging in the UK this summer, campers must avoid lighting fires near vegetation. Beach bonfires are a good alternative.

‘Responsible Camping’ is something we all need to learn to do.

I’m probably preaching to the converted here but if just one person reads this and thinks twice about starting a campfire on a dry summer’s day then I’m going to keep yelling it from the hilltops!

At the bottom of this post you’ll find MY BIG THREE RULES FOR CAMPING RESPONSIBLY.
(Obviously there are more than three but we’ll just start with the basics for now…)

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Sleeping outside is awesome! (Photo by Pexels.com)

Leaving your trail or campsite as you found it isn’t just the decent thing to do for animals, the environment and other people; it also means that we all get to continue having the freedom to enjoy these wild spaces.
Irresponsible practice leads to rules and legislation that may restrict our access or activity.

This is a subject close to my heart as I’ve seen first-hand the damage caused by carelessness. And it’s definitely getting worse.

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Though big fires might look great on Instagram, building one of these can often be a really shitty thing to do (Photo by Pexels.com)

Over the last few years, as Skye’s popularity has increased, so has the impact on the environment. Magical glens and dramatic vistas are now littered with cigarette butts, scorch marks from campfires and even human waste.

Not only is it heartbreaking to see, it’s also dangerous to wildlife.

It’s not just the Highlands and Islands either; Dartmoor, Snowdonia and the Lakes are also struggling with similar issues.

At best it’s just dirty but at worst, irresponsibility can cause fires like the ones we’ve seen in the news recently.
Last month there were three major fires raging in and around Skye at the same time. Acres of woodland and the wildlife within it, including nesting birds, were lost.

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A wheatear fledgeling surveying the remains of its habitat in Harlosh, Skye after summer fires. Many younger birds were not as lucky. (Photo by Paul Meany)

Glen Etive just off Glen Coe has long been one of my favourite places to stop if I’m travelling between Skye and England; I’ve often stopped for a swim, a pause, a break from hours upon hours spent behind the wheel.

A week ago I was returning to Skye after visiting family. It was late and I was tired. I had missed sleeping under the stars and so I headed to the Glen to get some rest somewhere beautiful.
I wasn’t the only one with this thought.

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One of my favourite swimming spots. At 5am I had it all to myself.

 

It was dark when I got there but the meandering river was lit up with the glow of scattered campfires. Multicoloured tents dotted the banks like a field at a festival. A few groups were playing music.

Every passing place and makeshift layby contained one or two campervans or cars, accessorised with the odd plastic basin piled with washing up and vacated folding chairs.

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Litter on Harris (Photo by Cat Webster)

I drove on to find a quieter spot but none appeared. I finally gave up and turned around near a sign that said ‘No Fires’. It had the remains of a fire behind it.

When I returned at 5am the next morning the glen felt silent but the evidence of the night before was clear to see. Wisps of smoke drifting from smoldering fires. Bits of rubbish.
I looked for a place to swim and came across loo paper and human waste on the river rocks and banks.
It was like someone had vandalised a work of art.

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Wet wipes and other nasties 5 mins downstream of the swimming spot in the photo above.

Glen Etive is a small sampler of a wider problem. As outdoor pursuits have become trendy more and more people have been heading for the hills.

The rise of social media photography (especially Instagram), the need for healthy exercise and financial accessibility have all helped the boom.
My home on Skye has been particularly affected, resulting in a number of ‘Skye is full’ articles appearing over the last year.

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Photos like this one of Loch Lomond are inviting because they seem unspoilt. What you don’t see is the cigarette butts, beer cans and used nappy on the shore behind me.


So, here are my BIG THREE rules for camping responsibly…

DON’T LEAVE LITTER:

It goes without saying, please take your rubbish home with you. Not only does it look awful but it can also be harmful to wildlife.

This includes ‘natural’ litter such as banana skins and orange peel which can take up to two years to disappear!

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Fellow #GetOutside Champ, David Wilson, is being driven bananas by peels left in the Peaks


GOING TO THE LOO:

Piles of discarded loo paper are my biggest bugbear. It’s gross and I hate it. These places may look remote but they’re our homes and it really sucks to see used tissues and human waste in our favourite places.

I guess most folk think tissue just dissolves but even with our crazy Hebridean weather I’m still walking past paper left from over a year ago. Many people also don’t realise that wet wipes are made from plastic, not cotton!

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A grim sight. Unless it’s picked up it could take up to 2 years for this tissue to break down (Photo by Matt Harrison of ‘I Love Skye’)

As for the human waste, that’s not just disgusting, it’s also incredibly dangerous for other people, pets and wildlife.

Girls, if you need a nature wee please either bag up your tissue in a dog poo bag or, since you’re doing the wild woman thing anyway, use moss, grass or seaweed.

For pooping, try to do it before you leave. If that’s not an option you can either bury it using the methods explained here or take it away with you in a dog poo bag. Whatever you do, take the paper home with you -leave no trace!

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New scorch marks that appeared at my favourite secret Skye swimming spot this week. The stones make it look small but this was at least half a metre wide.


LIGHTING FIRES:

We’ve all seen the big black scorch marks left on grass by disposable BBQs. Campfires leave similar ugly burns and they’re becoming more and more common at our national beauty spots.

Fire lighting is a divisive subject, especially since there have been so many wildfires caused by carelessness this summer.
Some folk consider fire building an integral part of camping. Some forego them for the reason given above. Some of us think they’re best on the beach or shore. I rarely light fires because I love the efficiency of my Kelly Kettle.

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Lighting your fire on a rocky shore or beach is a good way of having the benefits of a campfire without damaging the area or endangering wildlife.

Whatever your views on them, the rules on fire lighting are universal:

1. Leave no trace. This should go without saying but the amount of scorch marks appearing here on Skye shows otherwise -you could play aerial dot-to-dot. Never have a fire on grass and, if you have a fire elsewhere, bury all evidence.

2. Don’t have fires on heathland, moorland or in forests during dry weather because of the risk of fires spreading (it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid some of theses places for fire lighting altogether)

3. Don’t leave your fire unattended.

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New warning signs in the Peak District after recent wildfires in the area (Photo by Andrew Dobb)

4. Listen to signs that prohibit fire-building. These places are often prone to fires spreading or are significant to wildlife; there’s usually a reason these signs are there.

5. Dig a pit for your fire. This is for containing the fire as well as helping to leave no trace.

6. Make sure that the embers have cooled down before covering and leaving your fire. Even a fire that seems to have been out for hours can spark up again when you least expect it.

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The remains of a huge campfire on Harris. They might have covered over the embers with sand but they definitely failed to Leave No Trace (Photo by Cat Webster)

There are plenty more guidelines on how to camp responsibly… don’t cut down healthy living trees, close gates, don’t disturb livestock, etc etc.
But really, it’s all just common sense and everything just comes down to the number one thing…

Please, Leave No Trace.

Once you’ve got that sorted then you can move onto the second most important rule of camping…
Have an awesome time and enjoy it!

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Sunset over Uig Bay. A place worth looking after.

Ps: In case I haven’t said it enough… LEAVENOTRACE LEAVENOTRACE LEAVENOTRACE! Please 🙂