Following my Valentine’s breakfast I was keen to get out and make the most of the day; after all, this was my first taste of spring sunshine on Skye and I didn’t know if it would last for the rest of the weekend.
I stuffed some snacks into a bag and grabbed my binoculars. It was a clear day with little wind so I decided to walk up to the old coastguards bothy at Rubha Hunish, the last little bit of Skye that juts out towards the Outer Hebrides.
I might live in the most Northern cottage on Skye but Rubha Hunish trumps my house as the bit that gets closest to the Arctic here.
I had a wee look on Google to try and find a map to show you the area and I came across this image on the beardedgit.com blog. I’ve pinched it as it also happens to show my exact Valentine’s Day route from Kilmaluag Bay up across and up to the bothy then back down via Duntulm Castle and along the road.
This wasn’t my first visit to the headland but it’s the first time I’ve walked from my own front door rather than parking at Shulista as the guidebooks recommend. It’s also the first time I’ve gone right up to the Lookout bothy.
I ambled down round the bay and up a little path past the old St Moluag’s church graveyard.
It may sound macabre but the Scots really do cemeteries brilliantly. In the cities there’s the gothic grandeur of places such as the Necropolis (Glasgow), Greyfriars Kirkyard (Edinburgh) and Old Town Cemetery in Stirling.
But the places that I love are in the Highlands and Islands where the resting places have been built on hillsides, overlooking lochs or beautiful glens. Their locations, often alongside crumbling church ruins, are really quite beautiful. Whatever your spiritual beliefs I think there’s something lifting about the idea of your headstone looking out over a stunning landscape for all eternity.
The bothy soon came into view on the highest point of the rocks ahead (you can see it’s tiny silhouette outlined on the photo below).
I amused myself with a thought… In case being alone on Valentine’s Day wasn’t enough, I had decided to spend the day on my tod in a teeny little box on the top of a cliff. I don’t think you get much more solitary than that!
I must work on being a bit more social….
This particular bothy is owned by the Mountain Bothies Association, a brilliant organisation that maintains a whole host of open mountaineering shelters all across the UK (find out more at http://www.mountainbothies.org.uk)
Prior to being taken over by the MBA, this was the old coastguard’s lookout station -the bay windows at the front give a full panoramic view over the waters of the Minch towards Lewis.
As advances were made in radio technology the need for a lookout became redundant and it was turned into the bothy that it is now.
The whitewashed front part of the building, the watchroom, was built by the Macleans of Mull in 1928 -it’s survived the weather here for almost a century (much longer than most of my neighbour’s sheds!)
I couldn’t resist exploring inside…
I was surprised to see how characterful it was. Little brass candlesticks, binoculars, a vintage phone and cream wood-cladded walls. It’s got more of a feeling of a little hideaway hostel than a plain old bothy (though, of course, there’s no plumbing or electricity here).
I’ll definitely come up here soon to camp out before it gets busy with all the summer walkers. This would make a pretty perfect place to watch the sunset with a flask of wine.
Here and there I noticed little personal touches like scrawled notes and faded wildlife pictures (lots of basking sharks!).
There’s also this small brass plaque dedicated to the late David JJ Brown, the adventurous character who the Lookout is dedicated to. The words ‘wilderness-lover and anti-materialist’ always seem to be next to his name, both here and where I’ve read about him online. He sounds like he was an awesome man; I wish I could have met him.
(You can read more about David JJ Brown and the Lookout dedication here)
The Lookout is gorgeous but this was a day to be outside and enjoy the sun whilst it was shining.
I found a spot near the edge (not dangerously near, Mum, if you’re reading this! I’m far too sensible/wimpy to get too close) then unpacked my picnic.
This is a famous place for spotting big beasties in the water and I could see why; the view down onto the sea was amazing. The Minch is sheltered between Skye and the Outer Hebrides so I’ve rarely seen it with rough waters. This means that any wildlife is extra easy to spot as it breaks the rippling surface and alerts the eye.
Unfortunately it’s not the season for whales or basking sharks. There might be dolphins, porpoises or other interesting around though, so I had my binoculars handy just in case.
I didn’t see anything of note… seabirds, seals, a large dark fish that may have been a type of small shark.
I wasn’t fussed, I’ve found my place for when the seasons start. As a total ocean wildlife geek and shark/cetacean lover, I intend to spend most of the summer lolling about on the grass whilst idly gazing into the sea.
This was a dry run (with warmer clothes!)
I’m not usually an ale drinker but a bottle of Skye Gold (leftover from my friend Matt’s visit) made the perfect accompanying tipple.
There’s also a certain satisfaction about knowing you’re drinking something brewed only just round the corner (the Skye Brewery is in Uig, literally just along the coast from here)
I haven’t been to the brewery yet as it’s been closed for winter but I might have to put a visit on my To Do list now that I’ve got a taste for the stuff.
(The other nice thing about a long wander is that it means you can have crisps and dips and a chocolate bar all washed down with beer and not feel guilty about it because it counts as walking fuel!)
I whiled away a couple of hours up here until the wind started to work it’s way through my clothes and I began to feel a chill.
I may be on my own but I was spending my Valentine’s Day with the thing I love the most after my family: Nature.
This was my date with the ocean, the sunshine and the island.
(Maybe it sounds cheesy but it’s Valentine’s Day so cheesiness gets a free pass at this point)
As I got up to go I noticed lots of tufts of sheep’s wool stuck to some wire nearby…
I’ve recently discovered the craft of felting (using a needle to mesh wool fibres into shapes) and it’s something I’d like to explore further. I was excitedly telling Liza at the gallery about this one day and she suggested that I could collect the small pieces of wool that can be found caught on fences, it would be a free and local source of materials.
So now I find myself on a clifftop pulling slightly damp strands of fluff from various fences and pieces of heather and stuffing them into my pockets. I must look a bit like a nutter, it’s lucky there isn’t anyone around.
Liza, you may have started me off on a slippery slope here… it might not be long until I’m that strange person who smells a bit sheepy because she makes all her clothes out of tufts of old ewes found on hillsides…
I returned via the coastal path towards Duntulm Castle. This took me down to the flat rocks of the shore where the abandoned village of Erisco now sits in small, stony ruins.
Like many areas of coastline that are off the beaten track this one was suffering from a huge amount of washed-up marine debris. Old fishing ropes and nets (known as ‘ghost gear’), buckets, bottles, even shoes, they were all piled up on the tideline here.
If you’ve read my post about Talisker Bay you’ll know that the issue of plastic pollution is something that is close to my heart. This shore at Erisco a well-known spot for otters and it’s incredibly frustrating and saddening to know the dangers that this rubbish can pose to the resident wildlife.
On a more positive note, amongst the brightly-coloured plastic I noticed the soft, rounded shape of driftwood.
I think it’s quite hard to find driftwood, it’s something that everyone likes to pick-up, so I started collecting the best pieces that I thought I might be able to use in future artworks.
A lot of it was wet and heavy so I rammed it into my rucksack to make it easier to carry. Somehow within ten minutes I’d gone from lightly hopping over the rocks to bent over, lugging a bag that appeared to be sprouting long greying sticks. I jammed a sturdy 3-ft fence post under my arm and made a determined effort not to look down in case I saw any more. After all, I was still at least 30 mins walk from home over ground I didn’t know and the sun was starting to set.
As I walked, I wondered how I could organise a way to clean this beach. It’s close to the Duntulm Hotel, would the new owners be interested in helping?
Something to think about…
I stopped and watched two oystercatchers hopping around each other before flying off into the sunset, movie style. There’s something so striking about their vivid orange beaks and contrasting black and white feathers.
I also kept an eye out for otters, this was the perfect time of day for them, but I was probably being too noisy and cumbersome for them to come near. Telltale crab and mussel shells lay broken and scraped-clean all over the place so I knew that this was the right place.
And then I saw something strange…
A jumble of bones amongst the seaweed and bits of rope.
I knew immediately that it was an otter skeleton. It was missing a few limbs but the elongated backbone and flat skull with sharp, carnivorous teeth were easily identifiable, even though I haven’t seen one of these before.
I checked to see if there was any obvious sign of marine debris as a cause of death (it’s important to record the effects of plastic etc on wildlife as evidence in trying to fight it) but it was too far gone to see.
I suppose I can say I’ve seen an otter now, but I’d rather have seen a live one.
It took a while to lug my wood-laden body over the fields up to the road.
I had to make my way through a field of sheep that seemed to find me very interesting. It must have been feeding time because usually sheep move in the other direction when they see a human -these ones came storming towards me!
I must have looked a curious sight staggering back to the cottage in the dark with pockets sprouting straggly bits of wool, a log under my arm and what probably resembled a small tree strapped to my back (along with a couple of faded buoys and bits of old rope).
What with all this and the skull in my garden and the birds in my freezer, I may be beginning to go a bit feral!
Still, I can’t wait to get making stuff with my new beachcombed finds. Some might call it old trash but I think I can make it into treasure.