Talisker Bay

For every high there has to be a comedown. So, from the charm of Coral Beach came Talisker Bay…

The beach at Talisker Bay was a place I’d wanted to visit on my first trip to Skye but somehow I’d found myself drawn into the distillery down the road instead (no idea why, of course…)
On Wednesday I decided to try again; I was looking forward to seeing the striking black and white sand I’d read about in books.

As I left the car at Talisker House I came across some feathered friends.
When you think of Skye birds you think of Sea Eagles, Oyster Catchers, Gannets… Less expected is a gang of peacocks (or peahens, to be precise).
They gathered at my feet and looked up at me expectantly. I bent down and cooed at them for a bit but there’s only so much interaction one can have with a bird before looking a little crazy so I left them to it and went to find the beach…

Nice hat. Is it freshers week?

Nice hat. Is it freshers week?

 

As I approached the huge round stones that separate the sand from the grass my heart sank. Little splashes of colour on the natural monochrome of the beachscape… red buckets, blue ropes, yellow bottles.
Always sad to see but not uncommon.

The sand was indeed, striking. The water had washed it into patterns that were like looking at a charcoal drawing of a thunderstorm. Though I didn’t have much time to see it; the tide soon came in and selfishly snatched it back under the waves.

I continued to wander along the tideline and those occassional bright splashes of plastic became more frequent. Within a few minutes I’d reached a section of the beach where when I looked down I saw more man-made material visible than natural.

 

The striking black and white sands below the pollution on the tide line

The striking black and white sands below the pollution on the tide line

 

I wont get too technical here and go off on a rant about marine pollution issues, although I easily could (and would like to, but I fear I’ll lose you).
This stuff is one of the few topics that I know a lot about, mainly through involvement with various conservation groups. Unfortunately, through this knowledge I’ve also seen a lot more case studies of the damage caused by plastic debris than your average visitor to a dirty beach… tangled birds, choked turtles, that kind of crap. It’s genuinely heartbreaking.

Rubbish can arrive on our beaches in a number of ways. Some is flushed down into the sewer systems or washed from city streets into storm drains. A small amount is made by people dropping litter on or near beaches. A large percentage comes from the industries using the ocean itself, especially fishing.
All marine pollution is bad, of course, but fishing gear is one of the most dangerous to marine wildlife. Discarded nets continue to catch animals indiscriminately as they float around the oceans on whichever current they get caught in; it’s known as ‘ghost fishing’ and it affects everything from tiny seahorses to great whales. A nasty business.

It’s this trash coming from the ocean itself that affects Talisker. Nets, buckets, ropes. Containers with the print washed away from years of being in the water. There are containers that could have easily originated on the other side of the Atlantic over a decade ago.

Thousands of small pieces of plastic debris, including scraps of fishing rope

Thousands of small pieces of plastic debris, including scraps of fishing rope

 

Anyway, I seem to be going on a bit even though I said I wouldn’t… Though if anyone has any questions or wants to know more about this stuff please let me know, the more we share this knowledge the better we are equipped to tackle the issue.

SO…

I had arrived at Talisker House and merrily bounced down to the track to the beach and then half an hour later and I’m fuming.
I kick plastic bottles away angrily as I come across a second seabird carcass (again, too far gone to work out whether it died from natural causes or the nets in which it lay).
Who’s in charge of this place? The council? A private owner? If so, why isn’t there enough funding to help a private owner look after it? It’s a popular visitor attraction for goodness sake. Grr.

One of the most wonderful things about moving to Skye is that it’s given me time to reflect.
One of the worst things about Skye is that it’s given me time to reflect.
Yesterday I found myself saddened by the radio news reports; Turkey’s inactivity over ISIS movements, people calling for aid cuts when Ebola is crippling communities, an so on. I spent the evening wondering how humanity could be so callous.
Now I couldn’t understand how we could be so careless. I’ve seen really dirty beaches before but this one, juxtaposed against dramatic cliffs and a stunning waterfall, really got to me.

Talisker Beach with the stunning waterfall

Talisker Beach and waterfall

 

But there’s no point in getting upset about something and doing nothing; anger can positive if you can harness it somehow.
I’d toyed with the idea of hosting a beach clean up here for the Surfers Against Sewage Autumn Beach Clean Series but there’s an existing Skye group that have been running these things for a while so I had decided to leave them to it (I didn’t want to step on any toes either!). Besides, I’d only been here a week after all and I didn’t even know which beaches needed cleaning…

Talisker changed my mind. As I stormed back towards the car with stinging eyes I decided that I had to do something.
So next Sunday I’ll be hosting my first Skye beach clean event with SAS (11am-2pm, meeting on the beach).

Over 150 other people have felt the same way about this problem and will be leading other cleans up and down the UK next weekend. I hope that some of you reading this will consider volunteering your time at an event close to you (it’s surprisingly good fun and you get real feel-good points).
Check out the Surfers Against Sewage website for a list of organised events: http://www.sas.org.uk

A face-off with one of the locals as I started gathering info for organising the beach clean

A face-off with one of the Talisker locals on the way back from the beach

 

The rest of the afternoon was spent going back and forth between the properties around the beach trying to find information about who owned the beach, access rights etc etc -all very dull but necessary stuff for organising a beach clean event.
As the shadows began to stretch I left the area in search of a place where I could exhale and forget the rage I felt at the state of Talisker Bay. The Fairy Pools.

I’ll talk about the pools at length in another post. It’s an incredibly special place, even for someone like me who thinks all that airy-fairy supernatural stuff is nonsense. There’s just something about them.
The landscape looked spectacular in the setting sun as I drove away from Talisker towards Glenbrittle. It was like my anger was butter melting under the hot amber light.

With the determination to get Talisker beach cleaned somehow, even just a little bit, it’s now time to chase that high again…

The drive to the Fairy Pools at Glenbrittle

Late afternoon gold light on the drive into Glenbrittle

 

 

What Katie did

It’s been a busy day today. I’m too sleepy now to go into detail but, in brief photo-diary format, here’s what I did…

I met some inquisitive peacocks…
photo 1
I got sad at rubbish on Talisker Beach…
photo 2
I had a stand-off with a sheep…
photo 3
I made friends with an oyster farmer at his Oyster Shed…
photo 4

I contemplated a swim and some Germans asked if I was a fairy (it was at the Fairy Pools)
photo 5
And then I went home and ate some haggis.

The End (until I’m feeling awake enough to write properly)

Coral Beach

Skye is a walkers paradise and when I decided to move here I promised myself to try to get out exploring at least every other day. I hadn’t got much of a chance in my first couple of days, then when I found myself with a little more time the wind and the rain had set in.
However, I’ve quickly learned that the weather here is unpredictable (if I waited for sunshine I might be waiting all day/week/month) so I put on my wellies and set off to a place that I like so much I probably wouldn’t even notice the drizzle.

photo 2

Woolworths

On my way out of Portree I stumbled upon some kind of sheep sale. I pulled up to investigate.
Turns out that someone with blonde Heidi plaits and a sparkly turqoise jumper stands out a bit at a livestock sale. I thrust my hands in my pockets and sauntered around trying to look casual but I doubt I was fooling anyone. Inconspicuous I was not.
So I didn’t stay for too long, which was good because there was a pen of really small, cute little sheep that I’d happily have taken home. Ten more minutes and I may have gone home with thirty-odd new pets.

photo 1
Sheepless, I was on my way to Coral Beach in Claigan, North of Dunvegan. I’d visited here on my first trip to Skye last year and had been entranced by the white sand studded with black rocks.

The sand is actually made from something called maerl which is a coralline red algae (basically a seaweed which has a hard body like a coral). It’s a creamy white colour like Carribean sand but it’s much coarser and it’s full of shells because maerl beds are fantastically nurturing little ecosystems.

Sand at Coral Beach

Sand at Coral Beach

As you can imagine, it’s a treasure trove for someone who loves shells and other natural artefacts. On this trip it wasn’t long before my pockets were rattling with lots of tiny mother-of-pearl snail shells.

I was talking to friends recently about bad habits in people who are passionate about conservation. One of my friends, a vegan, admitted he uses too many plastic bags. One of my bad habits is shell collecting, something which seems harmless enough but the removal of shells by hundreds of people collectively can make a substantial impact on wildlife habitats (homeless hermit crabs, for instance).

My other bad habit, in case you were wondering, is using glitter with abandon. It’s well recognised as a troublesome microplastic within the marine conservation community but I hope that I do enough other good deeds to offset a little sparkle now and again…

One of many beautiful shells from Coral Beach

One of many beautiful shells from Coral Beach

I’m not sure what to do with my haul yet. When I lived in Spain over the summer I made a shell crown with the ones I found there (many of you will recognise it from my Facebook/Twitter avatars). Maybe I’ll make a British or a Skye version. The lustre of the white shells against the indigo of a mussel shell could look quite striking…

Colourful sands and seaweeds

Colourful sands and seaweeds

One of the more remarkable things about Skye is that the colours here seem to be pumped up. It’s like everything has been slightly over-saturated by a real-life photo editor. I don’t know whether it’s the light, if it’s just that I’m looking harder, or even if I’m just high on the extra oxygen in the air up here!
The photo above is just some sand and seaweed but the colours struck me as I picked my way through the rocks. Not just the varied shades and colour but also the textures too. I can see why it’s an artist’s paradise up here.

Swirling sea grass

Swirling sea grass, mesmerising in the lapping of the waves

One of the most beautiful things about coral beach is that there’s so much to look at here. There are birds to listen to, rockpools to peer into, seaweed to pick through…
So many tiny things that you only notice if you take the time to look.

NOTE: I hope that no-one will mind me going a bit soppy with some tinpot philosophising here… The thing is that our experiences are so intertwined with our feelings at the time that it doesn’t make sense to just write factual points and leave out everything else.

I realised as I was picking my way through the debris of the high tide line that I was smiling to myself (I naturally settle into a frown so this isn’t a common thing). I couldn’t be happier. Just wandering about, finding things, having time to breathe in the fresh air.
This isn’t exactly an unconscious thing. Over the last few years I’ve taught myself to start noticing little things and to find joy from them. I think it started after the break-up of a long-term relationship where I had the chance to find my own character and interests again.
I’ve learnt to find joy especially in things that occur naturally (which is probably tied in to why I’m so ferociously protective over the environment). It’s almost like trying to go back to a childlike state where you find awe and wonder in all these new things. It might be natural like an iridescent beetle landing on your hand or it might be people-related, like sharing a hello with the old lady in the post office, that kind of stuff.
But it’s an incredible thing because when you start getting enjoyment from the small things in life it increases the amount of happiness you experience every day. That’s pretty incredible. I’d recommend it to anyone.

Water above and below

Water above and below. Rubbish weather in beautiful colours

Unfortunately all the internal sunshine in the world can’t affect the real weather and all of a sudden the wind picked up and the skies got dark. Time to head home.

A faceful of wind and rain!

A wind and rain selfie!

Again with the colours!
As I passed the pebble beach I couldn’t help but take a snap of the stripes made by the red seaweed against the black rock and the blue sea against the tweedy-coloured shoreline.

Stripes of colour on the pebble beach

Stripes of colour on the pebble beach

It wasn’t a long walk back to the car, maybe about 20 mins, but by the time I got there I might have well been swimming. I’d forgotten that when Skye does rain it REALLY does rain, like one of those rainforest showers.

When I reached the car park I had to literally squeeze the water off my legs and empty my wellies. A Chinese family in the people carrier next to me gave me apologetic smiles as they watched me flailing around ineffectively. Eventually I gave up trying to get drier and slopped into the car. I made the sound that wet washing does if you drop it when getting it out to dry. I didn’t care, I was still smiling.

You had one job, wellies!

You had one job, wellies!

Up, Up and Away!

The week before I planned to leave for Skye was probably the busiest I’ve had all year. A multitude of family birthdays, work meetings and social events meant that some days were literally planned down to the hour. Getting everything done and everyone seen before I left meant that packing was pushed to the wayside until the day before I was due to go.
Luckily, not knowing where I’d be or what I needed meant that it didn’t take long to pack up the car. Anything I’d forgotten could be sent on or bought later.

I planned two days for driving as I can barely drive for an hour without getting sleepy:
Leg 1: Chiddingfold to New Lanark, 7 /12 hours.
Leg 2: New Lanark to Skye via Fort William, 5 1/2 hours.

There’s something quite satisfying about driving straight North, an easy route, no map, but really there’s nothing exciting to say about a 7 hour journey up the M6…
Apart from one moment when I passed through the Lake District and the sun began to set. Some characteristically moody song by London Grammar came on the radio as the pelting rain began to let up. A deep amber light washed across the landscape and a rainbow appeared above the carriageway. It was a bit silly but it was a beautiful moment. It hadn’t hit me until then that I was embarking on quite a big adventure.

It was dark by the time I got to my overnight stop, the working village of New Lanark. It’s an incredible place, an old cotton mill settlement that’s now a UNESCO Heritage Site.
I was booked into the New Lanark youth hostel, one of many fantastic places run by the SYHA. When I travelled across Scotland last September I chose to stay in hostels so that I could afford to splash out on Michelin meals and special experiences. I may have paid pennies for a bed but many of these hostels were simply amazing buildings to stay in; an old schoolhouse, a hunting lodge and a climbers cabin are just a few of the properties they run. New Lanark is definitely up there with their most interesting:

New Lanark Youth Hostel (photo courtesy of SYHA)

New Lanark Youth Hostel (photo courtesy of SYHA website)

 

I was up early the next day to travel through the Trossachs to Fort William. Yesterday’s drive was dull and grey but this one took me through dramatic scenery, along lochs and through glens. I had to work hard to concentrate on the road when my eyes wanted to follow the sweeping slopes of the hills up into the clouds. Driving through Glencoe and then the Great Glen is surely the most wonderful way to be introduced to the Highlands and Islands.

 

Glencoe (photo courtesy of Glencoe Mountain Rescue website)

Glencoe (photo courtesy of Glencoe Mountain Rescue website)

 
After a couple of hours I’m driving over the bridge to Skye from the Kyle of Lochalsh. The island welcomes me with characteristic grey drizzle, a moody hello. It takes an hour to drive to the main town of Portree and I scope out every business and road sign in case it comes in handy later. The signposts and caravans gradually give way to greenery and rocky coastlines as I push further North until I arrive at the harbour. So, this is home.