And where better location to start the project than on my home island of Skye?
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.
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.
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)
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…
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.
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.
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!)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
‘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.
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!)
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!
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.
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.