One Whole Year #1: Changing seasons

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Just enjoying the view

Well, time runs away and the weeks fly by… I rush about from here to there, busy busy busy; too occupied to have sat down to write a blog post for months.
Then all of a sudden an anniversary passes…
One whole year on Skye.

In fact, that was a few months ago now. I’m not sure what happened to this quiet island life; the last few months have been a blur of artwork commissions, Christmas travels, catch-ups and birthday celebrations. Barely a pause.

 

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Celebrating one year on the island with a fire, bubbles and a tasty Skye Pie

As some of you have noticed, I haven’t posted much recently. I think it’s because I’ve got so much to write about, loads to tell -it’s a bit daunting to know where to start!
But I’m making it a New Year’s resolution to get back on track. My most recent comments have been so kind and encouraging that I’d be an idiot not to try a bit harder!

So, one whole year on this magical island…

Firstly, “yah boo sucks!” to anyone who thought I couldn’t hack it!
Have I said before about how some folk here say you have to do three winters on Skye before you’re accepted?
Well, I’m not sure about that. I think that an incomer here is probably always an incomer; I’ve met people who have been here for forty years who are still considered ‘new’ (probably a good thing as it means I don’t have to change the name of this blog yet)! But acceptance is another thing. Skye folk are so wonderfully kind that I never felt like an outsider; they’re always welcoming.

 

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One of the locals

15 months here means that I’m halfway through that supposed three winter period and I’ve now seen every season on Skye. Well, almost every season…

Ignoring the tourist hoardes, summer on Skye is supposed to be a little bit like paradise. Don’t scoff, the Scottish summertime is stunning. It exists, I’ve seen it. I’ve even caught a tan.
Only, this year it didn’t come.

Every time my family asked about the rain they would laugh and say, “well, you did move to Scotland!” My defence of the West Coast weather was rudely undermined by the daily drizzle.
Luckily this isn’t the norm; even my poor neighbours and landlady were apologetic that I wasn’t experiencing the best summer Skye had to offer. I didn’t mind, it just gives me an excuse to stay on and try another one!

 

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Moody shifting skies

Although I still haven’t got the chance to explore in a T-shirt there’s still been some beautiful days.
When I lived in London it was wonderful to return to the family home and see the seasons change. At our cottage in Chiddingfold it’s a treat to see nature changing; the colours deepen and the smells emerge.

Seeing the seasons in the English countryside is one thing but up here it’s even more intense. Being immersed in a dramatic landscape means noticing all the changes on a grand scale. Whole swathes of hillside turn from dark monochrome to bright green then to hazy purple then vivid rust before back to snowy black and white again. Sometimes at sunset the light catches these colours in such a way that they look like they’re on fire. There’s nothing like it.

 

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‘And the rest is rust and stardust’

WINTER

I arrived on Skye in winter on purpose. It was to be a 6 month escape; close the doors, light the fire, curl up with a whisky, read a book. Time out. Hibernation.
This didn’t happen.
Aside from the obvious fact that I well and truly got ‘Skyejacked’ (brilliant term, not my invention!), I actually found it hard to stay inside when there was so much exploring to be done. Wind, rain and cold are fine if you’re dressed up properly to protect you from them so the weather didn’t bother me.
Last January/February was one of my favourite times here. Of course there was the epic January storm with 100mph winds that caused havoc with 4-day blackouts and damage to houses and crofts. Not great. But after that there was a period of calm with fresh snow and bright blue skies that made everything dazzle. It was crisp and soft and quiet in a way that seemed magical.

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And all at once I saw a crowd…

SPRING

There was an unexpected surprise that came with moving into my cottage. As the ice thawed and the days became (slightly) more warm I noticed a little spot of white appear at the edge of my snow-scorched lawn. Snowdrops!
Over the next couple of months I would rush to the window each morning to see what had appeared. First came the snowdrops, then the gold of a crocus, then a purple crocus. At one point, like a joyful finale, my whole lawn was covered in daffodils in various shades of cream and bright orange egg yolk.
I’d never been interested in flowers before, suddenly I’m a convert.
Of course, spring blooms go hand in hand with baby animals and on the croft I was surrounded!

 

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New arrivals

I would wake up in the morning and drag my groggy body down to the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea. As I stood at the sink for the kettle to boil I’d look out the window and right there in front of me would be a couple of tiny calves with their new brown skin gleaming in the morning sun like freshly opened chestnuts. Then I’d take my tea to the porch at the other side of the house and watch the lambs run and jump about in the field like little boisterous wisps of cotton wool. It’s like living in a children’s picture book or Easter card.
Forget therapy or medication, you can’t have a bad day when you wake up to this. If there’s anything more joyful than a miniature calf bouncing around like an overgrown excited puppy I’m yet to see it.

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SUMMER
The less said about this the better. How many words does the British language have for rain again?

 

 

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Loch Mealt and Beinn Edra in autumnal colours

AUTUMN

Skye excels at beautiful landscapes; it shows off -an A* student. But there was something I missed about autumn here…

There are very few trees in the North of Skye and, of the ones we do have, only a small fraction are deciduous; the sea and the wind up here have scoured the landscape making it bare of all but the toughest plants. So no shifting palette of rich oranges and golds, no rustle of papery leaves leaving their branches, no smell of leaf mold to breathe in as you wander. It’s a season for all senses; you can feel the changes with your eyes, ears and nose.

In an uncharacteristic turn, autumn in the North of Skye seemed to me to be more subtle. It can begin with vibrant purple heather blooms in September but most of the flowers seemed to be hiding this year, made shy by the constant summer rain. Instead the hills slowly turned from one colour to another, bit by bit, quietly.
Then one day, when driving along a normal route, the sun will break through the mist and pick up the rust colour of the recently-green hillside. It’s a colour so vibrant and intense that when caught in the light it can look almost crimson; reflected in the glow of an early autumn sunset it sometimes looks aflame.

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Russet hills beyond the Loch Damh

In October I was invited by an old friend to spend some time on an estate near Torridon. On arrival our lovely host took me out on Loch Damh to pick up some of the other guests who had been up on the hills all day. On our way back the sun was setting on the russet landscape and I exclaimed with joy at how beautiful the light and colours were. My friend turned to me and said, “But you live here, don’t you see this every day?”
I smiled.
Every day here is different. Each morning brings something new; a new colour, a new species, a previously unnoticed view  -it’s one of the things I appreciate most about my Scottish home.

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Taking in the hills

Whilst I adore the writer, Samuel Johnson, when it comes to Skye I’d prefer to give his famous quote a James Boswell kind-of spin…
When a girl is tired of the Highlands & Islands she is tired of life.
There’s still so much more to be seen…

Guesthouse Katie opens for August: Family, friends, filmmakers & photographers (and my first basking shark!)

(Most of) my August visitors

(Most of) my August visitors

September rolls in and it’s the calm after the storm here at the cottage.

Since moving to Skye I’ve always had a nice little trickle of visitors travelling up from the South; it’s super lovely to be able to share my new home with friends and family.
Then this August came around and someone turned the taps on full… it was Guesthouse Katie open for summer season! It’s been totally manic but great fun at the same time.

Mum and I rocking the bobble hats on Scarista Beach, Harris

Mum and I rocking the bobble hats on Scarista Beach, Harris

My first visitor was someone very important, my Mum.

Her visits are always special. As I grew up it was just the two of us so it’s not easy to have left her so far away.
It’s her third time up here but this was the longest stay so far. Having 10 days meant that I got to take her to some places that are a little further from home, like Applecross and the Outer Hebrides.

We did a little potted tour of the area which included some Highland Games, a Michelin star lunch and even helping out with some sheep shearing!

We did so much that I think I’ll have to write a separate post about it (otherwise we’ll be here forever). To be continued…

Mum looking out towards Skye from Applecross Bay

Mum looking out towards Skye from Applecross Bay

Week 2 of August and here came the next set of visitors… The Boys

Will, Dickon and Hugo are some of my oldest friends. We met way back, at the end of our A-levels, when we spent that entire carefree post-exam/pre-university summer together just hanging out and enjoying the sunshine.

With life and geography getting in the way I rarely see them now but when we do it’s always comfy and fun. We’ve argued, laughed and cried together and I love them to bits. This was to be a fun week.

Will, Patrick and Dickon at the Quiraing. Photo by Hugo Donnithorne-Tait

Will, Patrick and Dickon at the Quiraing. Photo by Hugo Donnithorne-Tait, 2015 (www.lightorflight.com)

We also happened to be joined by my friend Patrick, a Savile Row tailor and adventurous cyclist whom I’d met for the first time a couple of years ago a Polo Awards bash.

I was slightly apprehensive about whether they’d all get along, what with the boys being a big scruffy bundle of energy and Patrick being a suave London gent (though I have seen him pull some epic moves on a dancefloor)…

I needn’t have worried, they got on fine and enjoyed a day out hiking the Quiraing together whilst I put in a shift at the gallery.
The only wobble was with the introduction of a new board game, The Settlers Of Catan. I’m not sure I’ve witnessed competitiveness at that level before; the Tunn Christmas Scrabble Championship has nothing on this.

Serious competitiveness. I stayed well out if it!

Serious competitiveness. I stayed well out if it!

A house full of boys is a beautiful but chaotic thing. Lots of catching up was done over many bottles of whisky.
Patrick stayed for two days before he had to leave for a meeting somewhere near Oban.

Despite the dull weather we filled the next few days with walks along the beach, fossil hunting and a very (VERY) cold swim at Loch Shianta.

Loch Shianta is a really deep little pond billed as the ‘healing loch’ and is the most stunning vivid blue colour. There’s something eerie and magical about it; I’ve wanted to swim there for ages but have been waiting for company to go with (safety first!).

Since our dip my views on it have changed slightly.
I mentioned our swim to a girl from work and she looked at me in shock “Oooh, we don’t swim there! They used to drown cats in there. It’s dangerous, full of death…”
Err… lovely!

Will about to make a splash (photo by Hugo Donnithorne-Tait)

Will about to make a splash. Photo by Hugo Donnithorne-Tait, 2015 (www.lightorflight.com)

Each day with the boys was lovely but the last one was particularly special…

The sun had finally decided to make an appearance and I decided to take them on my favourite walk; straight out of the back door and up to The Lookout at Rubha Hunish. It was chilly and blustery but the view over the bright blue sea over to the mainland was as good as ever.

When we got to the bothy we sat down for a rest on the clifftop overlooking the headland below. We swigged our water and I automatically scanned the water in the bay below. I rarely spot anything interesting but I look anyway, just in case.
But this time, for once, I did spot something. Dark, almost black, two parts above water….
OH HOLY SHHHHH…
Basking shark!

Me (about 30 seconds before I noticed the shark and that weird grimace turned into a grin!) -Photo by Hugo Donnithorne-Tait

Me (about 30 seconds before I noticed the shark and that weird grimace turned into a grin!)
Photo by Hugo Donnithorne-Tait, 2015 (www.lightorflight.com)

The poor boys. I was up and running to the cliff path in an instant (those of you who know me will know that I rarely move fast if I can help it)
I yelled some general directions to the path over my shoulder and slipped and skidded down the path as fast as my clumsy little trotters would take me.
This wasn’t actually the first time I’ve slid down a rocky cliff on behalf of a (supposed) basking shark, but that’s a story for another time.

Now, I know that this might seem like an over-reaction to some people… to most people, probably…
But where some people have a favourite football team others of us have favourite animals. Bucket list ‘To See’ creatures.
I’ve been desperate to see a basking shark for years and I’ve been on tenterhooks waiting for them to arrive in Skye (they’re late and few this year here). Imagine watching your favourite team winning right in front of you, that’s the feeling.

Watching the shark

Me and the shark

By the time I got down to the rocky shore Will was already there (long legs for easy overtaking).
We clambered down to the barnacled tideline and watched this huge, dark creature gently weave through the water just metres in front of us (although technically this one was quite small for a basker, only 3-4m long).
The adrenaline was running and I was high as a kite.

Will, Dickon and I on the rocks (photo by Hugo-Donnithorne Tait)

Shark watching positions. Photo by Hugo-Donnithorne Tait, 2015 (www.lightorflight.com)

We sat for ages.
The sun came out and the water glittered as we watched this giant fish meander back and forth between clouds of jellyfish.
We’d been watching the gannets diving all week but now we had a front-row view. The water was so clear that you could even see their bubble-trail once submerged. At one point a gannet surfaced and had to swerve off-course to avoid flying straight into the shark fin.
It was incredible.

Watching these awesome animals in one of my favourite places on Earth with some of my oldest friends is an experience that’s going right up there in the top 10 best moments of my life.
I’ll never forget that amazing afternoon.

Hugo's picture of the shark -a million times better than any of my snaps. Photo by Hugo Donnithorne-Tait, 2015 (www.lightorflight.com)

Hugo’s picture of the shark -a million times better than any of my snaps (but he is a pro so what do you expect?) Photo by Hugo Donnithorne-Tait, 2015 (www.lightorflight.com)

On week 3 my visitors were Dom, his son, Leo, and their dog, Kit.

Dom is a filmmaker and he was up here to make a short mini-video featuring me for the outdoor equipment company, Alpkit.
(Alpkit, by the way, have a company motto that I love: ‘Go nice places, do good things.’ Is there any other rule for life needed really?)
So Dom’s making a series of these films for the company, each featuring a different person living a different kind of outdoors lifestyle. I’m the arty girl who left London-life for island life and loves anything ocean-related.

I’ve only met Dom once before and I did try to tell him that my life certainly isn’t interesting enough to be filmed but they weren’t persuaded…

Dom setting up his camera in the garden

Dom setting up his camera 

Unfortunately things didn’t exactly go as smoothly as planned…

First of all Dom’s camera drone broke and wouldn’t get started again (if you know what the landscape in Skye is like you’ll know how incredibly frustrating this was!)
Okay, we said, lets get some of the in-the-water swimming footage instead…
We drove to Coral Beach but it was so busy we couldn’t even park, let alone find a quiet spot to get some filming done.
We to Kilmaluag Bay to try there instead. As we wetsuited up I noticed that the bay didn’t look as pretty as usual. When we reached the water we saw that it had turned a murky, peaty brown; completely different to the Carribbean blue of just a few days ago. Argh!

A bright blue Kilmaluag Bay just a few days earlier

A bright blue Kilmaluag Bay just a few days earlier

Despite a barrage of hiccups, we managed to scrape together enough footage for Dom to use.

He’s actually just sent me the first rough cut of the film and it looks fantastic. Of course, hearing your own voice is always pretty cringey (and I have a terrible lisp!) but the boy’s done good. I’ll share it on here once it’s out.

In the meantime you can see more of Dom’s stuff here:
Land and Sky Media

Kit the dog looks on whilst Dom catches some footage of light on the Quiraing

Kit the dog looks on whilst Dom catches some footage of light on the Quiraing

Towels in the wash. Bedsheets changed. Week 4 begins…

My guests seem to have been staying in order of decreasing familiarity; my last set of visitors were two people I’ve never actually met before in person, Anthony and Anne Sophie.
Anthony is an incredibly talented photographer and a friend-of-a-friend; at one point we moved in similar circles in the London art/alternative scene. He is best known for his brilliant Self-Styled project which you can check out here.
His girlfriend, Anne Sophie, is an extraordinarily ingenious costume designer and, to my delight, fellow sparkle-lover. You can see some of her pieces here.

I was slightly nervous about putting up two people who I’ve never met before, especially when they’re both artists whose work I admire.
Would they mind being stuffed into the twin room with my mis-matched sheets? Would they be expecting something a bit fancier? Our mutual friends can be fairly ‘quirky’… what would they be like?

Sophie photographed by Anthony in the Welsh mountains as part of their collaborative project (Photo by Anthony Lycett Photography, www.anthonylycett.com)

Sophie photographed by Anthony in the Welsh mountains as part of their collaborative project. How aresome is this shot?! (Photo by Anthony Lycett Photography, http://www.anthonylycett.com)

I needn’t have worried, they were two of the nicest ‘strangers’ I’ve ever had the pleasure of spending time with.
Genuinely sweet people.
Plus, having Sophie working on one of her rainbow-coloured, glittering costumes in my home was an absolute delight (imagine waking up to a riot of colour in your normally neutral living room)

A detail of one of Sophie's creations. How can you not be happy when waking up to colours like these?!

A detail of one of Sophie’s creations. How can you not be happy when waking up to colours like these?!

Like Dom’s visit the week before this was a trip with a mission…

Firstly Anthony took some pictures of me in the studio for one of his recent projects where he’s been photographing all different kinds of artists in their working environments.
Of course, it’s a massive honour to be photographed by someone with his skills (when he’s working you can tell his brain is whizzing with ideas) but when I found out that some of his other subjects include names like Gavin Turk and Micallef I almost keeled over! (If you don’t know who they are let’s just say they’re VERY successful artists. Or you could just Google them…)

My scruffy little studio didn’t feel worthy of this kind of attention!

One of Anthony's photos in his artists series: Sue Kreitzman in her London studio. (Copyright: Anthony Lycett Photography, www.anthonylycett.com)

One of Anthony’s photos in his artists series: Sue Kreitzman in her London studio. (Copyright: Anthony Lycett Photography, http://www.anthonylycett.com)

The second half of the visit was spent snapping Sophie in one of her magical costumes on location in the Quiraing.

Sophie and Anthony are working together on another series where he photographs her wearing her creations in various locations all over the UK.
Putting this vibrantly-dressed girl in the midst of these dramatic natural landscapes creates images with a surreal, dream-like quality.
It’s a really cool project.

Anthony shooting Sophie on location in the Quiraing. To see the actual picture you need to visit Anthony's website!

Anthony shooting Sophie on location in the Quiraing. To see the actual picture you need to visit Anthony or Sophie’s website!

Also like with Dom’s visit we had our fair share of hiccups.
A good few hours were spent huddled in the car waiting for the rain to pass so we could get a clear shot of Sophie. Then as soon as the sun came out so did the midges. It was a fairly speedy photoshoot once they’d turned up!

But we did get a good picture and I finally managed to get Anthony the local chippy supper that he’d been wishing for since he’d arrived. We ate our chips on Portree Harbour and celebrated the successes of the day.

Don't feed the seagulls! Anthony and Sophie in Portree Harbour

Don’t feed the seagulls!

Then, as fast as everyone had turned up, they had gone again.
August is over and Guesthouse Katie has closed. Time for a wee sleep until the next visitors arrive…

that turned up on the doorstop last week. Lots of memories here, thank you boys xx

that turned up on the doorstop last week. Lots of memories here, thank you boys xx

Kindness. Again. (The Syrian refugee crisis)

The first collection. All of this was donated in just an hour or two (photo by Tom Hodgetts)

The first collection. All of this was donated in just an hour or two (photo by Tom Hodgetts)

Okay, I was way too quick off the mark with my previous post. Since writing it, the folk of Skye have excelled themselves in their kindness again.

You’d have to live on the moon to have not heard about the Syrian refugee crisis and the charities that have sprung up to help the people camped out in Calais.
Because of the weather and conditions over in France, the items that the migrants need are things such as tents, walking boots, waterproofs and tarpaulins -all things which are very much everyday staples for life on Skye.

CalAid has been the most prolific of the aid organisations so when I saw a donations drive being organised in Fort William and Inverness I asked them whether we could have a collection here in Skye and add it to theirs. The response was quick and I was put in touch with other people in the area who’ve made similar enquiries.

Long story short, we’re now deep in the middle of setting up donations drop-off points all over Skye and the response from local people has been overwhelming.
I was stunned to find so many other people who wanted to start up a collection and to see how many people were willing to donate every spare rucksack, tent, sleeping bag, etc etc that they had. A chap called Tom took the first car-load of stuff over to Inverness yesterday and within an hour or two he’d been given so much that he could barely close his boot.
The responses on the Facebook group, too, have been so quick and so staggering that it’s been an almost full-time job to try and keep everyone updated and informed.

The first donations packed into Tom's car and ready to go to Inverness (photo by Tom Hodgetts)

The first donations packed into Tom’s car and ready to go to Inverness (photo by Tom Hodgetts)

Aside from the collections, there are people here who want to go even further to help the refugees.
A man called Stuart wrote a letter to our councillors suggesting that we facilitate a programme here to help house and integrate the migrants.
Of course, unlike simply collecting aid donations, this is a political issue that not everyone agrees with (each person is entitled to their own opinions and beliefs). But seriously, if that’s not an example of ‘Highland Hospitality’ and just general kindness then I don’t know what is!

This whole tidal-wave of generosity is something I feel like I’ve witnessed here before; at the whale rescue when local people were keen to do everything they possibly could to help the effort.
Whales or people, there’s a spirit of charitableness up here that is really quite extraordinary.

***

To see what we’re up to please visit the Skye & Lochalsh Volunteers For Calais Facebook page here:
https://www.facebook.com/groups/973882062670345/?fref=ts

An act of kindness

As I’ve said before, I moved to Skye to find solitude but it’s been the people here that have really surprised me.
Of course, not everyone’s an angel but I’ve come across more kind and generous people here than I have anywhere else. Plus, it’s the little acts of kindness that can lift a dismal mood on a rainy day.

A couple of weeks ago I had an evening that really proved this point…

The hammer throw in the heavy events part of the Highland Games. Photo by www.skye-highland-games.co.uk

The hammer throw in the heavy events part of the Highland Games. Photo by http://www.skye-highland-games.co.uk

It was games night (the evening of celebrations after Portree Highland Games) and I was out for the evening with some new girlfriends.
After a few drinks we headed to the official after-games ceilidh party at the community centre.

The community centre is a funny place; a big village hall where all kinds of celebrations are held, from black-tie charity functions to dance music nights (mostly attended by barely-dressed youngsters doing bambi impressions in Topshop platform heels).
There’s always a school disco vibe about it. It’s a million miles from the try-hard types of venue you get in the city and I kind-of love that.

Out in the pub on games night. I'm very lucky to have found three girls who will put up with me. Sorry Toni, Lily and Phoebe for ruining the photo...

Out in the pub on games night. I’m very lucky to have found three girls who will put up with me. Sorry Toni, Lily and Phoebe for ruining the photo…

Like most Skye events, the crowd was a perfect cross-section of Skye life (old crofting boys being the exception, of course). From my lovely postmistress Kenina to the girls from downstairs at the Baking Co, there were lots of familiar faces.

Midway through the night, after much swinging and twirling on the dancefloor, I went to the bar for drinks and realised my purse was no longer in my bag.

I did a thorough check. I asked at the bar, asked at the entrance desk, asked at the food van outside and asked the policeman standing next to it. Still nothing.
Damn.
Buffered by the wine I wasn’t too upset about it but it’s always a pain to sort out new cards etc.

I’d been chatting to one of the stewards earlier, a friendly-faced man with an impressive moustache. When he saw me looking through my bag for the fifth time he asked if I was okay and I explained my predicament.
Without hesitation he pulled out his wallet and insisted on me taking a £20 note so that I could still go to the bar.

He wanted nothing in return, just for this rather tipsy, wobbly stranger to continue enjoying her evening with her friends. It was a really thoughtful thing to do.

All good nights finish too early and, with an early morning start at the forefront of my mind, I refused the offer of a few after-party drams and instead wobbled back to the hostel (my frequent home when Out On The Town).
As I went to swipe the keycard for the door I heard a car pull up behind me and a voice yell, “Hey, Katie!”

I turned round to see two policemen looking at me through the open window of a squad car.
“Here’s your purse…”
The policeman in the passenger side leaned out and chucked it to me.
Relief!
I thanked them profusely and as they began to leave one of them called back,
“We’ve been following your Twitter feed this week, we’ve really enjoyed it!”

Friendly (and social media savvy) local police

Friendly (and social media savvy) local police

That’s another thing about Skye, everybody knows your name (I suppose I’d better be good if the police here know who I am!)

But this familiarity is probably part of why people are so kind here; a proper old-fashioned community spirit.
The lack of anonymity here does take a bit of getting used to (I think that’s definitely a post for another day) but it’s worth it when you know that there are always people here who can look out for you.

*****

Thank you Lynne & Simon! x

Treats and a cup of tea cheered up many rainy days!

Whilst on the subject of acts of kindness I’d like to say a huge thank you to Lynne & Simon for my ‘Emergency Yummy Bag’…

For those of you who won’t know, L&S were the first people on Skye to introduce themselves to me after reading this blog. They’re regular faces at the Skye Baking Co and they also live in the Trotternish part of the island (I often drive past them walking or jogging around the Quiraing which totally puts me to shame!)
It was about a week after the whale rescue and I was feeling drained and poorly when they dropped this lovely little bag of chocolate goodies into the gallery for me. It was totally out of the blue and was such a kind thought that it was kind of overwhelming.

Yet another example of the kindness of people on Skye. So, if you’re reading this, Lynne & Simon, thank you!

Philosophising over a Portuguese custard tart

So I’ve been working on a load of posts about what I’ve been up to over the last month. There’s a post about staying at my favourite castle hotel, one about raving the weekend away at Skye Live and one about a trip to the Outer Hebrides following some boy troubles.

For some reason the writing hasn’t come easy. I keep writing bits here and there but it’s been a struggle; I’m not sure why.

Then sitting at home this evening, under a light dusting of pastry flakes, I felt compelled to share some thoughts…

Portuguese custard tarts (Photo by leitesculinaria.com)

Portuguese custard tarts (Photo by leitesculinaria.com)

It’s been an average day at the gallery. Nicely busy, lots of interesting folk popping in for a chat, normal, good.
After work I nipped into the Co-op to buy a few bits and on my way to the till I noticed a pile of reduced pastries. Amongst the doughnuts and croissants there were a couple of Portuguese custard tarts, an old favourite of mine that I haven’t had in years. I dropped them into my basket.

After supper I put the kettle on and made myself a cup of tea.
It’s a tempestuous night tonight and the sea was dark-grey and dangerous-looking. It’s unusual to see such large, angry swells in the bay and I perched on the windowsill to watch the waves crashing. There’s something peaceful about watching something so powerful from the safety of a warm home.
Also, I think there’s something humbling about knowing how powerless you would be against the force of the water. A reminder of how insignificant we really are.
As I thought about this I shook a tart from the paper bag onto a plate and went to take a bite.

But I didn’t get a taste… I got a clear-as-a-mountain-loch memory.
How is it that tastes and smells can yank up the past so much more vividly than sights and sounds?

Biting down into the pastry I got slingshotted back in time, all the way back to when I first discovered Portuguese custard tarts…

I was in my mid-twenties living in South London. On Saturday mornings my boyfriend and I would wander down the road to the farmers market that was (is?) held at the big church near Oval tube station. We’d nose round, deliberating over which flavour sausages to have for brunch and what type of cheese we might like to nibble that evening in front of the telly (we were softly rounded in that contented-coupley kind of way).
If we felt indulgent we would pick up a couple of treats from the Portuguese cake stall to distract our appetites on the journey home (Oval has a large Portuguese immigrant population and these people know how to make good cakes!)
One day we decided to try the custard tarts, cajoled by the little handwritten sign telling us that they were a handmade speciality.
The tarts were delicious. The pastry was crisp with sugar at the edges and chewy at the bottom where it had gone all eggy and soft. They left a strangely fatty, grainy feeling in the mouth but it didn’t matter; we’d found a new favourite.

Oval farmers' market, South London

Oval farmers’ market, South London (Photo courtesy of City & Country Farmers’ Markets)

That must have been about 3 years ago now and this food-induced flashback made me think of how much life can change.
Maybe not all of a sudden with a shocking tragedy or lucky lottery ticket… just bit by bit.
‘Then one day you look back and everything has changed…’

I often think about how confused 2011 Katie would be if she was suddenly transported into the position of 2015 me.
I wouldn’t recognise the place I live, the people who spoke to me, I wouldn’t know anything.
It’s a funny thought…

C.S.Lewis

C.S.Lewis

Just few years ago I was living in an average flat with a nice boy in an okay part of London.

He’d put on a suit in the mornings and go to work in his government job. When I wasn’t at home trying to paint I’d be selling overpriced polo tat in the Burlington Arcade to fat sheiks with world-class ponies. In the evenings we’d slump into our Ikea sofa and watch TV until it was time to go to bed. Once tucked up he’d kiss me on the cheek then roll over and start snoring. I’d lie awake for hours staring at the ceiling.

It was a nice life. I’d become a bit introverted and didn’t go out with our large group of friends much but it didn’t bother me. My boyfriend was a good guy. I’d just sold my first painting over £1k. My family was happy and healthy.

Fast forward 3-4 years…

I now live on my own in a big old croft house overlooking a picturesque bay. Every morning I wake up to the sea and the hills.
I’m not wealthy but painting commissions are steady. I couldn’t care less about money; the majority of things that make me happy are free. I indulge in my passions, particularly in regards to the environment.
I’ve sloughed off all the fake mates and I now only have a small group of friends who I see rarely but love dearly. We party hard when we meet but when they leave I like to go back to reading quietly by the fire.
My family is now a 14-hour drive away but they’re still happy and healthy. I’ve now met my father, found out I have two beautiful (mostly) grown-up half sisters and my parents have reunited after 28 years. Also, we now have almost as many dogs in our entire family as we do people.
I’ve been through an illness that took me into hospital one week a month for a year and I still keep an overnight bag ready in case I’m admitted again. The outlook on life it gave me was worth every moment of nausea and pain. In hospital I saw how short life can be; every chance and adventure should be grasped tight.
I also smile at stuff more, spontaneously, like a loon. Like earlier today when I stopped to wait for a chicken to cross the road. I was almost late with all the animals on the road this morning but I amused myself by wondering why this chicken might be trying to get to the other side.
When my head hits the pillow at night I’m out like a light.

'Traffic' on my way to work this morning. Animals on the road drive me mad as they're always making me late but they make my drive a bit cheerier.

‘Traffic’ on my way to work this morning. Animals on the road drive me mad as they’re always making me late but they make my drive a bit cheerier.

Don’t these sound like the lives of two different people?

I’m thinking hard; trying to sieve through the categories of my life to find out what’s still the same.
Other than getting continued love and support from my favourite people (and the art career) there’s not much, barely anything at all…

However… I still enjoy custard tarts.
(Even though Co-op custard tarts don’t really come close to the authentic Portuguese ones we ate back in London. Those were pretty special)
But, though the quality of the pastries has got worse, I’d say that my life is unequivocally better.

As I said in a previous post, I had intended to return to London life this Spring. I was going to get back to little rented flats and brunches in Clapham.
But I can’t leave yet, my life here is just right for me at the moment and I couldn’t change it now. Even a proper custard tart isn’t worth going back for.

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I wonder what’s next..?

Notes From A Small Island #3

'And the rest is rust and stardust'

‘And the rest is rust and stardust’

TO BE A LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER…:

I’ve just applied for a job with the Northern Lighthouse Board to become their Skye-based lighthouse keeper. The position involves keeping a check on four lighthouses on and around the island (including Neist Point, where I stayed at New Years). It’s only a part-time thing (I don’t get to live in a lighthouse) but it’s an opportunity I couldn’t miss.

Oronsay Lighthouse, one of the ones to be looked after. Photo by Finlay Oman.

Oronsay Lighthouse, one of the ones to be looked after. Photo by Finlay Oman.

I’ve had to put a few friends straight that it’s not going to be a romantic job where I spend most of the day looking out to sea in a stripy jumper smoking a pipe and growing a beard (well, I might try anyway)… I think it’s going to be more of a maintenance job involving carrying stuff to and fro in the pouring rain. I doubt I’ll get it but I bloody hope I do, who doesn’t want to work in a lighthouse?!

The foghorn at Neist Point Lighthouse

The foghorn at Neist Point Lighthouse

***

KATIE MORAG

I’ve been chatting to someone recently who pointed out that I remind him of Katie Morag, the Scottish children’s book character. It was something to do with both of us enjoying beachcombing, finding treasures etc.
I laughed and said I hadn’t read it but I’d take his word for it and he sent me a picture of one of the book illustrations. About half an hour later Mum sent me some pictures she’d snapped during our recent trip to Coral Beach where I had taken advantage of the especially low tide to find shells. They included the photo below.
Obviously there’s no resemblance whatsoever…

Katie Morag collecting beach treasures

Katie Morag collecting beach treasures

Katie Tunn collecting beach treasures

Katie Tunn collecting beach treasures

***

THE 70th ANNIVERSARY OF THE BEINN EDRA CRASH:

Saturday was the 70th anniversary of the WWII bomber disaster on Beinn Edra, the site of which I visited on Remembrance Sunday (you can read my blog post about it here). The Staffin Trust had organised a new memorial plaque which was unveiled at the Columba 1400 centre. This was followed by a service and a lecture from someone at the University of Glasgow.

It was an understandably moving ceremony; time hasn’t dulled the fact that this was a really horrible tragedy. The wind and rain whipped around the building as if to show us the weather that the flight crew had had to contend with.
A prayer read in gaelic by a man who had witnessed the event as a boy was particularly poignant moment.

Charles Jeanblanc, the aircraft navigator. He died aged just 23.

Charles Jeanblanc, the aircraft navigator. He died aged just 23.

But what moved me most about the event was how many people there were there; the hall of Columba 1400 was so full that some folk had to lean in through the back door to listen. It says a lot about the Staffin community (and probably most of the communities here on Skye) that they have collectively taken on the mourning for these 9 US airmen that just happened to lose their lives nearby. It’s a testament to the warm hearts of the Staffin people that they remember the loss as if they were their own family.
In a different way I’ve also seen some of that kindness in the way that I’ve been treated since arriving here.

The new memorial plaque for the Staffin war memorial

The new memorial plaque for the Staffin war memorial

***

SEA VEGGIES

Someone brought some dried dulse into the bakery the other day and I had my first opportunity to try it (something I’ve wanted to do for ages as I love foraging and wild foods).
Dulse is a deep red edible seaweed that used to be a staple of the old crofters diet throughout the North West coastal regions. It fell out of favour as people began to turn towards pre-prepared modern foods but it’s now becoming popular again due to it’s health properties (it’s full of vitamins, minerals and protein) and the trend for foraging and utilising local produce.

No prizes for looking appetising

No prizes for looking appetising

It tasted as you might expect, salty with a strong iodine flavour. It was incredibly chewy too, and I suspect it would make a pretty handy snack for anyone who would otherwise reach for a huge slice of cake in the afternoon (I’m looking firmly at myself here).

I’ve just bought a load of sushi ingredients back from Surrey and I’m going to do some experimenting with different types of seaweeds for wrapping the rice and making interesting salads. I’ve just got to wait until the weather’s good enough to clamber over the rocks at low tide to collect it without getting blown in. Looking out the window now, that may be some time away!

***

MAGIC:

There was something strange in the air the other night.

I’d been driving back from Inverness airport after a weekend in Windsor for a family event. I didn’t leave the city until it had got dark and I had this odd feeling that I was very far from home (which of course, I am, but I’ve never felt that here before. I’ve always felt very settled… It must have been leaving all my loved ones behind that caused it)

Flying visits

The long way home

It was freezing cold and I hit a blizzard again on the road coming up the the Cluanie Dam. It had been a long day, this was the last thing I needed.
It was treacherous but for some reason I felt completely calm, not like the previous time when my shoulders had been up round my ears as I anticipated sliding into a loch.

I came out of the other side of the blizzard to a brightly snow-covered landscape. The moon was almost full and the hills rose on either side of me, silhouetted pale grey against the black sky. Everything was calm, both inside the car and out.

Every now and again my car would disturb an owl on a fencepost and I’d see pale wings swoop up into the night. As I passed the Cuillins one of these owls flew up and followed the curve of the road. I pressed down on the accelerator and sped alongside it for a few seconds before it turned and disappeared into the forest.

There was something so strange about this night that I can’t put my finger on. It felt like a night for mischief and adventures; running around in the snow, midnight swims, sneaking into interesting places, watching meteors.
There was magic in the air tonight.

Driving into Uig I considered pulling over and going for a walk around the Fairy Glen. With work the next morning I decided against it but a wander around the bay wouldn’t keep me up too late.

When I got home I wrapped myself in warm kit, filled a hipflask and grabbed some headphones.
I’ve just downloaded an album by a band called Solomon Grey who composed the soundtrack to the BBC drama, The Casual Vacancy. I had to look them up after watching the programme; their music was perfect… hazy and haunting. I’m always looking for music that I describe as ideal ‘cold winter beach music’; something atmospheric and ephemeral to occupy the background whilst you’re making your way along a shore.
Solomon Grey is exactly that and it’s safe to say that they make perfect midnight wandering music too.

The Selected Works album by Solomon Grey

The Selected Works album by Solomon Grey

I didn’t take a torch; the moonlight was so bright outside that I could see my shadow on the track as clear as if it were bright sunshine. I turned my music down low so that it mingled with the sound of my boots crunching through the icy crust on the snow..
Someone had left a boat pulled up on the shore and I sat in it for a while watching the light on the waves. It was exceptionally still. (Thank you boat owner x)

Artwork by Karen Davis

Artwork by Karen Davis

When my bum got too cold I got up and wandered up the path towards the ruins of St Moluag’s Church. My feet took me up the path on the right towards Rubha Hunish but I stopped myself at the gate. No long rambles tonight, not on a schoolnight.
So I turned back and crunched my way up the track towards the main road.
It was SO still. But I was far from alone. There were birds still making noises, not singing but calling out every now and again. Hares ran here and there in front of me and the heavy, dark shapes of cows in the fields turned silently to look at me as I passed.

I wasn’t sure where to go next. It was well past midnight after an entire day of travelling. My sense of responsibility had a word with my sense of adventure and I turned round towards home.
It did feel sad to leave this moonlight though. I’m sure I sound a little bit nuts or silly but there really was something imperceptibly special about this night.
Again, this sounds ridiculous but it was like there was something huge that was… changing. Somehow.

The night sky over Cill Chriosd Church, Broadford. Photo by blaven.com

The night sky over Cill Chriosd Church, Broadford. Photo by blaven.com

I looked back behind me to take one lasting mental picture of the illuminated monochrome landscape of the back of the Quiraing. Then one last look at the stars. Or maybe just 10 more minutes…
I lay down on the track and looked up. Between the silvery clouds the stars were beaming. I picked out the easiest constellations and reminded myself that I really must learn more than just The Plough and friends.

My music shuffled onto the next song, Choir To The Wild, and the moment was perfect.
Have a listen to it on YouTube here (night sky optional but highly recommended). I think you should just about get the picture.

It didn’t take long for my eyelids to start feeling heavy and I tried to fight off the sleep. It wasn’t working very well so I admitted defeat.
So I went home and went to bed… but I took the calmness with me.