A ‘Girl Friday’ Adventure: 40 days and 40 nights in the wild

Noisy neighbours…

I moved from London to Skye seeking peace, wilderness and a life closer to nature.
I found one of those things but the rest wasn’t quite what I expected…

On this funny old island I discovered new friends, hundreds of things to do and a diverse, vibrant community.
I was definitely closer to nature but my calendar has never been busier!

I fell head-over-heels in love with my new home here yet I’m still searching for that peace. I haven’t quite got there yet.
The desire to find a certain type of solitude with nothing but the hills or sea for company pulls at me like a little fishhook caught in the back of my mind.

The peace and calm of the cold white sands of Scarista, Harris

 

So in 2015 I set about on a plan that would help me find it…

A solo expedition to an uninhabited island far out at sea; somewhere remote, wild and windswept.
No human contact, no electricity, no entertainment such as books or sketchpads. I’d be completely alone… wildlife and the landscape would be my only company.
It would be a kind of Castaway or Girl Friday experience, only without the sand or the sunshine!

Sleeping under the stars just outside Inverness (hopefully I’ll be doing this without the injured-ankle support boot on my island adventure!)

I located my temporary home; a set of windswept islands about 40 minutes away from the nearest harbour. Their owner was incredibly kind and accommodating, if a little bemused by my requests.
Shortly after I’d secured my stay I was lucky enough to win a grant from Tim Moss’ brilliant Next Challenge and a big bundle of kit from Lyon Outdoors. It doesn’t seem like an unusual adventure so I was heartened to see that people were interested.

There’s a surprising amount of planning involved to be able to exist in such a pared-back way…
What safety measures do I need to put in place in case I fall and break an ankle? How do I get there?
Do I bring food supplies or do I exist on shellfish and seaweed?

The adverts launching Eden on Channel 4. The photos show the beautiful scenery of Ardnamurchan

 

But when the opportunity to take part in Eden popped up in the middle of all this planning it was hard to turn down…
I temporarily postponed my solo trip.
The islands would always be there, this Eden project would not.
Besides, a year spent off-grid in the woods sounded like the perfect halfway stepping stone to my island adventure.

Now Eden has finished… I’m out and settling back into reality after Reality TV and, excitingly for me, my Girl Friday trip is back on!
At the beginning of next year I’ll be hopping on a boat and setting up camp as these feathered friends begin to arrive for the nesting season…

 

Atlantic puffins (photo by inhabitat.com)

Spending a year off-grid in Ardnamurchan wasn’t exactly the immersive close-to-nature experience that I had expected.
In fact, it was more community-focused than I had ever imagined and it often felt like a constant battle to persuade certain people to respect the environment in which we were living.

Now my island trip is back on the only community I’ll be interacting with is the thousands of seabirds that flutter onto the rocky cliffs each spring. They may turn out to be incredibly stinky neighbours but I can’t wait!

The Heather Woman

We never expected to be as busy as we were in Eden. Who knew that boiling a kettle could take over an hour?

Still, amidst the wood chopping, goat milking and porridge stirring I managed to get a little bit of time to be creative.

The Rabbit Hole (my little no-trees-harmed-in-the-making-of Hobbit home) was my proudest ‘artwork’; I put my heart and soul into making it a magical little sanctuary.
(I’ll write more about this once the show is over)
I also created a number of sculptures working with the landscape, my favourite of which was ‘The Heather Woman’.

With one episode still to be shown, I doubt the heather woman will be seen on our screens.
Unfortunately, I also don’t have any photographs of her in her full amethyst glory (I’m hoping to pester the production team for one once the programme is over). However, I do have a picture taken by a lovely local lass, Kate Maclean from April 2017, just after the project had finished.

The heather woman (Kate Maclean)

The Heather Woman in April 2017 as her heather blows away and she begins to return to the earth (photo taken by  @thebirdwentsplat on Instagram)

The Heather Woman was a 7ft sculpture made of old found materials from the beach and heather in full bloom.
She stood at the peak of the tallest sand dune on our beach and looked out to sea towards the Isle of Skye, shielding her eyes with a hand.

She took about a week to make, from digging rusty fencing wire out of the sand to collecting buckets of heather sprigs.
Working in the rain was cold and miserable but, on bright days, the top of that dune was the most beautiful ‘studio’ in the world.

The idea was that she originated from the landscape. She would begin in regal purple, shift to blazing orange and then turn silvery and disintegrate as time and weather took their toll.
The materials would collapse and return to the ground, like the people who have lived on the landscape in the past.

She looked out to sea as we often did during our time in Eden but I wanted her to be timeless. She could have been the wife of a fisherman, waiting for her man to return with the herring, or maybe a strong and sturdy croftess about to be displaced from her home and taking one last look.
Like the people who lived in this area before us, and their memories, she would fade back into the landscape that nourished her.

And why did she face towards the Isle of Skye of all places?
Well, that was part of me, looking home.

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She gazes out to sea… (Photo by timetravelcostumes.com)

We took a lot from the landscape, especially in terms of wood for fires and building. Making beautiful things out of natural materials felt important; leaving lovely things rather than just taking and using.
She was still there after we left and I was told in the local pub that a couple of people would maintain her when they could, if she bent in the wind or suchlike.

When I said goodbye to Eden I visited the Heather Woman one last time. I noticed spiders spinning webs between her limbs and beetles tiptoeing along the sprigs of heather. Tiny things, but perfect.
I hope that, however troubled things were, we left a little beauty behind somewhere.

It’s good to be home…

 

rehab

Rehabbing and retoxing in luxury at Kinloch Lodge back on the Isle of Skye -from one extreme to another! (And check out those mega roots!)

Aaaaand… she’s back!

As a couple of eagle-eyed readers have noticed, I’ve spent the last year living off-grid in the wilds of Scotland as part of the Channel 4 Eden programme (see more here).
It was a hell of a ride… There were soaring highs, unbearable lows and everything in-between. I’ve learnt a lot: good, bad, muddy…

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Who’s that funny face there in the middle?! 

It’s been a crazy, surreal 12 months away and I’m now spending the next few weeks gently readjusting back to ‘normal’ life. After such a long period of time away from family, friends, technology and the media the ‘outside world’ feels pretty overwhelming!
Because of that, I’m trying to limit screen time whilst I ease back into things. I can’t say much about the programme until it’s all finished but I’ll write a bit about my real-world rehab/readjustment on here once I’m a bit more settled.

In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a handful of mini-insights into what it’s been like over the last week…

  • My reaction on seeing a child for the first time in a year: “That person over there is really small!”
  • …first horse: “That thing is huuuuge! Have they always been that big?!”
  • First time seeing Skye Bridge again: It was overwhelming to see home again. Got misty eyes for my Misty Isle!

Oh, and a couple more things….

1. Always take things with a wee crunch of sea salt.

2. To that question that everyone keeps asking… Yes, I did bring home a special souvenir from Eden. He seems to be fitting into Skye life rather well 😉

lord

Hmm…

 

What is it that you actually do?

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Me in my Skye studio (Photograph by the insanely talented Anthony Lycett)

For all my posts about my days on Skye and the things I enjoy doing, I realise that I never talk about my day job as an artist.

This evening I was posting some photos of my most recent work to my Facebook page (Katie Tunn Fine Art) and I found myself writing more about the background to the pieces than I usually do, like a kind of mini blog.
Since these new paintings are Skye-inspired I thought I’d share what I wrote…

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Inspired by the ocean and the sky


(From Facebook)
‘Back in 2013 I took a month out to explore Scotland. As an ocean-lover and a geology-enthusiast I have always been entranced by the natural beauty of the country.
I had no planned route but as I roamed from place to place I realised I was in pursuit of something… The colour blue.

From the icy teal of the deepest Fairy Pools to the Caribbean turquoise of Coral Beach -I found glimpses of what I was looking for on Skye. It’s part of why I fell in love with this place and perhaps what led me to move here.

I’ve now been here for over a year. Although I’ve been making art the whole time, it’s been mostly my ‘bread and butter’ work, portrait commissions.
I love this type of work but for a long time I’ve been meaning to make some more intuitive art that reflects what I love about this island. I have no idea why but something always stopped me.

It took an impromptu painting session with fellow Skye artist and friend, Marion Boddy-Evans, to inspire me to loosen up and experiment.
Following her words of encouragement I’ve been rapidly turning every blank surface in my studio blue.

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Catching the light

 

These new pieces are all works in progress as I explore different painting techniques to represent the colours of the ocean and the patterns found in minerals and gemstones.
It’s great fun to go back to using high-gloss surfaces, circular canvases and metallic colours, it’s been a while.
It feels like I’m beginning to really find my blue…’

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All my favourite colours

The circular canvases in the somewhat blurry photos above are my favourite pieces so far but it’s been fun to play around with different surfaces and materials too, especially using stuff that I’ve picked up whilst cleaning beaches.
My studio has gradually become a shrine to cerulean; it’s a delight to walk in and be surrounded by splashes of my favourite colour.

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Experimenting with beachcombed finds

As I mentioned above, this is a departure from my everyday artwork which mainly consists of portrait commissions. I specialise in drawings and paintings of people or horses, often with a military or polo theme. Yes, it’s incredibly niche but it’s a good market and one I enjoy working in.

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One of my favourite finished commissions 

There are pros and cons with working to commission…
Pros: It’s guaranteed work and I really enjoy meeting my new subjects.
Cons: It can be painstaking with little room for error or movement. But worse, you never know whether your client will like it or not so there can sometimes be an agonising internal struggle to work out whether you’re really up to the job.

When working on a big commission I often spend most of my time doubting whether I can really paint at all and whether I’m committing some kind of fraud by pretending to do so. It may sound extreme but it’s not an uncommon train of thought. It’s what makes us try to be better artists.

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The latest drawing commission 

It’s the lack of that internal struggle that makes this intuitive, abstract way of working feel more fun and carefree.
As my friend Marion wrote on her blog recently, you have to experiment and accept that you’ll make mistakes. I really owe her one for inspiring me to find that freedom with paint that I was beginning to lose a bit.
I’m looking forward to getting back into the studio and seeing what comes out next…

To see more of my work please visit my Facebook page: Katie Tunn Fine Art

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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

A doodle of me and ma hoose! (And a wee bit of Gaelic)

I bought a new set of 50 Crayola colouring pencils a couple of weeks ago to work on some illustrations and I haven’t been able to put them down since. New art materials are a bit like sweeties to me and if fancy art pencils are high-end chocolates then Crayola pencils are Pick n’ Mix.

So here’s a little doodle I drew this week of my new home on Skye (and all it’s current inhabitants!)

My wee cottage and me

My wee cottage and me

Since I’m mentioning sweets…

I’ve been trying to learn a bit of the native language whilst I’m up here.
I’m desperately bad at it, there’s something about Gaelic that seems more tricky to pick up than other European languages. Somehow the words wont stick to my brain cells. The ultimate in linguistic Teflon.
It’s quite a gutteral language, very different from French or Spanish, and apparently German visitors find it easier to pick up than the rest of us. It’s a funny one to hear spoken (I find myself stretching to try and hear familiar words) but it’s hauntingly beautiful when sung.

The signage around Skye is a helpful way to learn a few basic pronunciations as the Gaelic place names are usually written in green above the English ones. I love seeing how some of our everyday Anglo words have been integrated into the Gaelic language with terms such as ospadal (hospital) and oifis a’ phuist (post office).

But there’s one Anglo-Gaelic word that I know particularly well because I think it’s quite charming. First spotted in the Co-op in Portree, the sign for the confectionery aisle…
Suiteas.
Perhaps I’m easily pleased but I love that.

Hello Wall Weasel!

Hello Wall Weasel!