I’m A #GetOutside Champion!

GetOutside

The 2018/19 Get Outside Champions team!

So something exciting happened to me earlier this year…

At the start of 2018 I was lucky enough to be chosen to become one of Ordnance Survey’s #GetOutside Champions, a team of ambassadors tasked with inspiring others to spend more time outdoors.

Did you know that the average child today spends less time outside than a prison inmate?
This is a ticking time bomb health-wise; the children of today are expected to have shorter lifespans than their parents. Also, how can we expect them to appreciate and protect nature when they have little knowledge or experience of it?
These are just two of the many reasons why the #GetOutside initiative has been created.

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Cheese!

 

At our first get-together the team list read like a who’s who of British adventurers.
It included names such as…

-Ben Fogle, TV presenter and adventurer.
-Mel Nicholls, Paralympic medallist and endurance wheelchair racer.
-Dwayne Fields, TV presenter and the first black Briton to reach the North Pole.
-Sean Conway, endurance adventurer and the first person to swim, cycle and run the length of Great Britain.

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Our Everest experts

There are folk who have climbed Everest (multiple times!), world record breakers, book writers, TV personalities, photographers, filmmakers and charity founders.

How on earth did I manage to slip in there? Was there a mistake?!

That’s what ran through my head at the big launch event in the New Forest.
I remember being sat at a table with Sarah Outen MBE and being a bit starstruck.
Sarah completed her round-the-world circumnavigation in 2015 and was the first woman and youngest person to row the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Like many of the other Champions, I’ve followed her on social media and for a number of years she’s been a bit of a hero of mine. Getting to meet her in person felt surreal.

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Table of dreams: Medals, MBE’s, world record holders… but most of all, simply wonderful people!  (I still can’t believe I got to hang out with this lot!)

As we listened to our introduction talk I glanced around the room. I could almost feel the sparks of energy coming off this crowd of 60 inspiring, highly-motivated, extraordinary people. It was exciting.
And terrifying.

Don’t they know I’m a fraudster!

I don’t have the skills or expertise to be sitting amongst this lot!
I’m not an athlete or sportsperson or record breaker, I’ve never scaled a mountain or rowed an ocean, I’m fairly new to proper map reading and I get wheezy when I climb hills.
I enjoy bumbling around outside, soaking up the joys of nature and a gorgeous view. I just love being outdoors.

Just chillin’ by the sea

But that’s where I fit in…
This is EXACTLY why I’m a #GetOutside champion.

Whilst I’ll always feel like a bit of an imposter next to the likes of Sarah or Ben, I’m here to prove that you don’t have to be super fit or especially sporty to enjoy time spent outside.

IF I CAN DO IT ANYONE CAN.
(Excuse the capital letters but this really needs to be shouted from the rooftops! Say it again folks!)

This is a vital part of the #GetOutside campaign.
Alongside the professional mountain climbers and endurance athletes we have Champions who are veterans, people with various disabilities, people from different backgrounds, asthmatics, families with kids and even a couple of four-legged companions.
There are a number of us who use the great outdoors as a tool to help our mental health.
Our aim is to show that anyone, whatever your ability or fitness, can enjoy time spent outside.

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All different ages, backgrounds, abilities and sizes (and all slightly silly!)

For me it’s all about getting close to nature, exploring this beautiful and weird natural world around us. It’s about curiosity and learning.
I firmly believe that one of the keys to being happy is to find joy in the smallest things… an unusual cloud… a spot of unexpected colour… even just a bee having a scratch!
Once you start noticing those things you’re able to start appreciating these little bursts of happiness more often.

It’s all about the little things

All this may sound flippant but it’s rooted in something important.
It’s been medically proven that time spent outside is good for people suffering from depression or other mental health issues.
When life gets stressful or if I’ve had some bad news I find it soothing to take a break, go for a walk or sleep out under the stars. It helps me to clear my mind.
Fellow Champion, Eli Greenacre, talks about the benefits of getting outside for mental health better than I ever could. Check out her story here

As a self-confessed tree-hugger I also think it’s incredibly important to spend time in nature to fully realise how valuable it is. When you see how varied and interesting wildlife and the natural landscape is you’re naturally more inclined to want to protect it.

So here I was, sitting in a conference room amongst the most inspiring group of people I’ve ever met; all ready to spend the next few years encouraging as many people as we can to spend time outdoors.
And do you know what? Their energy was infectious.

Getting to know each other by causing general chaos during orienteering!

Whatever I’m going to do for Ordnance Survey, it’s nothing compared to what I get out of it…

-I hadn’t expected to spend an evening round a table with a group of new friends, laughing so hard that my sides still ached as I packed up my stuff and drove home.
-I hadn’t expected to chat to Anna Humphries aka ‘Mountain Girl’ about the wonders of the moon or enjoy a few too many drams of whisky between ruggedly-bearded adventurers, David Wilson and Sean Conway (#adventurehangover)

Sian Anna Lewis and I wondered whether we could get an honorary membership to the exclusive Adventure Beard Club with David Wilson and Sean Conway

-I hadn’t expected to giggle uncontrollably with two absolute heroes, Sarah Outen and Mel Nicholls, and for them to continue to bring sparkle and smiles into my days whenever I need it (and even when I don’t!)
-I hadn’t expected to come away from the launch event grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
-And I really hadn’t expected to come away feeling like I was involved in something that is truly special.

Over two days we laughed, cried, discussed, messed around and then laughed some more. I genuinely feel like I’ve become part of a family.
Now that I’m part of the Champions team I feel like I’ve got a whole army of encouragement behind me. They send me advice if I’m uncertain and messages of motivation and support if I’m feeling down.
I feel ridiculously lucky!

 

A Sunday stroll that turned into a boggy ramble! (And a rare photo of Mel before all the mud splatters!)

Now I’m excited to see what lies ahead.
I’ve already had great support from the OS team with a trip that I’ve recently completed and I can’t wait to represent the brand at Countryfile Live this August (come and say hello!)

I’m feeling absolutely, tremendously, brilliantly inspired.
Now it’s my job to try and pass some of that inspiration on to you!

Woohoo! They even put up a picture of Skye at the launch event!

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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

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!

An evening in two parts: The Dulse & Brose restaurant launch and an evening trip to the shore

Considering Skye’s wealth of local produce and my appetite for trying new flavours I really should have written more blog posts about the food up here.
Perhaps the block has been because there’s so much to write… Where does one even start?

Well, actually that’s just been made easy. I’ll start with another start… the opening of the new restaurant, Dulse & Brose, at the Bosville Hotel in Portree.

Dulse & Brose at the Bosville, Portree

Dulse & Brose at the Bosville, Portree

I was kindly invited along to the event by Tim Hunter-Davies whose PR firm was running the evening.
Whilst I’ve been to lots of launch parties in London, this was the first night of this kind that I’ve been to in Skye and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect.

I must admit that I’m always slightly wary of places that have been refurbed and given a ‘concept’.
They often turn out to be somewhere where you sit on cold modular leather furnishings whilst being offered unappetising little jellies and foams inspired by the chefs late discovery of the molecular gastronomy trend.

Skye’s fine dining comes in more than one type: there’s the try-hard-but-miss ones (as described above); the lazy ones that don’t try because they cater for one-off tourist bookings; and the spot-on destination restaurants.
As I got ready, shrugging off my painting scruffs and brushing my hair, I wondered what kind of place this was to be…

A busy opening night

A busy opening night

The venue was already full when I hurried in to escape the downpour.
I looked around at the crowd.
Once you’ve lived on Skye for a wee while you begin to spot the same characters at each event (although faces taken out of their usual context can be quite confusing, especially when the person in question can usually be found working outside on a boat or croft!)
But it was nice to see some familiar faces such as Mitchell Partridge of Skye Ghillie with his lovely wife Samantha, Mina and Chris from Skye Sea Salt, Marcello Tully from Kinloch Lodge and the boys from Skye Adventure, John and Matt.

It was also really lovely to catch up with Paul and Mags from The Oyster Shed and Karen and Colin from Lochshore House in Edinbane (who I’ve been bumping into on Skye consistently since my very first day here!).
One of the nice things about Skye is that it’s not short of friendly or interesting people -these four are both.

Strangely enough, at this event I met a lot of people who I’d interacted with via Twitter and my Facebook pages but who I’ve never met face-to-face before (including a number of the Hunter-Davies team).
A strange success for online networking and finally a positive excuse for spending so much time on the internet!

Paul and Mags from the Oyster Shed with Karen and Colin from Lochshore House

Paul and Mags from the Oyster Shed with Karen and Colin from Lochshore House

The food was a taster selection of canapes representing dishes from the main menu. I watched them glide past on huge white serving dishes like flying saucers whilst I chit-chatted hello to various familiar faces.
It must have been about half an hour before the conversation paused for long enough for me to try anything.

I plucked a little cup from a passing platter. Mushroom soup.
Soup isn’t something I’ve ever been interested in but I wanted to try a bit of everything tonight, this included.

I’m pleased I did, it was delicious. I’m not quite sure how the kitchen managed to get such a lot of flavour into a little serving of speckled taupe liquid. It was velvety and rich in umami with a cheesy, almost truffle-y garnish.
I’ve never ordered soup from a menu before but I’ll definitely have this when I come back here. I’d also be interested to see how well it works in a larger portion.

A terrine made from Kyle rabbit with apple and jam on crisp toasts was equally tasty. The meat was seasoned well (I think rabbit err on the bland) and the puree was sweet but acidic enough to counter the gaminess.
Well done D&B; two out of two.
Those first two tasters were my favourites but the rest were also good. The menu takes inspiration from Skye’s world-class produce and treats it with simplicity and respect. It’s something that I’ve noticed a lot of new places try but fail at; they complicate things with technique and the original ingredients become lost.
The source of each ingredient is stressed on every printed placemat or menu leaflet. For once it’s not just lip service to the importance of provenance.

The taster menu

The taster menu

As for the style/atmosphere of the place itself?

It was exactly how interior design should be done on Skye; contemporary but warm. Clean lines and minimalist design can be lovely but this is an island where you want a cosy place to retreat to on a dreicht day and stark modernism doesn’t usually provide that. The rough wood and earthen tweeds were stylish but in a comfy, casual way.

Skye arts and crafts line the rustic boxy shelves. Like the menu it’s a nice commitment to local artisans. Even the upholstery was made by Skyeweavers, a local couple who weave tweeds in their workshop on a foot-pedalled loom.

A map of Skye and it's local producers

A map of Skye and it’s local producers

It was a generous evening; the canapes didn’t stop and champagne flowed freely. The live music was a nice touch and the atmosphere was relaxed. Top marks all round.
But, all that said, these things aren’t what will make this a successful restaurant. What makes a successful restaurant is the strength of the cooking…

Once the evening had drawn to a close I sat in my car and unfolded the menu from my pocket. Within seconds I’d decided what I wanted to come back and try. I also decided what I’d have on my second visit.
If that’s not a good sign I don’t know what is…

***

I often get a restless energy in the evening, a kind of witching-hour desire to wander. It kicked in again when driving home after the restaurant launch…

As I neared the top of the island I remembered a text from my landlady about long finned pilot whales still in Staffin Bay. Although past 10:30pm it was still light. If they were still there I should be able to see them.

I pulled off the road and went down to Staffin Slipway. A glance from a few viewpoints. Nothing. They’d left.

Staffin Bay

Staffin Bay. Still light at around 10:45pm

Back on the main road I picked up speed and then… what was that? Something splashing close to shore. Not gone!
Almost missing the turning I swerved onto the track for Brogaig car park, crunched to a halt and jumped out.

It turns out, unsurprisingly, that long sequinned skirts and canvas sneakers aren’t the best items of clothing in which to tackle a boggy path after a month of constant Hebridean drizzle.
Painstakingly hopscotching over the puddles and tripping over my hem wasn’t working. I tucked my skirt into my knickers and sploshed through the mud. Who cares about soggy feet when there’s wildlife to be seen…

Muddy toes

Muddy toes

Down on the beach the whales were still slightly too far away to be seen properly. I took my shoes and socks off to wade out but the beach was still too shallow to get much of a view, even when I found a rock to perch on for height.
All I could make out was a closely-knitted group of bobbing heads. It wasn’t behaviour I recognised but I didn’t think anything of it (after all I’m a cetacean enthusiast but not an expert)

It started to rain (again) so I pulled my hood on and fastened my coat right to the top. Despite not being able to see the whales well I enjoyed how surreally special it felt to be standing bare-legged alone on a rock in the ocean in the drizzle in the wee hours. It was nice to just stand there listening to the fat water droplets hit the sea water around my feet.
What is it about the sound of rain that makes us all so calm…

Cold toes

Cold toes

In front of me I noticed some creatures surfing the breakers; left and right, back and forth. Very large and curious seals I guessed.
I dismissed the urge to wade out further to get a closer look: when you’re alone common sense must prevail over adventure; the chance of getting too cold or caught out by a current isn’t worth the risk. Not being able to swim in cold water when and where I want is one of the few things that frustrates me about being up here alone.
As the light finally began to dim I started shivering and it was time to trudge back up to the car.

Moody moon

Late night light

I walked through my door leaving my socks and sneakers in a gritty, sodden pile on the doormat.
It was an enjoyable evening but little did I know that it was to be continued in a less pleasant way…

THANK YOU!

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Cheers!

As of today I have lived on Kilmaluag Bay for 6 months (or on Skye for 6 months and 10 days!)

How time flies!

It was around now that I had planned to return to London after my ‘relaxing’ getaway to the Hebrides.
In reality I’ve fallen in love with Skye, it’s people and it’s nature, it would break my heart to leave so soon.
Strangely, when I moved here I didn’t experience that feeling of adventure that I thought I’d find… I simply felt like I was home.
Besides, I can’t leave now when there’s still so much left to see and do…

With all this, I just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who has followed my blog, commented on it or shared it with friends over the last 6 months.

 

Kilmaluag Bay in the sunshine yesterday. After 6 months of winter I can't miss out on the sunshine!

Kilmaluag Bay in the sunshine yesterday. After 6 months of winter I can’t miss out on this sunshine!

 

I literally cannot over-express how much it means to me that you’ve taken the time to read my blethering blog posts. It’s been great having you all with me and I hope I haven’t bored you all too much!

Every single one of you mean a great deal to me and I’m constantly surprised when I find out that someone new is reading this.
For example, it was lovely to meet my new-ish neighbours (hello!) from across the bay yesterday at The Single Track Cafe. You made my day when you told me that you follow my posts!
I’m also amazed at the connections and kindness that I’ve encountered via my blog (KM working at Duntulm, I’m looking at you here!)
Even being offered work with online magazines to write about food and archaeology of all things has been pretty special! So cheers for all that too.

 

I'm very moo-ved by your support :)

I’m very moo-ved! 🙂

 
I suppose after 6 months I’m not technically that much of a ‘new girl’ anymore…
Though before I moved here I heard that an incomer had to survive a winter to become one of the people of Skye. When I got here it had changed to three winters. Not so long ago I was told it was actually five!
So it looks like I can keep my blog name for a little while longer…

Thanks again and lots of love,

Katie xxx

A venture South (social whirling)

5am survivors photo at the Duchess of Richmond's Ball, Germany

Our 5am ‘survivors photo’ at the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball, Germany

To say I’ve been busy over the last couple of months has been an understatement.

My previous visions of having endless spare time to read, write and faff about aimlessly on cold, windswept beaches have all been thoroughly smashed to bits. I’m not quite sure how it’s happened but my life up on Skye has become almost equally as busy as it was back in London.

I’m always very conscious that life is short. It flies by.
We don’t have long to do everything that we have ever wanted to do. And there are all these little opportunities that could lead to a million different things.
It’s a race against time and, I suppose, also health…

Aaargh, how stressful is that?!

He's right you know...

He’s right you know…

 

So, my calendar gets filled up with all these things that I mustn’t miss out on, even up here where supposedly life is calmer (hmm, yeah right).

On a similar but smaller scale, whenever I visit home I find myself packing so much in that the trip becomes a blur of activity planned with military precision. So many people to see in such a brief period of time…
A business meeting in the morning, lunch with the girls, 3pm tea with family, a dinner party with old friends…

“Hi Katie, I hear you’re back in town this weekend, fancy a drink?”

“That would be lovely, I’ve got a slot between picking up a canvas in Covent Garden at 4:30pm and supper in Brixton at 5:15…”

Celebrating my sister's 21st birthday with a night out in Brixton Village

Celebrating my sister’s 21st birthday with a night out in Brixton Village

Though it might be exhausting it’s definitely not unenjoyable.
I suppose it’s actually quite a treat to see most of your loved-ones all in one go, one straight after the other. A bit of a ‘favourite person binge’ perhaps..?

My last trip down South was exactly that.
This was my third trip back home in a month (I popped back two consecutive weekends before this, once for a funeral and then again for my uncle’s 50th) and as it was a longer visit I decided to drive down.

My primary reason for returning was to attend the annual Whalefest event in Brighton.

In  case you haven’t already noticed I’m massively into marine conservation; I’m all-at-once both fascinated by the variety of life our oceans hold and horrified by the way it’s exploited.
In fact, my love for the ocean might explain much of why I chose to move to an island; there’s something about being close to the water that is soothing and renewing in an almost primal way (that might sound mad but it’s a recognised truth, it’s quite well-explained in this article here)

A beautiful Brighton sunset after the first day of Whalefest

A beautiful Brighton sunset after the first day of Whalefest

Put simply, I think Whalefest is brilliant.

From it’s beginnings in 2011 it’s now become the largest celebration of wild whales and dolphins in the world.
It brings the general public together with scientists, conservationists, TV personalities, NGOs, international tour operators… basically anyone and everyone interested in protecting our marine environments.

What makes it really special is that there’s something there for everyone.

I could take a toddler there and they’d have a great time playing with shark teeth whilst I could chat to an expert about how international activism affects relations with the Faroese authorities regarding the annual grindatrap (whale slaughter).
Whether you’ve got biology degrees bursting out of your wetsuit or whether you think blubber is just what you do at the end of watching Titanic, if you like ocean wildlife you should pop down.

Okay, enough of the promo spiel now (would you believe, they didn’t even pay me to say all that!)

Hands on stuff for kids (and excited adults) in the Experts and Artefacts zone

Hands on stuff for kids (and excited adults) in the Experts and Artefacts zone

 

Aside from all the interesting talks and interactive exhibits it’s also a great excuse to catch up with like-minded mates. The marine conservation community in the UK is surprisingly small and through Whalefest I’ve had the chance to meet tons of inspiring individuals who I’m now lucky enough to call friends.

But there were still new people I hoped I’d get a chance to chat to. Weirdly, almost all of these new people have been or are based in Scotland.

For example, I’ve been familiar with Mull’s Basking Shark Scotland for years but I hadn’t had a chance to meet it’s founder, Shane Wasik, until we were both down in Brighton, very far from our home islands!

Meeting the ever-inspiring Virginia McKenna and Will Travers of Born Free at Whalefest 2014

Meeting the ever-inspiring Virginia McKenna and Will Travers of Born Free at Whalefest 2014

Perhaps the person who I was most keen to meet was Monty Halls. For those of you who haven’t heard of him he’s an ex-military man and diver turned TV presenter who did a BBC series called The Great Escape, a series where he left city life for 6 months to become a crofter near Applecross on the West Coast (which was then followed by an Outer Hebrides and an Irish version)

I didn’t pay much attention to the series when it aired back in 2009 but my family gave me the box sets when I first moved to Skye. I’ve watched in amusement as I seem to have been following in his footsteps a bit more than intended; from learning to deal with the weather and remoteness to going deerstalking (all with similar emotions!)

Awkward photo with Monty Halls

Awkward photo with Monty Halls

 

It turned out that he was a really nice bloke. We had a bit of a chat about foraging the seashore, escaping the rat race and local conservation. He also noted down a couple of people he thought I would be interested in meeting when I’m next over in the Outer Hebrides; a couple of characters that I’m keen to get in touch with as soon as I can.

So after an inspiring weekend in Brighton it was back home for Mother’s Day with my favouritest person in the world.
I love Skye and I feel at home here but we have a close family and I miss them to pieces, Mum especially, so time back with her is extra special. I’m still working on getting them all to move up here…

The next few days consisted of pub visits with friends, London dinner parties, drink dates and brunch catch-ups. (It was especially exciting to meet little Eli, the newborn son of one of my oldest and best friends, Orla. Congrats guys, he’s gorgeous!)

OMG my mate made a tiny person!

OMG my mate made a tiny person!

On the Thursday I took my half-sister, Emma, out for a meal for her 21st birthday. I thought we should go somewhere trendy (note: someone in late 20’s trying to be cool for someone in their early 20’s) so I decided to take us for dinner and drinks in the new Brixton Market.

Having spent 4 years living in Brixton (well before it came back into fashion) it was weird to be back in the area with all it’s hot new bars and ethnic food joints. We had a really fun night but  I must admit I felt a teeny tiny pang of sadness that this stuff wasn’t part of my life anymore.
(That particular feeling lasted about 3 minutes, after which I got stuck in traffic and decided I hated cities and needed to get back to single track roads!)

I ended the week with a jaunt even further South… flying to a military ball in Bad Fallingbostel, near Hanover.
The white-tie bash was being held by the Scots Dragoon Guards regiment as a final farewell to Germany before they relocate up to Leuchars, just north of Edinburgh.

Here come the girls! (With thanks to Sammie-Jo for the photo)

Here come the girls! (With thanks to Sammie-Jo for the photo)

 

I’m very lucky to have been invited to a fair few Scots DG events, having worked for them doing a couple of military portrait paintings (they’re a really lovely bunch of guys, it’s been a pleasure working for them).
To say that these guys know how to throw a party is a bit like saying that The Queen Mum was just slightly fond of a tipple.
That said, this was without a doubt the best bash they’ve thrown. From pre-parties to battle re-enactments, fireworks to champagne fountains, to DJ’s and pipe bands; it was an epic weekend.

The ball was themed after the historic Duchess of Richmond's Ball and all the courses were inspired by meals/people of the time. This is a Duke of (beef) Wellington!

The ball was themed after the historic Duchess of Richmond’s Ball and all the courses were inspired by meals/people of the time. This is a Duke of (beef) Wellington!

The Scots DG also happen to be historically affiliated to Pol Roger champagne and it’s certainly a celebrated partnership…

I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many magnums and jeroboams popped in my life (I might never see it again either!)

Champagne aftermath (and this was only the pre-party!)

Champagne aftermath (and this was only the pre-party!)

And more champagne…

A champagne fountain with the biggest bottle I've ever seen. What even is that, a Balthazar?!

A champagne fountain with the biggest bottle I’ve ever seen. What even is that, a Balthazar?!

And more champagne…

Extra stock

Extra stock

…And even champagne to wash away the hangover!
(Don’t try this at home, this was not a good pairing. I can still feel the nausea now….)

Um no

Um no

But there’s only so much fun you can have before you have to come *bump* back to earth…
We flew home from Germany on the Sunday evening and I was up at 5:30am the next morning to begin the 14 hour drive back up to Skye.

It was a hellish journey but, as always, it was nice to be coming back.
It’s funny how sometimes you have so many fun social commitments that you sometimes feel like you need to get back to work for a bit of rest!

Whilst all this busy-ness has been pleasurable, I think it’s time for me to slow down a bit now and concentrate on enjoying the island again.
I find it very hard to say no to things, both social and work-related -imagine missing an amazing opportunity to do something new!
But it’s time to be firm. Time for me to turn down some voluntary work requests, stem the stream of guests and clear some space in the diary.
Just me and Skye for a bit again.

Loneliness

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If my most asked question is, “why did you move to Skye?” then the second most asked is definitely, “but aren’t you lonely?”

My answer is always an unwavering “no”.
Actually, it’s usually a bemused “no”… I’m always a little surprised when someone asks me that. If I had been looking for a buzzing social hub I wouldn’t have moved from the outskirts of London to somewhere almost an hour away from the nearest pub.

Some solitude at Coral Beach

Some solitude at Coral Beach

Not that I had intended to come up here and live the life of a hermit… when I arrived I knew that my 2 days a week at the gallery were an important lifeline to help me meet people and get involved with the community a bit.

However, I had expected to enjoy a significant amount of peace and solitude on Skye.
Life was getting busy in the South and I was spending too much time, money and energy doing stuff just to keep other people happy. I’m an incredibly social person (I love a party) but I grew up as an only child which means I also like my own space. I actually think that time alone is a great luxury, as I said in a previous post, it’s quite indulgent.

Some time to think

A place to think

So, a move to Skye was going to be a way of streamlining my life; less time trying to maintain work/social commitments and more time for myself.

Only, it hasn’t really happened.

Not at all.

I’ve tried to be solitary up here, to take time out, but I’ve actually been just as busy as I was in Surrey, albeit in a slightly different way.
I’ve been to music nights, lectures and ceilidhs. I’ve been on sporting weekends, day trips and dates. I’ve even seen the Scottish National Opera and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, all right here in Portree.

Aside from that, I’ve found it impossible to be lonely here because… everyone’s just too nice!

As with most rural places in the UK, the sense of community here is strong; though I’ve never come across this intensity of general kindness before.
In my next blog post I’m going to write about Skye as being a place ‘where everybody knows your name’, and I think it’s that involvement and knowledge of what’s going on in the community that ties in with the people here being so caring.

Liza and Barry at the Skye Baking Co.

Liza and Barry at the Skye Baking Co.

It’s not hyperbole to say that the people I’ve met here are some of the nicest folk I’ve met in my life.

Firstly there was my old pal Pat, who put me up in the big yellow hostel at the last minute when I arrived on the island in the pouring rain with a car full of stuff and nowhere to stay.

Then there were my colleagues at the gallery.

Liza and Barry who own the Skye Baking Co and Skyeworks gallery have created a business where being one of the team really feels like being part of a family. They’ve offered me places to stay when the weather’s been dodgy, they check my car over to make sure it’s running smoothly and they’ve all just generally kept an eye on me to make sure I get through my first winter (the lovely Christine is like an oracle for all things island-related!)

Home -Kilmaluag Bay

Home -Kilmaluag Bay

Later, two weeks after my arrival, I moved into the cottage at Aird and met my landlords, the Macdonald family. I cannot over stress how lovely this family is.

I still can’t quite believe how lucky I’ve been to find this place. They might be my landlords but they’ve always got an eye out for my wellbeing too, whether it’s making sure I’ve got enough fire fuel or just reassuring me that this amount of wind and rain isn’t the norm (I don’t mind it, I expected the weather to be much worse).

Then there’s all the other characters that have come into my Skye life… Peter and Ria my very cool Dutch neighbours with their gorgeous house on the shore, there’s Jane at Neist Point, Linda from Aros, Gordon from the hostel, Morten the photographer, Clare and Ian at the pub, Sarah the writer, my neighbour Mo, Mina and Chris the saltmakers….

I know it’s boring for me to list everyone here but the fact that I bump into at least one of these people every time I go out means that it’s hard to feel forgotten here.

I may have sounded somewhat antisocial at the beginning of this post. Sometimes I am, but I honestly think that meeting new friends can be one of the greatest pleasures in life. A lot of the characters I’ve met here come from completely different backgrounds to me so I’ve learnt a lot from them in the relatively short time I’ve been here.
I also believe you meet people for a reason…

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Perhaps one of the best examples of the kindness of the people of Skye is that of a man called Vernon.

We met when I was trying to pre-organise the beach clean at Talisker bay and needed help accessing the track to the beach. I was trying desperately to find out who to talk to locally and I waved him down as I was about to give up and slump back to my car. Not only did he help me with that but he also offered me the use of his van since my little car couldn’t carry a lot of rubbish.

The fact that he’d offer the use of his vehicle to a total stranger was totally humbling and, after completing the beach clean, I realised I couldn’t have done it without his help.

Two of our hardiest beach clean volunteers sheltering from the wind in Vernon's van

Two of our hardiest beach clean volunteers sheltering from the wind in Vernon’s van

The other reason I haven’t had a chance to feel lonely is the number of friends and family that have come up to visit me. My parents, my grandparents, my ex’s parents (the Outlaws!), my Godmother and her family, my friend Vicki, my friend Matt, Mum again…
I’ve had friends ask to visit who I’ve had to turn away because I didn’t have time to squeeze them in!

My grandparents at Portree harbour

My grandparents at Portree harbour

It’s been wonderful showing them my favourite places on Skye.

It was especially important for my close family as I felt that I needed to show them why I love this area and thus in turn explain why I made the decision to move so far away from them.

I’ve enjoyed every minute of having them here (and appreciate the fact that it’s a hell of a journey for them to make) but I can’t deny that it can be exhausting hosting people, even the most chilled-out guests are still guests who you want to feed and look after.

Mum at the Fairy Pools

Mum at the Fairy Pools

And all this is still without even mentioning all the friends from home who I haven’t hosted at the cottage… The London gang who were up for New Year, the Glancarron estate party, the Soval estate party, my old schoolfriend Charlotte…
All these guys came up and stayed at places nearby whilst I enjoyed the feeling of having friends ‘just down the road’ again.

A good internet connection also means that I’m only ever a click away from talking to friends on Facebook too (it might be an annoying addiction but it’s priceless for keeping in contact with everyone back home)

So, after all that, I think it’s safe to say that, nope, I don’t feel lonely up here!

Illustration by Maurice Sendak for Open House For Butterflies by Ruth Krauss

Illustration by Maurice Sendak for Open House For Butterflies by Ruth Krauss