The Sea Monster

So we get a lot of interesting things washing up on the beaches here on Skye. Not only have we got a lot of coastline, we’ve also got a lot of activity going on in the surrounding waters.

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Looking for shells and seaweed at Coral Beach

Some flotsam and jetsam can be beautiful; rare shells, pieces of old ship or historic kitchenware.
More often it’s a frustrating mixture of throwaway plastics and discarded or lost fishing gear (grrrr!)
Every now and again it’s something more interesting…

Last week we found one of the most unusual things I’ve come across: the remains of a rare ocean giant…

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About a month ago there had been reports from the Scottish Marine Animal Stranding Scheme of a possible minke whale carcass washing up nearby in North Skye (marine mammal medics and SMASS volunteers often go out to investigate reported strandings to identify and record data on the animals that wash up on our local coastlines).

A friend had agreed to have a look for it but they couldn’t safely find it.
We assumed it had been washed back out to sea.

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A minke whale carcass found near Elgol, South Skye (photo by skye-birds.com)

That was until my landlord, Donnie, mentioned seeing some bird activity over a pile of large bones from his boat.

On hearing this, Rob and I armed ourselves with cameras and a tape measure and set off for another investigation. The tall basalt columns of the cliffs can be dangerous (and neither of us are particularly brave around precipitous heights!) but with the added safety of being in a pair we were able to look more thoroughly than before.
Eventually, with me holding on to the back of Rob’s jacket whilst he peered over the edge, we found it.

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Rob at the top of the cliffs

It was not what we expected…

A very clean spine. None of the usual bird activity. A bearable smell.
( You usually catch a whiff of these things before you see them. I once went to identify a long washed-up minke…
The rotten blubber looked like a giant, formless mass of old chewing gum and the stench was unbelievable. It took weeks to get the Eau de Dead Whale out of my clothes.)

The thing we noticed first was the vertebrae, even from a distance we could see that the bones of the spine were perfectly round, not winged like mammals have. It looked like one of those strings of floats you get for dividing lanes in swimming pools.
This was a very big… fish!

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Measuring the individual vertebrae

To reach the remains took careful navigation down a steep cliff path and an hour of scrambling over car-sized boulders skirting the shore. It’s not surprising it was hard to find.
Beetroot-faced and breathing heavily we reached the little beach.

It was easy to identify the species… a basking shark.

Baskers are the second largest fish in the world (after whale sharks). They are gentle giants who arrive in the Hebrides each summer when the warm currents are full of plankton, their main food source.
There was once a lucrative business in capturing basking sharks here for oil. Their numbers plummeted and they are now listed as a IUCN ‘Vulnerable’ species and are legally protected (yay!)

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Watching my first basking shark at Rubha Hunish

I look forward to spotting them when they arrive each year (I wrote about my first sighting here)
The ones I’ve seen have all been relatively small (3-4m max) but they can grow up to 28ft (8m) long!

Now, upon seeing this skeleton, the most awe-inspiring thing was the size.
The spine that had looked teeny-tiny from the clifftops stretched to over 14ft in length. …and that was only a part of it; the rest lay about the beach, scattered by birds.

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Rob with the scattered skeleton

We found 94 vertebrae in total. The biggest ones were as wide and thick as a muscleman’s neck.
When we put the measurements of all the pieces together we worked out that the length of the shark would have been over 24 feet long (and that’s probably with a lot missing!)

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The vertebrae up close. It’s believed that, like a tree, the age of the shark can be determined by the number of rings

The rest of the skeleton was mostly bits of unfamiliar cartilaginous shapes; most pieces as long and thick as my arm.
The scavengers had feasted, meticulously cleaning off all the flesh and leaving perfect off-white pieces. We had them to thank for the (almost) lack of smell.

Aside from the spine, the other most identifiable pieces were two fins, probably pectoral. Again, it was their size that was striking, two great white wings.

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It was a strange-looking skeleton.

Historic incidents of washed-up basking sharks have led to many stories of sea monsters… The way they decompose led to people thinking they were modern-day plesiosaurs, Nessie-like creatures with long necks and big flippers.
The most famous cases are the Zuiyo-maru carcass and the Stronsay Beast; two stories well worth a read if, like me, you find that kind of stuff interesting.

Even picked clean, it was unusual.
Sharks have cartilaginous skeletons meaning that these pieces were not bone; they had a translucence and slight wobble when moved.
Unlike a fish or whale it was hard to know which bit was which or what went where. It felt truly alien.

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A mystery piece. Could this be a part of the jaw?

Whilst it’s sad that such an incredible animal no longer graces our local waters, it was a fascinating thing to investigate.

The even sadder thing, for me, was to find the skeleton surrounded by plastic water bottles. Whilst it’s unlikely that it was this litter that caused the shark’s demise, it was a sorry sight.
We took away a rubbish bag filled almost entirely with discarded bottles.

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Plastic on the beaches is a constant problem

We left the remains as they were. As a protected species, they were not for us to move. The quickly-decomposing ‘bones’ would be reclaimed by the sea soon enough.

That evening we sent our report with measurements and photos to SMASS.
Washed up shark carcasses aren’t common so hopefully the information will go towards helping learn more about these incredible creatures.

It’s now coming towards the end of the shark season on Skye.
There still haven’t been any sighting here in North Skye this summer (which makes this skeleton even more curious) but I’ll be making sure that I get to see a live 
one before the year is out…
At the beginning of October I’ll be heading down to Mull to take part on a research trip with Basking Shark Scotland. I can’t wait… It was fascinating to see this skeleton but nothing beats the magic of seeing a real, living shark.

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Still looking…

After ‘Eden’

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Once I’ve replaced the ingrained Scottish dirt with a real-life tan!

 

Hello long lost friends!

Unless you happen to be my Mum or my Nan, you probably haven’t noticed that I’ve barely posted since returning from Channel 4’s ‘Eden’ project but…

I’ve purposefully hung back from blogging since re-entering ‘the real world’. Much of my post-Eden life has been influenced by the experience and so it’s tricky to write openly without giving a few things away (we’re sworn to secrecy to not leak info on the programme before it airs!)
Not that I’ve had much time to twiddle my thumbs or write recently -catching up has been buuuuuuusy, but more on that another time…

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A little bit of post-Eden luxury in Santorini. Well-earned, I’d like to think!

But now Eden is coming back to our screens. Not only that, it’s coming back as ‘Eden: Paradise Lost’, a reference to how dark it became in there as everyone was pushed to their limits (prepare to see me ugly crying about 99% of the time…)
Did you notice the Lord of the Flies picture reference at the bottom of my last post, just imagine that story but with more booze and swearing. Egads!

Press interest is ramping up and I’m holding my breath as to what is included in the series. There will be 5 episodes shown over 5 nights and I don’t think they’ll be showing us skipping round a campfire holding hands…

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‘Eden:Paradise Lost’

I’m dead nervous about the whole thing… Will I come across badly? Will I embarrass myself? Do I look like an idiot? Will people hate me?
There’s no way of predicting it. I do know, however, that I stayed true to myself and my beliefs even when it sucked! Whatever happens, at least that’s something!

Right, I’ve already said too much about all that… shhh Katie!

So, I can’t detail Eden stuff but I will try and write general posts about what I’m up to at the moment. Because I’m having to skirt around certain topics, things might not be in chronological order but I’ll write more as things unfold on screen.
Not long now, deep breaths…

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Eden: Paradise Lost starts on the 7th August, 10pm, Channel 4 (please forgive me all the ugly crying and losing my cool)

It’s good to be home…

 

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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 😉

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Hmm…

 

One Whole Year #2: Another type of ‘changing’

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So my last post was about a year of living on Skye and watching the island alter with each month. When somewhere is so naturally beautiful of course you notice the changes. Life here is defined by the seasons.
Even those who don’t work out at sea or on crofts have to mould their plans to suit the shifting hours of daylight. We rush about to get things done in the short days of winter and then, in summer, it seems like the sun has forgot to set and all our hurry disappears.

When I arrived here I didn’t realise I’d gradually become more attuned to the seasons.
In fact, I didn’t realise how much moving to Skye would change me in general.
I suppose it shouldn’t be a surprise considering I opted for an entirely new lifestyle…

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Do I fit in yet?

Here’s what’s changed…

Firstly, I am now cold-proof.

By that I don’t mean that I no longer get the sniffles (although living away from the crowds does mean that you catch bugs much less frequently) -it means that I’m now well-acclimatised to the Hebridean weather.
There are many wonderful things about living in a big old house but warmth is not one of them; even with a full fire and the heating on full blast it still doesn’t always warm up fully.
95% of my skin remains covered year-round and I’m no longer bothered that I can see my breath when making a cup of tea or that I can’t feel my toes when I get up in the morning.
Now I actually prefer being cold, it makes me feel hardy (though what my guests think might be another matter!)

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There’s no such thing as cold when you’re wearing the right socks

I no longer know what day it is.

This is a peculiar thing that affects most people I know on Skye. We run successful businesses and go about our daily lives with no issue at all but, when asked, we often can’t tell you if it’s a Tuesday or a Friday. Though it’s easy to tell when it’s a Sunday because everything’s closed.

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I care less about money.

Although I sometimes enjoy the high life, I’ve never really been fussed about money (I did choose to become an artist, after all!)

I’m sure this lack of interest might come back to bite me in the bum one day (hello pension!) but right now on Skye it just doesn’t seem to matter as much. Whilst it’s nice to have enough cash to travel or eat out, the best things here are free.

That said, I’m not living the life of a monk.
As the quote goes, ‘Beware of artists as they mix with all sections of society’…  So I might seem to do fancy things, but it really is all by association.
It’s lovely to be invited to swish events but at the end I always go back to the house where I put on an extra jumper on to save on bills and ball up my receipts so I don’t need firelighters. Although the cost of living here is significantly less than London it’s still nice to need less.

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A night staying in a mountain bothy costs nothing. It’s not fancy but good fun

*On the topic of money, I thought I’d mention one of my favourite things about Skye… there’s less of a class system here. Yes, there are differences in wealth but everyone is part of the same community and generally visits most of the same places. 
I always think of the jobs up here being like in a children’s story book or tv show; there’s the postman, the bus driver, the shopkeeper, the doctor… and they’re all respected in the same way. I think that this more level playing field is great.

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You don’t need much to enjoy the view


It’s not just money, I also need less ‘stuff’.

When you don’t have many shops around it forces you to buy less stuff. The thing is, once you’re used to it you realise it’s not really a hardship.
When I went home this Christmas we went into a huge shopping centre and found it kind of gross how people were rushing around with piled-high trolleys grabbing at gifts without thought. It just felt a bit excessive; not what Christmas should be about. I think living on Skye has made me more aware of that.
Of course, I still enjoy shopping (duh!) but I do it far less and I only buy things I really love.
Perhaps, too, it’s also a stronger link to the environment that has made me more aware of the impact of limitless consumerism and the effect that has on natural resources.

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When you do beach cleans it makes you realise how much stuff there is that we don’t need (this was from Duntulm beach last week -sad irony that this is the only turtle I’ve seen here)

I eat differently.
Living on a croft has made me look at dairy differently; when you see the connection between a mother and calf each day it becomes hard to justify drinking milk and supporting the process in which it’s made.
So I swapped to almond milk and now try to eat vegan food as much as possible, although I am happy to eat certain animal products like our neighbour’s eggs or local venison.
However, my views on food are now somewhat long and complicated so this is perhaps a whole other post for another day…

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A mummy cow on the croft

I don’t think an adult in a backwards cap is odd anymore.

In England a fully-grown, 30+ male wearing a baseball cap the wrong way round would be seen as ridiculous. Here it’s not an uncommon sight… Something to do with outdoor adventures, mountain biking and snowsports.
Maybe they’re just big kids or something.
Actually, I take all of that back, I still think it’s really weird.

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Dude, I’m not sure about your hat…

So, there are still some things that have stayed the same.

As I mentioned at the end of the last post, I don’t think I’ll ever get bored of the beauty of this place, each light and season shows something new. If I ever get jaded then maybe it’s time to move on.

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Still a delight to see cows on the road

Here’s what hasn’t changed…

Sheep.

I still love sheep… And cows… And buzzards… And all the other animals that we come across each day here.
If I have to brake to a halt in the middle of the road because of a load of sheep crossing then I’ll still get my camera out to take a picture. I’m also probably just as likely as ever to post it to Facebook with the tired old caption of ‘Skye traffic’.
I still find them charming and characterful and I’m pleased that that never faded away.

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I see ewe, baby!

I still enjoy dressing up.

Of course, a glitzy party dress isn’t going to see as much of Skye as a pair of waterproof trousers and a tatty old Barbour but it doesn’t mean there’s no reason to try.
Although it’s frivolous I always try and put on a sprinkling of glitter with my perfume each day and, whilst my high heels gather dust, wellies don’t really look so bad with a sequin skirt…
Or maybe they do, I don’t know, or care really. You can’t have a bad day if you’ve put a little sparkle into it….

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A rare chance to scrub up at the Polo Awards in May

I’m still the same shape.

Whilst I’m not fat I’ve never been particularly svelte or skinny either; I love food and I’m happily soft and a bit squidgy. But I figured when I came to Skye I’d spend all my days out roaming the hills or battling the sea. I’d be some kind of muscular, athletic superwoman.
I didn’t reckon on the cake factor…

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Afternoon tea at Kinloch Lodge

There’s so much good food on Skye, dammit!

If I look out of my window I can see the cafe that does the best brownies I’ve ever tasted (Single Track, by the way, it’s amazing, go there).
If I drive down the road I reach Skye Pie where Simon and Kirsty sell their little pastry-wrapped bundles of deliciousness.
Then there’s the freshly-baked artisan bread at the Skye Baking Co or the lovely afternoon tea at Kinloch Lodge…

On Skye there is no escape from good food!
With the rough weather it’s been less about burning calories and more about burning logs on the fire with a nice cup of tea. I’ve put on a whole stone in weight since I moved to Skye!
Though maybe that’s why the cold doesn’t bother me so much now…

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Festive treats at Skye Pies

I still love a party.

Of course, parties don’t come up very often here so when they do it’s a real treat.
My only problem is that now I get so excited that I tend to go too hard too soon and therefore render myself completely useless for the next few days!

I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to a fair few estate parties on the mainland since I arrived here. The new friends I meet think I’m a wild party girl from Skye; what they don’t know is that I’ve just been saving it up for months so I’m like some kind of human champagne cork.
There’s been some funny stories as a result, but I’ll save those for another day…

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Uh oh…

So there have been some changes and some not-quite-changes. But it’s amazing to learn what happens in a year.
I wonder what adventures there are to come in the next one…

Luck

Spot the orca

Spot the orca

I’ve just got home after an impromptu orca-spotting trip
(well, I say ‘orca-spotting’ but it was really just a few hours staring at the sea…)

There were a couple of reports on Facebook about a pod being spotted near Neist Point (the most Westerly point on Skye) and there was a possibility that they’d be heading North.

I’ve been working on a portrait in the studio this month so I washed my paintbrushes, made a Thermos of tea, then headed up the road to the ruins at Duntulm, a good vantage point.

The wind made the water choppy and my eyes were streaming. Not ideal for seeing the white mist of a blow or the dark surface of skin or fin.
Still, I sat and scanned the water as best I could.

I sipped the tea (instantly chilled by the wind) from my Thermos and nibbled on a Single Track brownie whilst tourists came and went around me wondering what this bundled-up human being was staring so intently at.

Can you tell it was chilly?

Can you tell it was chilly?

Eluded this time.
After about an hour and a half I got up and wandered back to the car, imagining the whole way that there was a pod of orcas jumping up in acrobatic cheekiness the moment I’d turned my back.

At home I checked my emails and posted a picture online to say that I’d gone for a look but that the shiny buggers were nowhere to be seen.
Often when I post a beautiful picture of Skye someone will tell me how lucky I am to live here. It’s just happened twice with my orca-spotting photo.

I don’t completely disagree with it but I always find it’s a funny thing to say…

I am incredibly lucky with so many aspects of my life.
I’ve probably had too much good luck… at least more than my fair share.
But coming here wasn’t luck. I didn’t just float up here on the breeze; I made a conscious decision to live here.

Moving to Skye was a choice. It meant making sacrifices…
In choosing Skye I’m far away from my the people who care about me most; my family and friends (even the stinky old dogs who I miss to bits).
There’s almost no getting dressed up and going out (something I used to love). There’s no pub. There’s incredibly limited dating prospects. There are less career opportunities (I’ll never become wealthy from my existence here).
I’ve even started to feel the odd pang of loneliness.

BUT…

…there’s nature, wildlife, landscape, light….
These things, for now, are what make me happy.

Brogaig Beach. Worth giving up a few things for

Brogaig Beach. Worth giving up a few things for

In a way, I suppose it’s a selfish existence, to leave loved ones behind for something that I want.

Of course, there is some element of luck; I’m lucky to have had the freedom to come here and I’m lucky that those loved ones have supported me in this decision.
A happy healthy family, no partner, a flexible career… all this meant that I didn’t have ties to keep me in one place. THAT is what was lucky.

But the bottom line is that I think we make our own choices.
I’m lucky in many ways but with Skye I wanted to move somewhere pretty so I did (I might get invited to a lot of fancy things by fancy friends but at the heart of it it’s really a simple life)

Life is short so we need to find what we love and…
…actually, ignore that, it’s a quote by Charles Bukowski: “Find what you love and let it kill you”. I don’t intend to shuffle off this mortal coil anytime soon, thank you.

Basically, what I’m trying to say is… just make your own luck.

Try to be near what makes you happy

Try to be near what makes you happy

As I write this someone’s just sent me a message saying that moving somewhere so remote is brave.
If ‘lucky’ is the adjective I hear most often, ‘brave’ is the second one.
Don’t even get me started on it…

*Also, lucky is when you go out to look for orcas and actually see them. 

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.