The Escape

Earlier this year I wrote a blog post about a solo Girl Friday/Castaway adventure that I’ve been thinking about for years.

On 31st March I waved goodbye to Skye and set sail for the Outer Hebrides.
The next day I was on a RIB speeding towards the silhouette of three dramatic uninhabited islands.

The next six weeks gave me some of the most extraordinary moments of my life.

Not everything went as planned, there were deep lows as well as soaring highs, but I found something in the disconnection from human contact that I’ve never experienced before… an almost-spiritual clarity and peace.

I’ve got so much to talk about in relation to my time there… from the wildlife I saw and the environmental observations I made to the dwelling I built and what it feels like to be removed from modern life.
I’ll follow up with further posts (please leave any questions below)

I owe thanks to Tom Nicolson for the use of his islands and Dòl Eoin MacKinnon for putting together this brilliant video.
Most of all I’m thankful to Stornoway RNLI and the staff at Stornoway Hospital for looking after me when I suffered from concussion part-way through the trip. I hope that I can help to repay a tiny fraction of your kindnesses but I’ll still be forever indebted to you for your help (and for putting up with me being stinky!)

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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!

Not the M25

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As I’m sure I’ve mentioned before, I work two days a week at the Skyeworks Gallery down in Portree.
There’s a lot of things I enjoy about working there but one of the things I least expected was the commute.

Originally I had looked at living only just outside of Portree; I didn’t know if the roads on Skye would be treacherous in winter so I thought that was the sensible option.
Of course, falling in love with my funny little house sent the sensible option flying out of the window (although I’ve since found out that the warm, salty sea air here prevents it from getting too icy here anyway)

So, twice a week I drive 45 minutes down the Trotternish Peninsula to work and 45 mins back

…And I love it.

Rush hour

Slow moo-ving traffic

No journey is ever the same.
Morning rush hour on the A855 is when the young farmer walks his characterfully shaggy ‘coos’ down the middle of the road.
Stubborn, wild-eyed sheep threaten to make me late most mornings. Once in a while my journey is blocked by the solid figure of Charlie the bull.
Sometimes I’m greeted by the collie at the end of my road who runs alongside the car as far as it can. At other times I find myself swerving around the chickens, turkeys, ducks and bunnies who congregate at the bottom of my hill.
I usually see a couple of birds of prey perched on posts as I pass the croft cottages and if I’m lucky I’ll spot a sea eagle or two circling over the clifftops just past Staffin.

Rush hour in Kilmaluag

Rush hour in Kilmaluag

On a particularly busy day I might even see some people too.
I like the way the other drivers thank you here, not just a finger lifted from the steering wheel or a solemn nod, you’re more likely to get a proper wave and a grin. Of course, you get the grumpy ones too, and the bewildered tourists, but I enjoy sharing a “Good Morning” smile with the postman, the bus driver, the farmers on their quad bikes…
If it sounds a little like living in an unusually cheery children’s TV show, Postman Pat or Balamory, you’d pretty much be right.

The Quiraing

The Quiraing

Whilst all this is lovely the really incredible thing about my commute is the landscape.
My journey takes me past some of the most famous sights of Skye; the Quiraing, Kilt Rock and the Old Man Of Storr. The spectacular views seem to look brand new every day under different lights and weathers.
Sometimes the tops of the hills are spookily encased in mist with a dark, stormy background. At other times the jagged rocks look like they’re on fire from the neon-red sun setting behind them. When the light has been soft, almost misty, I’ve felt as if I’m driving through an old painting come to life, like that bit in Mary Poppins where the jump into the chalk drawings.

Heading home past The Old Man Of Storr

Heading home past Loch Fada and The Old Man Of Storr

Even something as basic as the road itself is fun. There’s a straight-ish bit over little hills where I like to put my foot down and you can feel your stomach lurch over every drop, fairground-style. Then there’s the flat, open bit along the cliff where you feel like you’re flying along the top of the world.
My favourite part of the journey is where, from going parallel to the coast, the road bends to the right so you face straight out towards the open sea. At the same time the tarmac also curves downwards, disappearing from sight. It gives the impression that you’re about to drive off a cliff and plummet straight into the water hundreds of feet below, Thelma and Louise-style.
The first time I drove it it made my pulse quicken like at the top of a roller coaster before the drop. Even though I pass this way every day I still get that little buzz of exhiliration as I speed towards the waves.

Looking over towards the mainland from the cliff road

Looking over towards the mainland from the cliff road

Could I ever had imagined that I’d enjoy a commute enough to be inspired to write over 600 words about it? Not likely.

Yet with my favourite music on I’m reminded why I moved to Skye every time I make this journey; here’s something that should be ordinary but instead it’s extraordinary. 45 distracting minutes to ease me in or out of the working day.

As Graham, one of my new friends, put it, “If you ever get bored of that drive then it’s probably time to move on from here.”

Morning sunrise over Loch Leathan

Morning sunrise over Loch Leathan