The first rule of camping: Leave no Trace!

One of the most important guidelines for anyone keen to enjoy the great outdoors is this…

Respect the natural landscape!

ash beach bonfire campfire

With wildfires raging in the UK this summer, campers must avoid lighting fires near vegetation. Beach bonfires are a good alternative.

‘Responsible Camping’ is something we all need to learn to do.

I’m probably preaching to the converted here but if just one person reads this and thinks twice about starting a campfire on a dry summer’s day then I’m going to keep yelling it from the hilltops!

At the bottom of this post you’ll find MY BIG THREE RULES FOR CAMPING RESPONSIBLY.
(Obviously there are more than three but we’ll just start with the basics for now…)

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Sleeping outside is awesome! (Photo by Pexels.com)

Leaving your trail or campsite as you found it isn’t just the decent thing to do for animals, the environment and other people; it also means that we all get to continue having the freedom to enjoy these wild spaces.
Irresponsible practice leads to rules and legislation that may restrict our access or activity.

This is a subject close to my heart as I’ve seen first-hand the damage caused by carelessness. And it’s definitely getting worse.

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Though big fires might look great on Instagram, building one of these can often be a really shitty thing to do (Photo by Pexels.com)

Over the last few years, as Skye’s popularity has increased, so has the impact on the environment. Magical glens and dramatic vistas are now littered with cigarette butts, scorch marks from campfires and even human waste.

Not only is it heartbreaking to see, it’s also dangerous to wildlife.

It’s not just the Highlands and Islands either; Dartmoor, Snowdonia and the Lakes are also struggling with similar issues.

At best it’s just dirty but at worst, irresponsibility can cause fires like the ones we’ve seen in the news recently.
Last month there were three major fires raging in and around Skye at the same time. Acres of woodland and the wildlife within it, including nesting birds, were lost.

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A wheatear fledgeling surveying the remains of its habitat in Harlosh, Skye after summer fires. Many younger birds were not as lucky. (Photo by Paul Meany)

Glen Etive just off Glen Coe has long been one of my favourite places to stop if I’m travelling between Skye and England; I’ve often stopped for a swim, a pause, a break from hours upon hours spent behind the wheel.

A week ago I was returning to Skye after visiting family. It was late and I was tired. I had missed sleeping under the stars and so I headed to the Glen to get some rest somewhere beautiful.
I wasn’t the only one with this thought.

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One of my favourite swimming spots. At 5am I had it all to myself.

 

It was dark when I got there but the meandering river was lit up with the glow of scattered campfires. Multicoloured tents dotted the banks like a field at a festival. A few groups were playing music.

Every passing place and makeshift layby contained one or two campervans or cars, accessorised with the odd plastic basin piled with washing up and vacated folding chairs.

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Litter on Harris (Photo by Cat Webster)

I drove on to find a quieter spot but none appeared. I finally gave up and turned around near a sign that said ‘No Fires’. It had the remains of a fire behind it.

When I returned at 5am the next morning the glen felt silent but the evidence of the night before was clear to see. Wisps of smoke drifting from smoldering fires. Bits of rubbish.
I looked for a place to swim and came across loo paper and human waste on the river rocks and banks.
It was like someone had vandalised a work of art.

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Wet wipes and other nasties 5 mins downstream of the swimming spot in the photo above.

Glen Etive is a small sampler of a wider problem. As outdoor pursuits have become trendy more and more people have been heading for the hills.

The rise of social media photography (especially Instagram), the need for healthy exercise and financial accessibility have all helped the boom.
My home on Skye has been particularly affected, resulting in a number of ‘Skye is full’ articles appearing over the last year.

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Photos like this one of Loch Lomond are inviting because they seem unspoilt. What you don’t see is the cigarette butts, beer cans and used nappy on the shore behind me.


So, here are my BIG THREE rules for camping responsibly…

DON’T LEAVE LITTER:

It goes without saying, please take your rubbish home with you. Not only does it look awful but it can also be harmful to wildlife.

This includes ‘natural’ litter such as banana skins and orange peel which can take up to two years to disappear!

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Fellow #GetOutside Champ, David Wilson, is being driven bananas by peels left in the Peaks


GOING TO THE LOO:

Piles of discarded loo paper are my biggest bugbear. It’s gross and I hate it. These places may look remote but they’re our homes and it really sucks to see used tissues and human waste in our favourite places.

I guess most folk think tissue just dissolves but even with our crazy Hebridean weather I’m still walking past paper left from over a year ago. Many people also don’t realise that wet wipes are made from plastic, not cotton!

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A grim sight. Unless it’s picked up it could take up to 2 years for this tissue to break down (Photo by Matt Harrison of ‘I Love Skye’)

As for the human waste, that’s not just disgusting, it’s also incredibly dangerous for other people, pets and wildlife.

Girls, if you need a nature wee please either bag up your tissue in a dog poo bag or, since you’re doing the wild woman thing anyway, use moss, grass or seaweed.

For pooping, try to do it before you leave. If that’s not an option you can either bury it using the methods explained here or take it away with you in a dog poo bag. Whatever you do, take the paper home with you -leave no trace!

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New scorch marks that appeared at my favourite secret Skye swimming spot this week. The stones make it look small but this was at least half a metre wide.


LIGHTING FIRES:

We’ve all seen the big black scorch marks left on grass by disposable BBQs. Campfires leave similar ugly burns and they’re becoming more and more common at our national beauty spots.

Fire lighting is a divisive subject, especially since there have been so many wildfires caused by carelessness this summer.
Some folk consider fire building an integral part of camping. Some forego them for the reason given above. Some of us think they’re best on the beach or shore. I rarely light fires because I love the efficiency of my Kelly Kettle.

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Lighting your fire on a rocky shore or beach is a good way of having the benefits of a campfire without damaging the area or endangering wildlife.

Whatever your views on them, the rules on fire lighting are universal:

1. Leave no trace. This should go without saying but the amount of scorch marks appearing here on Skye shows otherwise -you could play aerial dot-to-dot. Never have a fire on grass and, if you have a fire elsewhere, bury all evidence.

2. Don’t have fires on heathland, moorland or in forests during dry weather because of the risk of fires spreading (it’s a good rule of thumb to avoid some of theses places for fire lighting altogether)

3. Don’t leave your fire unattended.

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New warning signs in the Peak District after recent wildfires in the area (Photo by Andrew Dobb)

4. Listen to signs that prohibit fire-building. These places are often prone to fires spreading or are significant to wildlife; there’s usually a reason these signs are there.

5. Dig a pit for your fire. This is for containing the fire as well as helping to leave no trace.

6. Make sure that the embers have cooled down before covering and leaving your fire. Even a fire that seems to have been out for hours can spark up again when you least expect it.

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The remains of a huge campfire on Harris. They might have covered over the embers with sand but they definitely failed to Leave No Trace (Photo by Cat Webster)

There are plenty more guidelines on how to camp responsibly… don’t cut down healthy living trees, close gates, don’t disturb livestock, etc etc.
But really, it’s all just common sense and everything just comes down to the number one thing…

Please, Leave No Trace.

Once you’ve got that sorted then you can move onto the second most important rule of camping…
Have an awesome time and enjoy it!

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Sunset over Uig Bay. A place worth looking after.

Ps: In case I haven’t said it enough… LEAVENOTRACE LEAVENOTRACE LEAVENOTRACE! Please 🙂

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A date with nature -Valentine’s Day part 2

Cracking company!

Cracking company!

Following my Valentine’s breakfast I was keen to get out and make the most of the day; after all, this was my first taste of spring sunshine on Skye and I didn’t know if it would last for the rest of the weekend.
I stuffed some snacks into a bag and grabbed my binoculars. It was a clear day with little wind so I decided to walk up to the old coastguards bothy at Rubha Hunish, the last little bit of Skye that juts out towards the Outer Hebrides.

I might live in the most Northern cottage on Skye but Rubha Hunish trumps my house as the bit that gets closest to the Arctic here.
I had a wee look on Google to try and find a map to show you the area and I came across this image on the beardedgit.com blog. I’ve pinched it as it also happens to show my exact Valentine’s Day route from Kilmaluag Bay up across and up to the bothy then back down via Duntulm Castle and along the road.

My route from the bay to Rubha Hunish. Image from beardedgit.com

My route from the bay to Rubha Hunish. Image from beardedgit.com

This wasn’t my first visit to the headland but it’s the first time I’ve walked from my own front door rather than parking at Shulista as the guidebooks recommend. It’s also the first time I’ve gone right up to the Lookout bothy.

I ambled down round the bay and up a little path past the old St Moluag’s church graveyard.
It may sound macabre but the Scots really do cemeteries brilliantly. In the cities there’s the gothic grandeur of places such as the Necropolis (Glasgow), Greyfriars Kirkyard (Edinburgh) and Old Town Cemetery in Stirling.
But the places that I love are in the Highlands and Islands where the resting places have been built on hillsides, overlooking lochs or beautiful glens. Their locations, often alongside crumbling church ruins, are really quite beautiful. Whatever your spiritual beliefs I think there’s something lifting about the idea of your headstone looking out over a stunning landscape for all eternity.

The remains of St Moluag's Church and it's graveyard, Kilmaluag Bay

The remains of St Moluag’s Church and it’s graveyard, Kilmaluag Bay (taken at the beginning of Jan 15)

The bothy soon came into view on the highest point of the rocks ahead (you can see it’s tiny silhouette outlined on the photo below).
I amused myself with a thought… In case being alone on Valentine’s Day wasn’t enough, I had decided to spend the day on my tod in a teeny little box on the top of a cliff. I don’t think you get much more solitary than that!
I must work on being a bit more social….

Walking along the cliffs towards the bothy

Walking along the cliffs towards the bothy

This particular bothy is owned by the Mountain Bothies Association, a brilliant organisation that maintains a whole host of open mountaineering shelters all across the UK (find out more at http://www.mountainbothies.org.uk)

Prior to being taken over by the MBA, this was the old coastguard’s lookout station -the bay windows at the front give a full panoramic view over the waters of the Minch towards Lewis.

As advances were made in radio technology the need for a lookout became redundant and it was turned into the bothy that it is now.

The Lookout

The Lookout

The whitewashed front part of the building, the watchroom, was built by the Macleans of Mull in 1928 -it’s survived the weather here for almost a century (much longer than most of my neighbour’s sheds!)

The watchroom part of the Lookout

The watchroom part of the Lookout

I couldn’t resist exploring inside…
I was surprised to see how characterful it was. Little brass candlesticks, binoculars, a vintage phone and cream wood-cladded walls. It’s got more of a feeling of a little hideaway hostel than a plain old bothy (though, of course, there’s no plumbing or electricity here).

I’ll definitely come up here soon to camp out before it gets busy with all the summer walkers. This would make a pretty perfect place to watch the sunset with a flask of wine.

Overlooking the Minch

Overlooking the Minch

Homely touches

Homely touches

Here and there I noticed little personal touches like scrawled notes and faded wildlife pictures (lots of basking sharks!).

There’s also this small brass plaque dedicated to the late David JJ Brown, the adventurous character who the Lookout is dedicated to. The words ‘wilderness-lover and anti-materialist’ always seem to be next to his name, both here and where I’ve read about him online. He sounds like he was an awesome man; I wish I could have met him.
(You can read more about David JJ Brown and the Lookout dedication here)

'wilderness-lover and anti-materialist'

‘anti-materialist and wilderness-lover’

The Lookout is gorgeous but this was a day to be outside and enjoy the sun whilst it was shining.

I found a spot near the edge (not dangerously near, Mum, if you’re reading this! I’m far too sensible/wimpy to get too close) then unpacked my picnic.

This is a famous place for spotting big beasties in the water and I could see why; the view down onto the sea was amazing. The Minch is sheltered between Skye and the Outer Hebrides so I’ve rarely seen it with rough waters. This means that any wildlife is extra easy to spot as it breaks the rippling surface and alerts the eye.

Unfortunately it’s not the season for whales or basking sharks. There might be dolphins, porpoises or other interesting around though, so I had my binoculars handy just in case.

I didn’t see anything of note… seabirds, seals, a large dark fish that may have been a type of small shark.
I wasn’t fussed, I’ve found my place for when the seasons start. As a total ocean wildlife geek and shark/cetacean lover, I intend to spend most of the summer lolling about on the grass whilst idly gazing into the sea.
This was a dry run (with warmer clothes!)

A perfect view

A perfect view

I’m not usually an ale drinker but a bottle of Skye Gold (leftover from my friend Matt’s visit) made the perfect accompanying tipple.
There’s also a certain satisfaction about knowing you’re drinking something brewed only just round the corner (the Skye Brewery is in Uig, literally just along the coast from here)
I haven’t been to the brewery yet as it’s been closed for winter but I might have to put a visit on my To Do list now that I’ve got a taste for the stuff.

(The other nice thing about a long wander is that it means you can have crisps and dips and a chocolate bar all washed down with beer and not feel guilty about it because it counts as walking fuel!)

Product placement ;)

Product placement

I whiled away a couple of hours up here until the wind started to work it’s way through my clothes and I began to feel a chill.

I may be on my own but I was spending my Valentine’s Day with the thing I love the most after my family: Nature.
This was my date with the ocean, the sunshine and the island.

(Maybe it sounds cheesy but it’s Valentine’s Day so cheesiness gets a free pass at this point)

A birds-eye view over the Minch

A date with nature

As I got up to go I noticed lots of tufts of sheep’s wool stuck to some wire nearby…

I’ve recently discovered the craft of felting (using a needle to mesh wool fibres into shapes) and it’s something I’d like to explore further. I was excitedly telling Liza at the gallery about this one day and she suggested that I could collect the small pieces of wool that can be found caught on fences, it would be a free and local source of materials.

So now I find myself on a clifftop pulling slightly damp strands of fluff from various fences and pieces of heather and stuffing them into my pockets. I must look a bit like a nutter, it’s lucky there isn’t anyone around.

Liza, you may have started me off on a slippery slope here… it might not be long until I’m that strange person who smells a bit sheepy because she makes all her clothes out of tufts of old ewes found on hillsides…

My first felting project -pretty good, even if I do say so myself!

My first felting project -pretty good, even if I do say so myself!

I returned via the coastal path towards Duntulm Castle. This took me down to the flat rocks of the shore where the abandoned village of Erisco now sits in small, stony ruins.
Like many areas of coastline that are off the beaten track this one was suffering from a huge amount of washed-up marine debris. Old fishing ropes and nets (known as ‘ghost gear’), buckets, bottles, even shoes, they were all piled up on the tideline here.

If you’ve read my post about Talisker Bay you’ll know that the issue of plastic pollution is something that is close to my heart. This shore at Erisco a well-known spot for otters and it’s incredibly frustrating and saddening to know the dangers that this rubbish can pose to the resident wildlife.

I was going to put a terrible 'sole'-based pun here but I've spared you the cringes...

I was going to put a terrible ‘sole’-based pun here but I’ll spare you the cringes…

An unwelcome delivery from Iceland

An unwelcome delivery from Iceland

On a more positive note, amongst the brightly-coloured plastic I noticed the soft, rounded shape of driftwood.

I think it’s quite hard to find driftwood, it’s something that everyone likes to pick-up, so I started collecting the best pieces that I thought I might be able to use in future artworks.

A lot of it was wet and heavy so I rammed it into my rucksack to make it easier to carry. Somehow within ten minutes I’d gone from lightly hopping over the rocks to bent over, lugging a bag that appeared to be sprouting long greying sticks. I jammed a sturdy 3-ft fence post under my arm and made a determined effort not to look down in case I saw any more. After all, I was still at least 30 mins walk from home over ground I didn’t know and the sun was starting to set.

Driftwood treasures

Driftwood treasures

As I walked, I wondered how I could organise a way to clean this beach. It’s close to the Duntulm Hotel, would the new owners be interested in helping?
Something to think about…

I stopped and watched two oystercatchers hopping around each other before flying off into the sunset, movie style. There’s something so striking about their vivid orange beaks and contrasting black and white feathers.

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I also kept an eye out for otters, this was the perfect time of day for them, but I was probably being too noisy and cumbersome for them to come near. Telltale crab and mussel shells lay broken and scraped-clean all over the place so I knew that this was the right place.

And then I saw something strange…

A jumble of bones amongst the seaweed and bits of rope.

I knew immediately that it was an otter skeleton. It was missing a few limbs but the elongated backbone and flat skull with sharp, carnivorous teeth were easily identifiable, even though I haven’t seen one of these before.

The otter skull

The otter skull

I checked to see if there was any obvious sign of marine debris as a cause of death (it’s important to record the effects of plastic etc on wildlife as evidence in trying to fight it) but it was too far gone to see.

I suppose I can say I’ve seen an otter now, but I’d rather have seen a live one.

It took a while to lug my wood-laden body over the fields up to the road.
I had to make my way through a field of sheep that seemed to find me very interesting. It must have been feeding time because usually sheep move in the other direction when they see a human -these ones came storming towards me!

Sheep

Sheep

Sheep

SHEEP

What ewe lookin' at?

What ewe lookin’ at?

I must have looked a curious sight staggering back to the cottage in the dark with pockets sprouting straggly bits of wool, a log under my arm and what probably resembled a small tree strapped to my back (along with a couple of faded buoys and bits of old rope).

What with all this and the skull in my garden and the birds in my freezer, I may be beginning to go a bit feral!

Still, I can’t wait to get making stuff with my new beachcombed finds. Some might call it old trash but I think I can make it into treasure.

Sunset at Duntulm (though it would be much lovelier without all the ghost gear)