82 Islands… #1: The Isle Of Skye

It’s begun…
And where better location to start the project than on my home island of Skye?

61849597_753401251720488_6164032927442141184_n

Skye is also known as Eilean a’Cheo (‘The Misty Isle’) and it certainly lived up to it’s name as I kicked off 82 Islands this week…

I already bivvy, swim and beach clean as much as I can here so I decided to choose a location I’ve never slept in before for my first camp-out.
The wonderful thing about Skye, and the Highlands and Islands in general, is that however much you explore there’s always somewhere new to discover. It’s one of the best things about living here.

61910623_438774553571829_3136605493758263296_n

A slightly soggy sea view…

The weather has been pretty rubbish. Nice and warm but with strong winds and lashing rain. Not ideal of course, but if I’m put off by the rain then I may never get going (this is Scotland after all and the reputation is there for a reason!)

Bags swiftly packed and I found myself toddling down a path towards one of the most spectacular set of waterfalls in North Skye, Lealt Falls.

Now, this trip is about responsible tourism and a growing issue is geotagging which is causing thousands of people to flock to specific locations that often aren’t able to handle the increased pressure.
It’s something I’m going to have to consider whilst doing 82 Islands…
I’ve decided to mention Lealt here because it has recently been updated with viewing platforms and parking areas so it has the infrastructure to handle more exposure.
I won’t say exactly where everything is on my trips, though, and one of the joys of visiting these islands is wandering off the beaten track and finding places that aren’t on every tour companies’ tick-list.

61869192_861342394203332_7691352374828335104_n

One of North Skye’s natural beauties

The rain meant that I was to do my first bivvy alone but, on the plus side, it also meant no midges or crowds.
I carefully wound down the path and felt a quickening pulse as I heard the enormous crashing of the waterfall before I even saw it.
Lealt Falls are always spectacular but after all these showers it has a power that’s almost ferocious.

It was certainly fuller than last time I was there…
We were filming a music video for the band, Niteworks, and the story was a kind-of Alice In Wonderland journey.
Same weather though and I was equally soggy then and now (though the previous time was on purpose to make it look like I’d just come out of the waterfall -you can watch it here)

61794843_2225371110910857_1861796678466535424_n (1)

That waterfall again…

My awe was swiftly cut short.
As I walked along the waterside I came across something that’s becoming a more and more common sight in our natural spaces. It was not what I wanted to make my first video diary about…

Yuck!
As I said in the video, accidents happen. But it’s all about how we leave these things.

So, that wasn’t great but, if anything, it shows exactly why I need to use 82 Islands to promote a Leave No Trace way of travelling.

I decided to set up camp on the shore instead.
It’s a pretty cool area as it used to be home to the old diatomite works. What’s left now are stony ruins with rusting chimneys, barrels and machinery.
Diatomite is a rock formed out of the shells of single-celled creatures (diatoms) that is used in things like paint, toothpaste and dynamite. It was quarried 3 miles above the shore and transported down by hand for processing and shipping.

62156915_595031334316967_8821106263199842304_n

The old factory and chimney camouflaged against the rocks

The industry died out in the 60’s and these dark shells of buildings are the only sign that this used to be a busy place.
The jagged remains of the walls echo the weird shapes of the rocks above, hidden and revealed by moving mists.

61819412_435858067250480_4013775795720814592_n

Using my trusty Kelly Kettle stove. Campfires leave scorch marks but one of these on a rock is clean and tidy

I found a flat, open spot to sleep.
Setting up camp is quick when you’re bivvying, let me give you a video tour…

As you can see, there’s no point in fighting the rain, you might as well just wrap up and make the most of it!
A supper of curry and a homemade naan cooked over my Kelly Kettle stove kept me warm (not to mention a few drams of whisky -proper central heating!)

61935988_2242691855852483_5751486810261815296_n

My camp kitchen. Curry and dough ready for cooking

Why does food always taste better eaten al fresco?!

Being late May, the daylight stretches well into the evening and after eating I pottered around the beach looking at the interesting stones on the shore… from egg-shaped pebbles with barcode stripes to huge, wave-carved rocks that looked like nature’s answer to Henry Moore.

61448329_1172497129589970_3576637194019799040_n

Water-smoothed stones

As the drizzle turned to chunky rain I retreated to bed with a whisky hot chocolate and fell asleep listening to the droplets hitting the waterproof surface of my bivvy bag.

61627199_338458936823611_6230070420440088576_n

Night night!

Morning brought more rain. That wasn’t a surprise.
The surprise was getting up, making a cup of tea, and then realising that it wasn’t even 4am yet!
The fact that it never really gets properly dark at night is much more obvious when you’re sleeping outside! The spooky mists and sodden clouds made it even harder to tell night from day.

61647068_2045742998887504_1170674167809310720_n

Misty cliffs

But I used the early time to wander around the ruins and pack up before the first visitors started to peer down from the viewing platforms above.
Between the jagged walls grew dog roses and tiny flowers. Pink thrift grew from between two bricks. Nature reclaiming the factory.
I collected rubbish from the shore -the usual offenders of old rope and plastic strapping.

62180187_2381520162084269_783203779100016640_n

Dog roses in the ruins

The quiet hour meant I could also slide into the pool of the waterfall without an audience.
I like swimming alone. It means I don’t have to worry about putting on a swimsuit or being conscious of my body. It has a freedom where I can muck around and giggle to myself or float and just listen to the birdsong.
Plus, when I say ‘swimming’ I should say that I’m more of a wallower, hippo-style.
The pool at the bottom of Lealt is wide, deep and peaty. When you look at your legs under the water they have a warm sepia glow; it’s like sitting in a big cup of stewed, chilled tea.

62145489_476634133079815_1752502843253719040_n

Waterfall bathing

When people see photos of wild swimming they always ask, “But isn’t it cold?!”
In all honesty, yes it is.
The first touch is icy and often unappealing. It takes a few minutes to get used to it but soon enough it starts to feel better. That’s how I felt getting in and out at 5am on a rainy Saturday morning. I couldn’t have felt more awake!
Which is what I needed for the task ahead…

62059331_399772947538443_6055018058945134592_n

The most effective alarm clock!

‘Don’t just leave it as you found it. Leave it better.’

I’m making this my 82 Islands mantra.
Unfortunately that meant one thing… clearing up the mess that had greeted me upon my arrival.
I always carry a supply of emergency compostable dog poo bags in my rucksack and these came in handy to clear up the poopy wet wipes left on the path. Some rocks from the river covered the stuff I couldn’t pick up.
Now, I’ve got a pretty strong stomach but this was grim. I gagged my way through the entire operation whilst cursing the person who left it there.
But it’s gone and safe, and now other visitors don’t have to be distracted from the beauty of the place like I had been.

62135108_351877822198357_2654663902054318080_n

Yuck yuck yuck yuck

Back at the car I made myself a coffee and drank it on one of the platforms overlooking the waterfalls below and their overhanging trees.
I had the place to myself and the mists against the lush green vegetation reminded me of something prehistoric. I hummed the Jurassic Park theme tune to myself (this is something I do often and really recommend it!)

61685787_340688526630000_1299041518991966208_n

Now THIS is a brew with a view

As I left I passed a couple of donations boxes and rummaged around to put in a few quid.
When things are available to us for free it’s always tempting to take advantage of that and enjoy a cheap day out but there’s often a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes.
Sometimes, however hard we try, we make an impact simply by being at these places and donating where we can can help offset that.
For me at least, this was the least I could do for a bargain of a sea-view room with a private pool and a 90m tall shower!

61915202_2474084752819420_391587497114599424_n

A donations box and (on the right) the reasons why they’re needed!

LEAVE NO TRACE: 3 THINGS
(I think that each island visit will highlight a few things that need remembering. Here are the ones for Skye…)

STICK TO THE PATHS
It’s often tempting to stray to the outsides of paths, especially if the path itself is muddy but please try to stay on the main path as much as you can. This is to help avoid extra erosion and damage to native plants.

HELP, I NEED THE LOO!
Whilst it seems like these places are wild and quiet, they’re actually often used by people for work and pleasure. Please take any wet wipes or tissues with you (they don’t dissolve in the rain and can still be there a year later!)
Solid waste should be dug into a hole at least 6 inches deep or taken with you using a dog poo bag. Please use the public loos wherever possible.

DONATIONS WELCOME
If you see a donation box please chuck in a few coins. The fact that the box is there shows that it’s maintained by volunteers and that it relies on these for the upkeep. Just the cost of a cup of coffee from everyone will make a huge difference and help your future visits be more pleasant too.

61999815_2433091980082105_7761733737619914752_n

One done, only 81 (!) to go…

My kit list for a weekend in the wilderness

IMG_1130

A room with a view!

Yesterday I opened a message from my friend, Clare.
She’s going camping for the first time soon and, knowing I love sleeping under the stars, she wondered if I could advise on what she should take.

I’ve had a few friends ask me similar things recently so, rather than replying to everyone privately, I thought I’d share my thoughts in a blog post.

162314e4-a093-424a-b874-656fa0929836

Wild woman! Looking dishevelled after 6 months of living in the woods (photo by Rob Pattinson)

The first thing I should say is that I’m certainly no expert on camping, this is simply what works for me! It’s my basic starter list.
If you’re a seasoned camper you might think there are too many items… Or you might think I’ve missed things.
For some folk a stovetop coffee pot is a vital necessity, for others it’s a proper pillow or a good book… Whatever makes you happy!

Each different style of camping has a slightly different packing list.
Are you taking a tent? Bivvying? With tarp or without? Have you got a camper van? Are you going to build your own shelter or dig a snowhole?

IMG_6077

Making a basic shelter using found materials and existing structures (photo from my island trip)

I usually choose to bivvy, the most basic way to sleep wild.
There’s no tent involved, just a waterproof (aka bivvy/bivvi) bag to keep out the elements. There are no walls so you can fall asleep watching for shooting stars. If lots of rain is forecast I’ll also take a tarp so I can sit outside of my sleeping bag.
I’ve based my list on this way of sleeping out but it’s easy to adapt. If you’ve got a campervan with all mod-cons feel free to replace practical roll mats and tarps with heavy bottles of wine -enjoy!

IMG_5917

Cider with Pip the pup on a recent camp out

Over time you’ll find out what works best for you. You’ll swap the things that you rarely use for little luxuries or favourite foods.
Sometimes I’ll have a bag stuffed to bursting that I can barely carry and at other times I’ll pack little more than sleeping gear and a toothbrush. It all depends on my mood, where I’m going and what the weather is like.

DSC_0828

I rarely camp out without a book or two; it’s the perfect opportunity to switch off and chill out.

That said, it took a long time for me to learn that I didn’t always need to fill my bag with additional stuff ‘just in case’. I used to make sure I packed clothes for all eventualities, a spare set in case I got wet, some clean stuff, maybe I might need this extra thing, how about a choice of breakfast foods or books?

Then I bought the ‘Microadventures’ book by Al Humphreys* and my whole attitude to sleeping out changed.
A microadventure is an achievable adventure that is short, cheap, simple and usually close to home. They can be enjoyed on a weekday night, after work, even just in the back garden. And you don’t need much stuff.

IMG_1615

Bivvying near Inverness airport -a cheap and fun way to catch the first flight of the day

The bit that really stood out to me was where Al (with apologies to his Mum!) said he doesn’t always bother taking spare socks or pants if he’s just heading straight home the next morning.

It reminded me of doing a similar thing during sixth form. On weekends, after raiding someone’s parents’ wine cellar we’d grab as many coats and scarves as we could and trundle out into the night in the direction of Windsor Great Park. Once there we’d curl up under a big oak tree and giggle and get spooked by nocturnal noises until we fell asleep. At dawn we’d wake up, shivering and damp, with huge smiles on our faces.
We’d call it ‘going trekking’ and laugh about it as we walked home towards the inevitable ticking-off.

1928777_509748987149_2106_n

From the archives… Baby Katie & friends getting spooked by owls in Windsor Great Park circa 2002.

In many ways, reading ‘Microadventures’ was a lesson in returning to that youthful spontaneity. We don’t need expedition-style prep to enjoy a night or two under the stars. It’s simply about having fun.

Since we’re here I want to take this chance to tell camping newbies the rule number one of enjoying wild spaces…
Leave No Trace!

18010806_1687658701274907_1044746719069573210_n

Litter, firepits and scorch marks -bad camping practice that ruins these beautiful places for everyone (photo from Facebook group ‘Glen Etive: The Dirty Truth’)

This probably seems obvious but, with a growing interest in wild camping, there’s been a huge (and not very nice) impact on our natural environments.
I see it first hand here in Skye but it’s a growing problem across the UK so it’s important that we all know how to camp responsibly.
There are a number of basic principles that all new campers should know and I’ve detailed ‘The Big Three’ that I think are most important in my previous VIB** blog post here.

So, after all that, here’s what I’d pack for a weekend living wild…

IMG_1013

Tea, chocolate and a good book in a beautiful place… perfect!

MY BASIC WEEKEND KIT LIST…

SLEEPING
The main activity! My sleeping bag and bivvy take up a good 75% of the space in my rucksack (mostly because I’m a stuffer, life’s too short for rolling and folding a sleeping bag).

Sleeping bag
Rollmat or air mat: I prefer a military-issue rollmat, not as comfy but I usually pop the others!
Bivvy bag: Over my sleeping bag to keep me dry.
Tarp/waterproof blanket/tent (optional): An optional additional barrier against wet weather. I like to take a small tarp so that I don’t have to retreat to my sleeping/bivvy bag when it rains at mealtimes.
Bungees/paracord/tent pegs (optional): For securing tarp (or tent). Bungees are especially helpful as you can also use them to secure bulky stuff like roll mats to the outside of your bag.
Pillow (optional): I never bother, choosing instead to use a rolled-up jumper or whatever is at hand  but some people find it makes a big difference to the quality of their sleep.

IMG_7155

Enjoying a cosy lie-in thanks to my trusty Alpkit bivvy bag

PERSONAL KIT
This will obviously vary depending on how long you’re off-grid for and also how mucky you don’t mind being!

Toothbrush and toothpaste
Soap: Those small, individually-wrapped soaps you get from hotels are perfect.
Lip balm/hand cream: These aren’t essential but I find both really helpful, especially if I’m away for more than a couple of days.
Spare socks, underwear and baselayers: Unless it gets wet you only really need to change the layers closest to your skin. It’s only a weekend and no-one’s judging you! I never bother with pyjamas or swimming kit as it’s easier just to strip off.
Warm kit: Hat, neck buff, gloves. Even if it feels warm it’s worth having these just in case the temperature takes a dip.
Waterproofs
Towel (optional): You can get great lightweight camping towels that fold up neatly. I prefer a ‘proper’ towel despite the bulk.
Tissues: I add these with reluctance as seeing dirty scrunches of tissue paper discarded in natural places is one of my biggest pet peeves… If you need a wee why not embrace your wild side and try out some moss instead? If you must use tissue always bag it up and take it away with you.
Tissues can also be handy for fire lighting, drying tech and runny noses.
Sanitary items (if needed): As above, please take your rubbish away with you!

Compostable dog poo bags: For used tissues, sanitary items and even, ahem, number 2’s! (Remember not to flush the bags themselves when you get to somewhere with plumbing)

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1517.

You can’t beat nice dry socks after a long walk!

COOKING/EATING
Part of the pleasure of camping for me is a brew with a view, a quickly-scoffed chocolate bar after a long walk or a dram of whisky whilst looking at the stars.

Tin mug: I always take two as one can double up as a cooking vessel.
Cutlery: I don’t bother with specialist camping cutlery as I usually break it or lose it! A fork, dessert spoon and a couple of teaspoons usually do for me (with my regular bushcraft knife)
Mess tins
Cooking system: There’s a huge variety to choose from. The easiest type to start off with is a simple gas canister with a stove attachment. My favourite is a Kelly Kettle system which uses natural fuels. You can see a range of different types here. Take a look around to see what suits your needs best.
Metal scouring pad: I’ve sacrificed far too many pairs of clean socks and knickers because I’ve forgotten to bring something to wash up with!
Food & drink: This is a whole blog in itself so I won’t make a list here. Just be aware of weight, ease of cooking and whether things will keep without being refrigerated. Take more calorific food than you would eat at home and don’t forget treats!

IMG_5946

A ready-to–heat pouch of curry quickly warmed in a cup over the stove/fire is my favourite easy supper

SAFETY:
You probably won’t need most of these but you might regret it if you forget them!

Headtorch: I take two, just in case!
First Aid Kit: You can make your own or buy a ready-made kit (Lifesystems has a great selection here) I also like to add extra medicines such as burn gel, rehydration sachets, Imodium, Anthisan, etc.
Insect repellent and an O’Tom Tick Twister.
Emergency shelter/silver blanket.
Map & compass (if needed)
Mobile phone/GPS/radio: To call for help in case of emergencies. Be aware that in remote places you may not get phone signal. I use a GPS Spot Tracker and have an old Nokia as a back up.

IMG_1606

Don’t let injuries or disabilities keep you inside. You don’t have to hike a mountain to enjoy camping out (I ended up in this cast after a trip in my house -staying indoors is risky!)

PRACTICAL
The handy stuff.

Water bottle: I take multiples as well as a collapsible water carrier.
Lighter/matches/flint and a back-up.
Knife.
Superglue, string, duct tape: For repairs… I never regret packing these!
A waterproof bag or two: For keeping things dry, storing rubbish, wet clothes etc. Alpkit’s drybags are my favourite.
Trowel: To dig a 6-8″ hole in case nature calls. Check out this article to see how to poop responsibly in the woods without causing harm to the environment, other people or wildlife.

DCIM100GOPROGOPR1532.

A few strategic scraps of duct tape stopped the tiny holes in my tarp from ripping further. It’s not that tidy but it works.

MY FAVOURITE HANDY EXTRAS
These are the things that I take to make living outside a bit easier or more comfortable. You might agree or think they’re a waste of space. That said, once you’ve tried a hot water bottle on a frosty winter night it’ll be hard to go back!

A Kelly Kettle: Probably my favourite bit of kit for spending time outdoors. In the right conditions I can boil water faster than my electric kettle at home. I use it for making hot drinks, filling hot water bottles and for even heating water for laundry. It’s more useful than 80% of my ex boyfriends.
Hot water bottle: Pure joy for frozen toes and long chilly nights. I now find it quicker, easier and more fuel efficient to make a HWB than to build a fire (not to mention less risk to the environment!)
Whisky: Central heating.
Large bags for beach cleans/impromptu litter picks.
Slip-on sandals/wellies/Crocs: for putting on quickly around camp.
Bottle opener/tin opener: Forget at your peril!
A small axe/hatchet: Good for making kindling. Equally good for digging, levering and for opening cans when you’ve forgotten the tin opener!
A notebook and pen: A bit of peace usually gets my mind sparking with new ideas and future plans.

IMG_7259

My beloved Kelly Kettle boiling water for my morning brew

…Aaaaand a rucksack to carry it all.

It looks like a long list when written down like that but it all packs up fairly easily, especially if you attach bulkier items like mats or Kelly Kettles to the outside of your pack.
Sometimes it’s also handy to bring a smaller backpack for when you’ve set up camp and want to go exploring. I call this my ‘handbag’ and use it for keeping a bottle of water, my safety kit (phone, emergency blanket, first aid kit etc) and warm/waterproof clothes close to hand.

IMG_2779

Big enough bag?!

The safety stuff is pretty important but the rest of it is all just personal preference.

Hopefully my basic guide is of some help but it’s also worth checking out other blogs for different ideas. What things would you add or remove?

Happy Camping folks!

>Very Important Blog, please read!  camper van cuppa[/caption]

**
*

**Very Important Blog, please read! 

*Buy this book. You will not regret it.
Al has probably been my biggest inspiration in getting outside so far. He makes it feel manageable and easy as well as exciting and his enthusiasm is infectious. Microadventures taught me a whole new way of enjoying nights spent under the stars with the ‘5-9’ idea and a more casual approach to adventuring. He’s also written a much more comprehensive guide to packing than I have here!

Hallo Harry

IMG_4972

Me and ma pal at sunset overlooking Uig Bay

We have a new addition to the household this month; a quiet and strange wee beastie with beady eyes and a snappy appetite.

Little Harry is the latest in a long string of family rescue dogs. Mum does a lot to help rehoming charities and shelters but unfortunately she’s a terrible fosterer.
By that I don’t mean that she’s bad at looking after them. It’s quite the opposite… once we’ve got to know them she finds it too hard to give them away!

IMG_6860

Tuppence, our first ever rescue dog, came to us in a terrible state but she eventually perked up and here she is enjoying Staffin Beach

Most of the dogs settle into the family easily (I firmly believe rescue dogs know when they’ve landed on their feet) but old Harry was a bit different.

He has something called Cushing’s disease caused by a tumor near his brain. As a result he’s a pot-bellied, scruffy little thing who walks with a rolling, bulldog-like gait because he finds it painful to move.
He is also short-tempered.

Our other dogs weren’t keen on this snappy newcomer and so, with their comfort as my excuse, I whisked him up to Skye with me. Rob, Harry and I are now three.

IMG_4078

Sniffing out a catshark in front of the Cuillins (about 2 seconds before Harry pounced on it and I had to wrestle the dead fish from his jaws…)

It’s a joy to have a wee buddy around to keep you company, especially working from home.
Not that he’s like a normal dog. He isn’t particularly interactive, he doesn’t make noise and he very rarely wags his crooked little tail.
Ah, and he also doesn’t like walking.

IMG_5253

Harry prefers to experience the Great Outdoors lying down

As anyone who reads this knows, I’m fond of a wander. Living amidst such incredible scenery here on Skye, who couldn’t be?

With his sore muscles, it isn’t fair to force Harry to walk long distances. How do I get in a day’s rambling or camping with a dog that won’t budge?

After some Googling*, rummaging in the cupboards and a bit of snipping and sewing I had a solution…
The Carry Harry™ prototype!

Okay, so it’s only an old rucksack that I’ve cut up and padded out but it’s just a tester. (Other potential names could be the Pup-oose or Doggy Bag but maybe not the Harry Carry as it sounds a bit like Hari-Kiri!)

IMG_5382

Rain sweeping over the Trotternish Ridge from the Quiraing

We gave the carrier it’s first trial at the Quiraing.
At this time of year it’s a completely different place to the summer; no cars or crowds. It seemed even quieter than usual but I suspect that may have had something to do with the unrelenting rain.

IMG_5383

Even through the mist and drizzle the Quiraing never fails to be spectacular; I had a wonderful walk.
I think Harry was less impressed.

It turns out that, on top of walking, Harry also dislikes rain and heights.

Here, on an island comprising mostly of rain and heights.

It’s a good job he’s cute.

IMG_5379

First test (don’t worry, he’s not too cold! Harry did have a fleece on but didn’t like it)

So the Carry Harry is still undergoing development and I’m continuing my search online for the comfiest purpose-built carriers (if anyone has any tips let me know!)

With the beginnings of Storm Caroline howling around the house, Harry is even less keen to go outside (he got blown over in the garden earlier). We’ve got the fire on and our walking stuff drying next to it.
For now, we’re staying in.

IMG_3982

I’m comfy enough right here, thank you.

***

*I’ve actually switched search engines to Ecosia, an organisation that plants a tree for every search you make. It’s just as good as Google but you’re helping to save the world by doing something you’d be doing anyway.
It sounds like a scam but it’s completely legit so there’s no reason not to make the switch. Check them out here: Ecosia Search Engine

Countryfile Magazine

katieoutsiderabbithole

A photo from the latest Countryfile blog about life in Eden (image thanks to ©Keo Films)

I’m afraid I have been cheating a little; this is no longer my only blog… I have recently begun writing for Countryfile Magazine.

The posts are still about life on Skye but are slightly different from what I write on here in that the Countryfile articles far less rambling and wobbly (I even get the luxury of having them edited for me!)
I’ll post links to each piece published so you can read both.

pigs

Feeding the piggies -a photo from my latest Countryfile blog post (image thanks to ©Keo Films)

My latest blog for them was about being on Eden. Unlike previous articles I wanted to focus on the behind-the-scenes stuff, the positive things and what I want to remember about the experience.
I was even lucky enough to get permission from the production company to use some of the unseen photos taken whilst we were in there (I’ve used some of them here too, courtesy and copyright of KEO films)
It’s the only time I’ve gone into depth about life in there and it’s probably the only thing I will ever write about it so it’s incredibly personal to me.
You can read it here: Life on Eden: A Year of Living in the Wild

robinonnotebook

The resident robin, one of the animal characters I wrote about for Countryfile Mag (image thanks to ©Keo Films)

 

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.

IMG_5418

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…

GOPR1289.JPG

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.

bc1ae0ed64341a0987395481b59145ac

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.

DSC_0755

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!

thumbnail_IMG_2694

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!)

11996957_570829767633_1735172111_n

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.

DSC_0776

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!)

DSC_0784

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.

DSC_0779

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.

DSC_0761

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.

10731129_556826340613_2537497004431649080_n

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.

11899887_1617264678545620_1116574331622541376_n

Still looking…

Maraiche

In this post I wanted to share something with you that I’m really proud of being involved with. It includes two very talented Gaelic gentlemen, a band I listen to on repeat, the haunting vocals of Kathleen MacInnes and some of my most favourite places.

The awesome thing about living on this island is that there’s always something fun and creative going on, you never know what you’ll get up to from one week to the next…

hqdefault

I’ll begin by letting you know about three things that I love:

-Skye
-The water
-Music by the Skye-grown band Niteworks

So, when Dòl Eoin, a talented filmmaker I’d met on the set of Bannan, offered me the chance to take part in the band’s new video there was no way I could refuse.

IMG_7821.JPG

Dòl Eoin scouting out the locations around Lealt Falls, where the protagonist climbs away from the waterfall

The words of ‘Maraiche’ are sung in Gaelic and they tell the tale of a woman who has lost her love to the sea.
Dòl Eoin’s vision for the video begins at a Niteworks gigwhere we see her catch a glimpse, or maybe just a memory, of her departed sailor as she becomes entranced by the music. Chasing this vision she races through the streets of Glasgow and we follow her and her memories, Alice In Wonderland-style, towards the sea…

We began filming in familiar Glasgow spots (Ashton Lane, the Tradeston Bridge) then moved on to some of Skye’s most-loved locations; Neist Point, The Fairy Pools, Lealt Falls….
I only had about a week before I was due to leave for Eden and we had multiple locations to shoot in over a number of days so it was a race against time.

IMG_7817.JPG

At the Fairy Pools. Dòl Eoin sets up the camera whilst Calum looks on.

My ‘lost sailor’ in the video is someone who loves the water even more than me.
If you live in Scotland and use social media you’ve probably already seen Calum Maclean.
The video of a nutter swimming through a high-altitude icy loch? That’ll be Calum. The naked bum disappearing behind a magnificent waterfall? Probably also Calum. If you haven’t already seen him, look him up, his short videos for BBC Scotland’s The Social are well worth a watch.

They may be a Caribbean blue but the Fairy Pools in March aren’t the warmest of waters (in fact, they’re equally freezing in the summer months too…)
Tourists looked on in confusion whilst, fully clothed, we ducked under, fell off ledges and attempted to film an underwater kiss.
When we finally finished I realised I couldn’t have done much longer. I shuddered big, involuntary juddering shivers and I slid and stumbled down the muddy track back to our cars with limbs barely working -a mild case of hypothermia that was cured by a few hours in a warm pub!
It was worth it though, the aquamarine water of the Fairy Pools made a stunning backdrop to the music.

IMG_7863.JPG

A picture rudely swiped from Calum’s Instagram (sorry @caldamac!) It was as chilly as it looks but I love the yellow against the turquoise of the Fairy Pools

Whilst I’m obviously biased, I think Dòl Eoin captured the spirit of ‘Maraiche’ perfectly. I’m was chuffed, still am chuffed, that he’d choose me to work with.

Of course, I didn’t get to see the finished video until I’d left Eden earlier this year but I was thrilled to finally watch it (though I often sat on those Ardnamurchan sand dunes humming Niteworks tunes to myself as I watched the tide go out)

If you’d like to watch it too, you can find it here: Niteworks – Maraiche (feat. Kathleen MacInnes)

Niteworks-Maraiche-feat.-Kathleen-MacInnes.jpg

A still shot at Lealt Falls


To learn more about Niteworks and hear the rest of the album visit their webpage niteworksband.com

After ‘Eden’

18403124_597186338853_2532261079227446480_n

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…

18423974_597186278973_770881012320417331_n

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…

eden-main-zoom

‘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…

lord

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