Monday, 28 June 2010

Land’s End to John O’Groats…

…in only 55 days. By car. (and with a few minor detours)

Since leaving Lewis last Wednesday we have had 5 days off from working (managed to watch the footie on the ferry!). We decided to explore the North coast and headed up to Sheigra from Ullapool. Having thought we would camp there, on arrival it was little more than paying for the privilege of wild camping so instead we decided to hike into the beach at Sandwood Bay just South of Cape Wrath (recommended by Ali) and wild camp for free! It was 7 pm by the time we set off on the 5 mile walk from the nearest road but given the light evenings, this was no worry.

(Cape Wrath the furthest headland in this photo)

We camped in the dunes with a beautiful view of the long sandy beach. We fitted in cooking, eating, a long walk on the beach and a cup of chai and even after all that it was not properly dark!

Onwards and upwards around the coastal roads of Northern Scotland and headed round until eventually we reached John O’Groats. A little cooler than the heatwave down south but we still had some beautiful weather and sunsets.

From here we went on a day trip to the Orkney Isles, seeing seals and puffins as we travelled. We passed the intriguingly abandoned island of Stroma and sailed across the turbulent (though not extreme enough for Matthew!) Pentland Firth.

Orkney was quite different to Lewis. Kirkwall (the capital) was a buzzy town. I really enjoyed all the history to the place – from Vikings to WW2. The Orcadians seem very proud of their Norwegian ancestry.

We visited the standing stones of Stenness:

and Brodgar:

And an amazing chapel created by Italian prisoners of war out of two army Nissen huts and painted inside to resemble the intricate stonework of their chapels back home:

We started our journey back down south staying with the Morgans (family friends) just north of Inverness on Saturday night. We joined a houseful and had a great time catching up. After walking Honey (the dog) we said our goodbyes and drove further south with little entertainment listening to the dire football match on the radio (we lost all reception at the most exciting bit where both England and Germany scored and where England had a goal disallowed!). Very kindly, Ali and Clare from Sheardrum put us up for a night and we were fortunate to be able to attend the opening night of Portmoak festival in which Ali was playing clarinet, it was a really lovely evening. This morning we have caught up with Tiny the lamb (who is growing!) and the new Highland calf.

Relaxing now (or if Ali and Clare are reading – working very hard pulling up lots of weeds) until we leave for our final WWOOFing placement in Scotland near Edinburgh this afternoon.

Tuesday, 22 June 2010


The nights are drawing in - but as its light until about midnight here at the moment that shouldn’t be too much of a problem for a while yet.

This photo taken at 10.30 last night – still very light!

Today was our last full day at Seacroft, Aird Uig, on the far west coast of Lewis and tomorrow we’ll be back on the mainland with a few days spare before we begin our last WWOOF in Scotland.

The work here has been entirely crofting related;

peat cutting

Some weeding and planting, and a hair raising ride on a quad bike followed by a bit of fencing with Steve from next door.

The peat cutting was a surprisingly satisfying task; especially when you hit a patch of peat with a nice moist yet firm consistency. We were amazed at the range of different textures and smells that could come from different peats cut within a small area. We now consider ourselves quite proficient in the use of a peat iron or ‘tarasgeir’ but were disappointed not to have discovered the new Tollum man though!

Peat cutting is a tradition that not a lot of crofters around here on Lewis still continue, some crofters being too old now to work as they used to or the peat having been replaced by other fossil fuels – wood is not that available here due to the lack of trees. Cutting peat has always been seen as a community activity, but as fewer people do it that element has to an extent been lost. Burning peat is quite obviously not a green or sustainable way of providing energy for a home however, and we were quite conscious of this as we worked. But having reasoned it out, the fact that its now done on such a small scale, and is done in such a basic, traditional manner goes someway to balancing out the negative side of it. It can in no way be worse than using other fossil fuels (gas, oil or coal) that are sourced in a much more brutal and intensive not to mention environmentally damaging manner. It’s been nice to have the opportunity to work on the moor above the croft, working in the same way that people have worked here for centuries before us.

Other than working we have been enjoying our hosts’ very generous hospitality. Andrew and Sarah used to own and run the local hotel and restaurant, and Andrew continues to be a very fine chef - we have been eating as if at a five star restaurant at pretty much EVERY mealtime! Some highlights include: Haggis in crepes with sweet chilli sauce ; homegrown roast pork (on two occasions!); the best fish pie I’ve ever tasted; numerous delicious cooked breakfasts and yesterday we also gathered a selection of mussels and cockles from Uig sands which we enjoyed in a garlic and white wine sauce tonight.

We have also enjoyed evening walks on the beach (and seeing a few more Basking Sharks and a couple of Golden Eagles too.)

And watching the piggly wigglies and the duckiliwucklies!

Saturday, 19 June 2010


We'll be going to WOMAD (23rd - 25th July) So why don't you come and join us??

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water…

We’ve had a very sharky day today. We had a day off and booked ourselves onto a 2 hour sea trek. The trip started off very drizzly, misty and windy and we couldn’t see an awful lot. A flock of herons was a rare sight and we saw some amazing secluded beaches and caves. We had heard rumours that quite a few basking sharks were in the area so had fingers crossed that we’d get to see one a bit closer up. What we got was about 10 basking sharks (the second biggest species of shark and these were about 8 or 9 metres long) swimming/surrounding/basking around our boat! It was pretty amazing and Murray our guide said he’d never seen anything like it (and he’s lived on Lewis all his life). We were on a boat that sat quite low in the water and the sharks were swimming right along side us meaning that they were only about ½ a metre away at their closest! Fortunately their meal of choice is slightly smaller than us (plankton). We spent a good half an hour with the sharks.

(this photo shows the whole length of the shark – tail fin on left, dorsal fin flopped over and nose on right – you can even vaguely see it’s open mouth under the water!)

On our return we saw seals, diving gannets and checked the lobster pots, unfortunately inhabited only by crabs.

We spent the afternoon exploring more of the fantastic beaches. As we were driving back to the house we realised we must be near where the cove was where we spotted all the sharks that morning so we went for a walk out onto the headland and found the cove and watched the sharks from above for a little while longer.

Yesterday was also a day off work for us (we’ve only worked one day so far, can’t be bad). We explored standing stones, surfing beaches and the black houses village – restored traditional buildings of the isle.

Back to work tomorrow, more peat related activities I think.


Tuesday, 15 June 2010

The Great Glen Way

(apologies for the length of this entry, but we have been very busy!)

Day One

The start of our 73 mile trek!

After a second ascent of Neptune’s Staircase, we followed the Caledonian Canal to Gairlochy and beyond. We played the first of many A to Z games and met Dog Lady and Old Man Werther’s for the first (and not the last) time.

We wild camped in the forest on the shore of Loch Lochy two miles past Gairlochy, and only one mile past the ever so slightly freaky Lady Boat Wood.

Day Two

Fully porridged up we continued onwards to South Laggan, telling stories of Mildred the Slug and the Magic Waterproof Coat. First sighting of Crazy German Lady. We lunched in a floating pub, joined by some boastful loud mouthed runners (“we’ve just run 25 miles you know, short day for us, easy!”), then arrived shortly after at a very nice hostel just as the drizzle started to worsen – good timing!

We also discovered the first of quite a few ticks, perhaps camping in the long grass the night before was not such a good idea! Final tally: Laura 12; Matt 8; Dan 1; Katy 0.

Day Three

Took a wrong turn early on and accidentally ended up on an alternative part of the Great Glen Way (still signed as the GGW!) which was closed part way along… This resulted in a not so nice stroll for a few miles along the verge of a very busy A82.

Back on track by lunch time we marched on to Fort Augustus, where hearty pub grub awaited us as well as a brief chat with Old Man Werther’s. Party night!

Day Four

Starting to tire but today was going to be a long one, we were reckoning on about 15 miles to just past Altsigh.

We made good time to Invermorrisons for lunch, passing Old Man Werther’s with a stray dog (the last time we would see him).

A beautiful afternoon, and after obtaining water from Altsigh Youth Hostel we began the long ascent through the forest to where we hoped to camp. Laura and Katy started to carry injuries – luckily two sticks, ‘Peter Crouch’ and ‘Emile Hesky’ came to the rescue despite Dan saying they could never work together.

At the top of the long slog awaited a spectacular view of Loch Ness – and Crazy German Lady (CGL) planning to wild camp. We planned on walking a short distance from the top, but spurred on by a serious amount of Midges we had to continue walking. CGL came past, also driven on by the midges. Eventually after a long 18 mile day and after contemplating pushing on for Drumnadrochit we found a suitable camping spot in the forest, ate dinner and hid from the midges in our tent playing cards.

Day Five

A little bit weary after yesterdays long day we carried on to Drumnadrochit for supplies and lunch. We even saw CGL again!

A long slog up through a forest after lunch, eventually we reached the (at one point considered mythical) highest point of the GGW.

Laura and Katy hobbled valiantly towards our goal for the night, a campsite in Abriachan forest, which turned out to be quite an experience itself, reminiscent of the Green Fields of Glastonbury Festival. Rory provided us with expensive tea, Big Red the Skipper brought delicious soup and tales of taking Danny Alexander out on his boat to see some turbines that very afternoon.

Compost toilets, wild porridge eating chickens and a lack of midges made for a very memorable campsite!

Day Six

The final day!

Only 11 miles to go today, and spurred on by the promise of Curry and football and fuelled by cashew nut sandwiches it passed by very quickly.

Our finish was marred by the loud mouthed runners from day two arriving at the exact same moment we did (god knows where they’d been!) and boasting very loudly about something too boring to remember but no doubt very impressive…

A mix up with the hostel booking (don’t ever use hostel meant we ended up in the ‘Albany’ suite of an alternative hostel, sharing an office full of beds with some Rock Ness Festival-goers and a dishwasher.

Rubbish football, great curry, bed. (but not much sleep, except for Dan!)

So on Sunday, we had breakfast, wandered round Inverness then said our goodbyes. Katy and Dan flying back to London and Laura and I bussing back to Fort William (along the GGW!), picking up our car and retracing our route for a third time before heading on to Ullapool.

Back to the WWOOFing!

Yesterday we took the ferry to Stornoway and drove on to the far west coast of Lewis to begin our next WWOOFing experience.

So far: Basking sharks spotted (a first for both of us) in the bay and an ever so slightly bizarre trip to the top of a hill to see a spectacular view accompanied by Christmas songs. First impressions are good, great food and a big variety of animals - has the potential to be rather interesting…

Today we turned and cut peat and had lunch in Mangersta Bothy, a stunning location and a delicious lunch!