In cold water - swimming around Lismore and other scottish islands

In cold water – swimming around Lismore and other scottish islands

In cold water - swimming around Lismore and other scottish islands

In cold water – swimming around Lismore and other scottish islands

Tamsin McVean is a cold water swimmer with a difference. She swims each day of the year, solo, no wet suit, and then captures her experiences in a beautiful, evocative blog that has caught the imaginations of a growing international audience. As a writer and photographer, she captures the raw essence of living on an island and swimming each day in its fierce cold sea. This is wild swimming and raw living with a difference. She lives on the quiet Hebridean island of Lismore, close to Oban on the west coast of Scotland. I managed to catch up with Tamsin and ask her about her love of cold water swimming her life on Lismore and the highs and lows of living on a remote Scottish island.

What inspired you to start cold water sea swimming?

 

 I live on an island croft, that shores onto a fresh water loch, with a beautiful Hebridean sea all around.   I never made the decision to start cold water sea swimming.  It just happened, I think out of some inner necessity.  I had been through several very difficult years.  It was a time of intense crisis.  Initially, there was a period of extreme loss, all within a very short timeframe.  All the usual things that many people experience singly, all came at once for me.

 

In cold water - swimming around Lismore and other scottish islands

In cold water – swimming around Lismore and other scottish islands

 

Two months after my marriage broke up, my father died, and I lost my mother at the same time to Alzheimers.  I later became very ill myself, and then withdrew internally after my best friend here on the island was tragically killed in a car crash, the very day after we had shared with each other the difficulty of coping alone,  of the hard realities of isolation and loneliness.  Even whilst living in a community.  Trauma and loss are incredible triggers by themselves, but when you are living with this and trying to cope alone, without the support of family or close kin, it is a much more difficult ask.  For me it was utterly overwhelming.  I also had two broken hands at the time and when later I became more seriously ill, I started to really struggle coping.  This was just the initial tipping point and the start of some very difficult years. There came a tipping point, when something had to change.  So, I wasn’t inspired to start cold water sea swimming.  But the sea drew me to it.  From there, cold water swimming inspired me and my life, to start again.

My body took me to the sea, every day, in all weathers, storms, hail, snow, sunshine and calm, when I literally had nowhere else to go and no one to turn to.  I went with nothing and I came back each time, feeling renewed, strengthened and that I could get through another day.  It was a very deep instinctive feeling inside, that took me there.  To hold me and to keep me safe.  That is when my life transformed itself and a deeper creative inspiration and way of living came.

In cold water - swimming around Lismore and other scottish islands

In cold water – swimming around Lismore and other scottish islands

Why did you start a blog and what are your aims for the blog in the long term?

 

I started the blog simply as a way of recording each day’s swim.   I called it My Daily Raw Swim, Cold Running Tides.   It was something simple I could do for myself.    It was quite simply my voice.  Initially, I posted each day’s swim onto social media simply as a way of date stamping images and giving me a simple manageable discipline of writing a short paragraph each day.  To make sense of it.  To show that I was alive and well.  Ultimately, it was my voice at a time of silence.

At the outset, it was also a cry for help.  I was very lonely, so I joined the Outdoor Swimming Society, an online group. It is incredible to me know, how I met a community of sea there.   We shared stories, experiences, tips and made friendships.  Over time it has also become a tremendous creative and professional resource.  Some folk have also booked to stay a few days at my Smiddy cottage – artists, musicians, wildlife lovers – and others have come just to swim with me here. It has been an extraordinary experience, and once which is very moving for me.

The blog has grown organically and I would hope to keep it this way.  I always try to live each day without too tight, restrictive or prescriptive a structure, which I find can limit the creative process in many ways.  This also allows the blog to keep evolving and subtly changing.  My other work here on the island, crofting and my Acupuncture, Remedial and Holistic Health clinics on the island and in Oban are increasingly merging into this.

Originally, I posted pared back, simple prose and quick images on the blog. Then it was featured in the Sunday Times Magazine, How Does it Feel to … Wild Swim (May 2017) and was also aired on Radio Scotland and RTE Radio 1 Ireland.  With sponsorship by Dry Robe International, I am now a brand ambassador and lifestyle advocate for this inspirational brand and we are working together on projects for the coming year. It has all happened very quickly for me and perhaps this is because it started from a raw flame of truth.  Sometimes I have to pinch myself. It is working now as a multi-media showcase across different platforms and which ideally, when it is working well, seeks to break down the traditional barriers between subject/object and participant/viewer. I make short films, swim clips and also love to use still images and more unusual images taken in the water. I am loving exploring using a hand held in water photography and my words and images are now featured in magazines and print.  I use a Sony A6000 gifted by Sony Cameras, with an in-water professional housing, a GoPro Hero 6 and am looking to invest in a professional film kit.  I love to write poetry and also to explore word art.  I guess I’m enjoying pushing back the boundaries, in myself as well as my creative work. I would hope the blog and my own media becomes inreasingly immersive over time. I am also now working with a London literary agent on a book and a screen play, having been approached by a couple of publishing houses over the summer.  I can now see in time how My Daily Raw Swim: Cold Running Tides blog may become a wonderful real time reference point for this.

 

In cold water - swimming around Lismore and other scottish islands

In cold water – swimming around Lismore and other scottish islands

How long have you lived on Lismore and what gave you the idea of moving to a remote scottish island?

 

I have lived here on the Isle of Lismore for 14 years, and the last 7 years alone.  I always loved the Highlands as a child.  We used to travel up from the south, by the sleeper train, only in those days your car was also on board and overnighted with you. I loved waking up, with all the freedom of the mountains and the sea.  The raw wildlife and beautiful nature, has always been an integral part of my own being, ever since I was a child.  The idea to move here came having spent years working and living intensely hard down south, and wanting to bring my life and work back into balance.  I came here to start a family.  And also to be part of a close, welcoming and thriving community, having loved living in a very small hamlet community down south.  Most of all, I wanted to live close to nature and closer to the Scottish wilds.

What is your favourite place on Lismore and why?

I love Allastra, which is a headland at the north westerly point of the island.  It has a wildness and yet an intimacy to it, that is breathtaking.  It is not easy to get to and this adds to its appeal.  It is a bit of a hike from my own door, but you can only get to it by walking or now, swimming to it by the sea.  It is a place of freedom – of cliffs, woodlands, tiny coves and stunning skyline views of the smaller islands and the sea.   My favourite place there is a secret…!  But it is also hard to describe, as I found it by chance and there are no real markers.  Just following sheep tracks through dense ancient trees.  But maybe, if you come stay or have a retreat, some time out at The Smiddy, I will walk with you there…

 

[vimeo id=”249585704″ width=”600″ height=”340″ position=”left”]
What are the best and worst things about living on a remote island?

 

That’s a difficult question.  It is hard in some to say the best and worst things about island living, if it’s your home!  Island living is unlike anything else I have ever experienced.  Before I came here, I had travelled the world over and lived in many beautiful places.  But this is home to me now.

 

Ultimately, I came here to live more closely to wildlife.  I live, breathe and work creatively with this and so this for me is the island’s greatest strength.    Island living is unlike any other, for its potential for living amongst wildlife.  The raw beauty yet also intimacy of Lismore’s wildlife, is unlike anywhere else I have lived.  I live in very close proximity to nature every day.   Each morning, I swim in the sea, walk the hills, work the croft, or am just watching and listening.  I like to feel the wind and the weather on my skin.  With the sea all around, this lends a wholly different intensity to a raw simple life that is lived quietly.   Each day is felt and experienced differently, due to its wildlife, raw elements, changing light and weather.  I welcome wildlife into my life and it is a gift that comes so freely, it is, for me, and I hope for others, a truly inspirational way to live.

 

As an immersive and somatic experience, this is translated into writing, photography, film and also my healing and clinic work.  It is my breath, so for me, this has to be one of the most nourishing aspects of living here.
In cold water - swimming around Lismore and other scottish islands

In cold water – swimming around Lismore and other scottish islands

 

Cold water sea swimming has lent an extra edge to this traditional landscape of soil.  If you live on an island, sea is like the moon to the soil’s sun.  Each lends itself to the other.   It brings its own energy, perspective, moods and shift.  These days, it is the sea that shapes how I experience living on the land.  This is a really interesting, exciting and a beautiful blue space and dynamic that I am still loving to explore, and to share with others.

 

Landscape here though means, not just the soil and terrain itself, but a close proximity with our island community.  And this is also a great strength.   Community here is a strong and vital island resource.  We are incredibly fortunate to have such a vibrant dynamic and relatively young community here. As with everything, life isn’t static and this island itself is changing.  So it will be really interesting to see what the next 10 to 15 years brings.

 

I would say for me, living alone without family, is the hardest challenge.  It was my dream to have my own and so this hits doubly hard.  Therefore, I guess isolation is the biggest challenge.  There is always community, friends or folk here to meet and interact with, but I do miss having that closer proximity with close kin or loved ones near.  This translates for me, I hope now, into a source of strength and inspiration.  Island living is ideally suited if you have an open mind, are resilient and interested in pushing back your own brakes and boundaries and living creatively.  Self-sufficiency is not just about soil, croft, produce, livestock, craft, culinary adventure or wild foraging.  It is also of resilience, strength and innovation of mind.  The most exciting aspect for me is the impetus it lends to its creative expression and translation through a life and how this then is shared and experienced with myself and with others.

 

So ultimately, in my end is my beginning.  You could say, the best and worst things are each other’s inspiration.  They are mutually beneficial and organically evolving over time.  I hope I am able to keep them flowing in this way.  It is good to step up close to one’s own challenges, to try and reframe these and create something beautiful out of this too.  For me, there is no better place to find this than here.  And an island life is a great internal and external source of fulfilment through its potential for creative expression and joy.

 

In cold water - swimming around Lismore and other scottish islands

In cold water – swimming around Lismore and other scottish islands

What are the main problems that Lismore faces, both now and in the future?

 

A changing world, I think, is what all of us here on Lismore face alongside most other places.  There are of course, within this, unique challenges for rural communities and arguably, even more so, for island communities.  Sometimes there is a lack of budgetary allocation or skilled centralised administration, resulting in normal services being disrupted.  For example, gritting of the roads, ferry services etc.  Often there is a lack of planning and quick responsive action, or contingency measures planned out and discussed in advance.  Here, we have our own active Community Council, Island Trust and Heritage Centre, who are each singly and collectively always looking at ways to integrate strategic planning with funding bodies, including the Council.  I wonder if, now more than ever, it is vital to have an island plan that represents our collective voice, in order to allow us to be better equipped with working together with a cohesive island vision – and therefore to actively work together to secure the future we would like here.  
 

Have you visited any other islands around Scotland.  If so, which is your favourite and why?

 

I have visited many of the other islands here in Scotland, including Arran, Colonsay, Islay, Skye and Raasay amongst others.  My favourite place that I have visited is Oransay.  This is as much for its wildlife, as its history and also stunning swimming that is much more strongly tidal, with its populations of Common and Atlantic seals.  I have visited here many times and I have talked with the RSPB bird warden there about the scope for spending an extended period to volunteer or work there.

 

I do have another favourite island.  Or rather it is a small cluster of islands that I have yet to visit. They are the uninhabited islands of Mingulay, Berneray and Pabbay.  I would love to explore these wilder islands, not just as a haven of seabirds including puffin, kittiwakes and razorbills, but also for their evocative history and once rich history of  older islander fishing and crofting communities.  I love old Norse literature and poetry, which I studied many years ago and Mingulay is also rich in ancient Celtic and Norse folk traditions and Viking place names.
In cold water - swimming around Lismore and other scottish islands

In cold water – swimming around Lismore and other scottish islands

 

Do you think there has been an increase in tourism after the recent programmes about scottish islands? How has this impacted on Lismore?

 

I think mainstream media, has undoubtedly helped Scottish islands in this respect.  Also, increasingly so, the role of responsible social media.   Here on Lismore, as in so many other Scottish islands, farming and crofting communities are changing.  Increasingly, they are looking to support themselves through inspirational and dynamic diversification.  Tourism that is low impact on the environment and community infrastructures that is well managed environmentally, will be vital for this.  I see environment tourism as the way ahead.  There is such scope and potential here to supplement livelihoods with innovative enterprise, creating employment and work, as well as to protect our fragile wildlife and species.  Green and blue space tourism will ultimately create more jobs for indivdual’s, by nature of it working closely with the public, rather than more traditional industries with technology that will soon be electronicized or managed by robotised programming.  It’s some way ahead, but it is a reality.

Our terrain and infrastructure here is not conducive to an  influx of diesel or petrol tourism on wheels, just passing through and out again within a single day.  But we are well set up for walkers, cyclists, kayakers and so on.  More importantly, for tourism of short or longer stays, many islanders here offer holiday rentals and places to stay including a wonderful Bunkhouse.

 

In cold water - swimming around Lismore and other scottish islands

In cold water – swimming around Lismore and other scottish islands


How do you see life for yourself in the next 5-10 years and do you foresee any major changes on Lismore?

 

My own life is changing and evolving just now.  So 5-10 years time is going to be an exciting fast forward.  I see life for myself here, focused on my creative work.  I am currently writing a non-fiction memoir, and screenplay and we are also discussing storylines for fiction work.  I am lucky as I also experience the world very visually and so I would hope to also be developing my photographic and film work.  I would hope in 5-10 years, my main workplace and studio will be here on Lismore.  But I can see myself moving around much more, visiting the other islands and beautiful wild raw destinations in the Outer Hebrides.  I would love also to explore Norway and that stunning fractured coastline of inlets and fjords.

The major changes I see for Lismore, will be linked to the future of farming communities, subsides and the ability to creatively think outside of the status quo.  There may be a real temptation to split up and sell off land that is not receiving once traditional EU subsidies.  Yet there is huge scope for innovative and sustainable, environmental tourism, local industry and business.  I think investing in people and people skills in this environment and landscape is the way forwards and in so doing, also protect and celebrate our beautiful wild surrounds.  

 

In cold water - swimming around Lismore and other scottish islands

In cold water – swimming around Lismore and other scottish islands

Where can I find out more information about your blog and Facebook page?

 

Tamsin McVean: My Daily Raw Swim – my is website: www.tamsinmcvean.com

 

For a taster of our island from the sea, please visit https://vimeo.com/249585704 – a lovely wee film I made called Island.Reel.

 

The home shore of my blog is at www.facebook.com/dailyrawswim

 

Accomodation at: The Smiddy, Isle of Lismore for Raw Simple Life Holidays: Wild Swimming & Therapy Retreats.

 

All Photos by Tamsin Mcvean
In cold water - swimming around Lismore and other scottish islands

In cold water – swimming around Lismore and other scottish islands

Gigha - Gigha Hotel

God’s Isle – Welcome to the Isle of Gigha

God’s Isle – Welcome to the Isle of Gigha

“Welcome to God’s Isle”. So said the friendly sign welcoming my family and I on our arrival on the Isle of Gigha one of the jewels of the Inner Hebrides and the furthest south of the chain.

The island is approximately five and a half miles long by one and a quarter miles wide. The unusually mild climate and quiet undulating roads make the Isle of Gigha a Walkers and Cyclists paradise.

Afte departing from the regular Cal Mac Ferry from Tayinloan on the west coast of Scotland, my family and I drove the steep slip road that wound its way through to the main road at the only village, Ardminish. From here we made our way slowly down to the extreme south of the island. The single track road ends at a short Pier adjacent to what looks like an old, stone storehouse with a solitary wooden bench outside. There are gorgeous views from here over to the Kintyre peninsula and the nearby islands of Gigalum and Cara. In 2016 Gigalum was advertised for sale at around £450,000 which would be cheaper than buying a one bedroomed flat in London! This article shows what you would be acquiring for your nearly half a million pounds.

Isle of Gigha - South Pier

Isle of Gigha – South Pier

Heading back from the Pier, we next passed the Village Hall, a detached building that is the hub of activity on the island as well as being used for public meetings and private functions. The Hall is located opposite the entrance footpath to Achamore Gardens, which would be our next destination.

Isle of Gigha - Village Hall

Isle of Gigha – Village Hall

Achamore Gardens are a mile and a half south of Ardminish. The gardens were the vision of Sir James Horlicks, who made his money from the famous chocolate drink.  He lived here until his death in 1972.  Gardeners from all over the world come to marvel at the myriad of exotic plants, shrubs and trees.

There was no main entrance to the gardens, just an informal honesty box that asked for a small contribution towards the upkeep of the gardens.

 

Isle of Gigha - Entrance to Achamore Gardens

Isle of Gigha – Entrance to Achamore Gardens

There were two walks available, one that lasted an hour, the other a more leisurely two. We decided that the one hour trail was for us, so we set off and followed the appropriate trail markers. As we slowly walked around, my daughter was inquisitively running around each corner. The rich summer colours, subtle shades and fantastic shapes, so rarely seen by a child of tender years, enchanted her. The warm, damp conditions created a natural humidity that enveloped us like a dense fog in a black and white horror film.

All too soon we arrived back at the entrance and wished that we had taken the two hour trail. Our fingers traced the route on the wooden map.  “We can come back another day”, I said to my daughter, which seemed to placate her for a while.

After this splendid walk we returned to the car and drove up to Kilchatten (or St Cathan’s) Church and graveyard, which dates from around the 13th century. The Church became derelict in the 18th century.  In order to preserve the Church, conservation is underway to keep this important monument from falling into any further disrepair.  On the south of the road opposite the lower end of the graveyard, there was an old well dedicated to St Cathan. Unfortunately, the specific position of the well has now been lost.

Isle of Gigha - Kilchattan Church

Isle of Gigha – Kilchattan Church

Next to investigate was the north of the island. Most of the amenities and housing is in the south of the island, so the north is sparser, but no less spectacular. The main attraction (if you can call it that) is the ‘Giants Tooth’. It is a large Bronze Age Standing Stone, also known as the Hanging Stone, believed to be because criminals were hanged from the top of it.

Isle of Gigha - Giants Tooth

Isle of Gigha – Giants Tooth

Next, we headed back to the Gigha Hotel near the main village. The only Hotel on the island, it is an imposing, brooding piece of architecture which dominated the surrounding scenery. The Ferry was not due for another hour, so we found a table in front of the main window and greedily demolished the excellent coffee and biscuits provided by the friendly lady on reception.

Isle of Gigha - Gigha Hotel

Isle of Gigha – Gigha Hotel

As the hour rescinded, we boarded the ferry and made a promise to visit ths beautiful island again.  The next time, we will stay overnight and experience life on the Isle of Gigha at a more leisurely pace.

 

Lee Allen

Bute - Mount Stuart

Trains, Ferries and Automobiles – a day trip to the Isle of Bute

Bute - Mount Stuart

Bute – Mount Stuart

Although I have visited the Isle of Bute previously, I had not visited much of the west coast of the island. Nor and this may seem hard to believe, had I gotten round to visiting Mount Stuart, the most famous attraction on the island.

So with a guide book in one hand and a map on the other, I set off from the beautiful Ferry and Train terminal at Port Wemyss. Some of the Cal Mac Ferry Terminals, can be quite modern and frankly a bit boring. This one certainly isnt!  The Port Wemyss Terminal is a Grade A listed building. It was designed in 1903 and is a prominent wrought iron and timber clad structure with a slate and glass roof. This Edwardian masterpiece was the first of the Clyde railway piers to be built and is now the last one remaining.  The building has recently had a £1 million makeover and as a result, the existing timber walkway, ticket office and store facilities have all been refurbished. Without a doubt it is my favourite Ferry Terminal.

I had a good half an hour to wait, so I went to the small Cafe inside the building and slowly sipped a Cappucino. Suitably refreshed, I headed for my car and waited for the Ferry to dock. Once done, I carefully drove down and onto the Ferry. I then went up onto the outside seats to get a good view of the sights around Wemyss Bay. When the weather is fair, I do like to sit outside, rather than in the restaurant or on the comfy seats.  It is part of the magic of visiting islands.

 

Wemyss Bay Terminal

Wemyss Bay Terminal

 

Once we arrived at Rothesay, I departed and headed south.  My intention was to visit some of the villages and attractions in the south and on the west coast, such as Mount Stuart and Scalpsie Bay. However, first (and the nearest) port of call was Mount Stuart.

Mount Stuart is one of the UK’s most spectaular Victorian Gothic House’s. It was the creation of the 3rd Marquess of Bute and the architect Sir Robert Rowland Anderson. The House sits in 300 acres of landscape and woodlands and was opened to the public in 1995. The house is understandably feted as one of the most spectacular domestic houses available to see in Scotland. I cannot argue with this. From the moment that I set foot in the grand entrance, I was transfixed with the opulance and grandeur of the building. But what really impressed me was the detail within the architecture. Even the ceilings are a work of art. From signs of the zodiac to different constellations, it is difficult to know where to look next. Along with Kinloch Castle, it is the most impressive building that I have seen on the scottish islands.

 

Bute - Inside Mount Stuart

Bute – Inside Mount Stuart

 

From Mount Stuart, I made my way south to Kilchattan Bay. I had been here previously, but only to take a few pictures. This time, I spent a good hour investigating some of the trails around and behind the lovely Bay. There is an interesting trail opposite the old pier. Situated between St Blane’s Villa and Kiln Villa, is a trail leading up to an Old Lime Kiln. It is constructed against the cliff and is an impressive building. I had a brief wander to look around the Lime Kiln and then took some panoramic photos of Kilchattan Bay.

From here, I drove down towards the west of the island and the first of the locations I had not previously visited, Scalpsie Bay. I walked down the track between two fields, to get down to the beach. Scalpsie Bay is famous for the seals that lie upon the rocks, so I was disappointed not to see any of them. I spent a quiet 15 minutes on the beach and then headed back to the car and onto Ettrick Bay, which is towards the north west of Bute. There is a tiny car park at Ettrick Bay, so I parked up and had another stroll on one of Bute’s lovely beaches. The west coast is definitely quiter than the more tourist-friendly east coast, but it is worth taking the time to explore.

 

Bute - Ettrick Bay

Bute – Ettrick Bay

 

I then made my way back to Rothesay via a short detour to St Colmac’s Church. This ruined 19th century church is an imposing building and dominates the skyline from the bottom of the road. It was built for the 2nd Marquess of Bute in 1836 to act as a Gaelic church for the north of Bute. The Church closed in 1980 and now stands roofless and open to the elements.

 

Bute - St Colmac Church

Bute – St Colmac Church

I slowly made my way back into Rothesay and awaited the Ferry. Bute is one of the most accessible of the west coast Inner Hebrides and is only around a 30 minute car journey from Glasgow. There is much to see on this beautiful island and a day does not do it justice. Another reason to visit again in the future …

 

 

Walk on the wild side – the wildlife of the Inner Hebrides

The Inner Hebrides on the west coast of Scotland consist of around 100 islands. About 35 of the islands are inhabited. Some of the best wildlife in the whole of the UK is located within these islands. An example of this, are the many operators that now offer Whale and Dolphin watching around the Inner hebrides. These islands are one of the best location for Whale watching in the whole of Europe and the islands are home to their own unique pod of Orcas (Killer Whales).  On the Isle of Mull alone, there are several companies that offer whale watching tours, such as Sea Life Surveys and Whale Watch With Us. If you are lucky, you may even see Dolphins and Seals when travelling on the Caledonian MacBrayne ferries between the islands.

Sightings of otters are common on Mull and also on the Isle of Skye, often swimming in the sea, in secluded bays or scavenging along the shoreline. Eilean Ban is a tiny six acre island that supports the bridge to the Isle of Skye.  It was from here that Gavin Maxwell, author of ‘Ring of Bright Water”, lived in the cottage for the last two years of his life in the late 1960s. The island now has a Visitors Centre and also has a Lighthouse, nature trails, a wildlife hide and a sensory garden. It is well worth a detour to visit Eilean Ban, as most people drive by without realising that the island is underneath the bridge. Otters can often be seen at nearby Glenelg on the mainland as well as at a Hide in Kylerhea.  Throughout the Inner Hebrides, there have unfortunately been a number of otters killed on the roads and ‘otter crossing’ signs have now been introduced.

 

Walk on the wild side - the wildlife of the Inner Hebrides. Bottlenose Dolphins

Walk on the wild side – the wildlife of the Inner Hebrides. Bottlenose Dolphins

 

Although Gavin Maxwell was a conservationist, he also bought the island of Soay, just off the coast of Skye and in 1946 established a factory to process oil from Basking Sharks. The business was unsuccessful and lasted only three years. It is possible to visit Soay (and the remains of the Basking Shark Station) with Aqua Explore, who are based at Elgol on Skye.  Basking Sharks are a common sight around the Hebrides. I have visited the uninhabited island of Staffa several times and on one occasion a Basking Shark swam so close to the boat that I was able to see it’s massive form underwater, from just a few metres away.  Sightings of minke, humpback, fin, pilot and sperm whales are all possible and it is usually relatively easy to see common and grey seals.

The UK’s biggest raptor is the White Tailed Eagle, which has a wingspan of over 8 feet. The eagles became extinct in Scotland in 1918.  They were re-introduced to the island of Rum in 1975 and there are currently about 60 pairs dotted around Scotland.  Once again, the Isle of Mull is the best place to see the eagles, as there are around 13 pairs based on the island. One of the best places to see them is at a Hide at Glen Seilisdeir.

 

Walk on the wild side - the wildlife of the Inner Hebrides. White-tailed Sea Eagle

Walk on the wild side – the wildlife of the Inner Hebrides. White-tailed Sea Eagle

 

The Isle of Canna has been recognised as a bird sanctuary since 1938, and supports over 20,000 breeding seabirds, including puffins, razorbills and guillemots.  The islands of Islay and Jura are internationally renowned for over fifty thousand wild geese that visit each winter from October to April.  Also on Jura, islanders are outnumbered 30 to 1 by the 6-7000 red deer that roam the island.

There are many, many species of birds within the Inner Hebrides. Probably the most well known are the Puffins that are located on Lunga, one of the Treshnish Isles. Turus Mara and Staffa Tours operate day trips to the Treshnish Isles (and nearby Staffa), the highlight of which are visiting the Puffins. A couple of hours ashore on Lunga, could melt the stoniest heart!

 

Walk on the wild side - the wildlife of the Inner Hebrides. Puffins

Walk on the wild side – the wildlife of the Inner Hebrides. Puffins

 

As well as the larger wildlife that can be seen from around the Hebrides, it is also possible to take a look at microscopic organisms when crusing aboard the St Hilda. St Hilda’s guests are able to use the onboard microscopes to examine the spectacular underwater world of microscopic plankton that have been collected earlier on by dragging a very fine-meshed net from behind the boat. Click the link for the latest cruises with St Hilda Sea Adventures.

 

Walk on the wild side - the wildlife of the Inner Hebrides. Bivalve Plankton

Walk on the wild side – the wildlife of the Inner Hebrides. Bivalve Plankton

 

One of the best series that showcased the fantastic wildlife in the Hebrides was entiltled – Hebrides: Life on the Edge. In the course of a year, otters, dolphins, eagles, seals and many other charismatic creatures were filmed by some of the greatest wildlife camera talent in the world.  This landmark wildlife series, was narrated by Ewan McGregor and was a critical success.

 

 

[easyazon_infoblock align=”none” identifier=”B00CHNN67W” locale=”UK” tag=”lovescottishi-21″]

All photos courtesy of St Hilda Sea Adventures.

 

 

 

 

Scottish Island Cruising – St Hilda Sea Adventures

Scottish Island Cruising – St Hilda Sea Adventures

 

Although I have visited many scottish islands over the years, one thing that I have never done is cruised around the islands.  Well, that dream has now become a reality. At the end of May, I will be cruising with St Hilda Sea Adventures on their Mull Odyssey cruise, which takes in the Isles of Mull, Staffa and Iona.

The St Hilda is a traditional, wooden 54ft Ketch, going to sea with only six guests, but it has it’s own onboard skipper and chef. The St Hilda was built in 1973 in St Monans by a family-owned boatyard in Fife, specifically for sail training with a crew of 20.  She is one of the smallest of the “Tall Ships” and has competed in several Tall Ship races. The company have recently celebrated 10 years of safe and successful cruising around the scottish islands

I am really looking forward to the cruise, especially seeing the islands from a completely different perspective. For example, when we visit Loch Na Keal, I am hoping that we can see some of the smaller islands such as Eorsa and Inch Kenneth, as well as remote islands like Gometra and Erraid.

On my last trip to the Treshnish Isles, I was unable to visit Lunga (the main island of the group) and had to visit one of the smaller islands (think it was Fladda), so as not to upset the wildlife. Again, seeing these islands from the sea should be a magical experience. Hopefully it will be around the time that the Puffins are there, as they can usually be seen from mid April until early August.

 

Scottish Island Cruising - St Hilda Sea Adventures. In the Mist

Scottish Island Cruising – St Hilda Sea Adventures. In the Mist

 

Having never been on a cruise before it is difficult to know what to expect. I have been assured that a cruising holiday on board the St Hilda is fun and informal. The deck saloon is where everyone dines and socialises and the outdoor decks are where I shall be looking out for wildlife and relaxing.  I have been told to look out for Dolphins, porpoises, basking sharks, otters, red squirrels,many species of birds and even the occasional Minke whale. There is a boat tender that takes passengers ashore, which will help to navigate in those hard to reach places that are inaccesible by land. It can even be used to get close to any nearby wildlife.

As well as the cruise around Mull, Iona and Staffa (known as the Mull Odyssey), St Hilda Sea Adventures also offer the following cruises:

  • Isles of the Clyde Explorer: Sailing & Wildlife – departing Holy Loch Marina
  • Sea Lochs of Argyll and the Crinan Canal – departing Holy Loch Marina
  • Malt Whisky and Wildlife Cruise 8-night, departing Tobermory
  • The Sounds of the Hebrides: Mull, Luing, Shuna & Jura – departing Tobermory
  • St Hilda to St Kilda: an Outer Hebridean Cruise – departing Tobermory
  • St Hilda for Skye and the Small Isles – departing Tobermory
  • The Mull Experience: Dinner, Bed and Breakfast Afloat – departing Tobermory

 

Scottish Island Cruising - St Hilda Sea Adventures

Scottish Island Cruising – St Hilda Sea Adventures

 

I will be writing about the experience and will also be updating my social media accounts (Facebook, Twitter and Google +) on a regular basis with details of the cruise and images (and possibly video) taken from around the islands

Some of the places that I will be visiting around the Isle of Mull are as follows:

  • Tobermory
  • Loch Tuath
  • Isle of Staffa
  • Isle of Iona
  • Loch Spelve
  • Loch Aline

Zoom in on the map below to see the exact locations of each of the places above.

 

 

 

The main thing I am looking forward to is being able to recharge my batteries and relax. And nowhere do I relax more than around the scottish islands. I can’t wait …

For more information on other Hebridean cruises please contact the St Hilda team:
Mobile: 07745550988
E-mail: info@sthildaseaadventures.co.uk
Website: www.sthildaseaadventures.co.uk