bothy

Aberdeen to Ft William; off-road coast to coast cycle by Jerry Gillham

With the possible exception of one face-smashing over-the-handlebars incident I've been enjoying being out on the bike since getting back north. In search of a simple, good value, easy-to-arrange holiday I headed up to Scotland to enjoy a week or so of riding up there.

DAY 1. HOME TO ABERDEEN TO PORTLETHEN

Packed and ready to go, with train tickets attached to the front.

Packed and ready to go, with train tickets attached to the front.

Leaving the train station at Aberdeen there's some pretty hectic traffic so I just walked along the pavement until I had crossed the River Dee and was on less busy roads and National Cycle Network 1. Almost immediately though there was a road closure so I had to miss a nice-looking bit of the coast. Still, there was another few km between the cliffs and railway that were pleasant riding.

Narrow channels in the sea cliffs, populated by Kittiwakes, Eiders and traffic cones.

Narrow channels in the sea cliffs, populated by Kittiwakes, Eiders and traffic cones.

Distance 17km, ascent 208m.

Distance 17km, ascent 208m.

DAY 2. PORTLETHEN TO BALLATER

Half and hour after setting off I had travelled 4km but barely moved anywhere due to missing the first turn and almost immediately getting lost in an industrial estate. The next hour was a frustrating one as each time I got going I met another road closure from where they're building a big new road out of Aberdeen. After a few diversions and backtracking I headed straight north to reach the River Dee at Peterculter and there the NCN 195, the Deeside Way.

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Most of the day from here was spent on this cycle way which alternated between roads and well-made tracks.

After Banchory I headed through forest on the south side of the river before getting back onto the NCN again. The River Dee is lovely and was well used by walkers and anglers.

After Banchory I headed through forest on the south side of the river before getting back onto the NCN again. The River Dee is lovely and was well used by walkers and anglers.

Stopping for lunch in Westertown Wood after an enjoyable little down hill through the trees.

Stopping for lunch in Westertown Wood after an enjoyable little down hill through the trees.

I arrived in Ballater early afternoon and spent an enjoyable couple of hours relaxing in the sun, eating a huge and delicious vegan ice-cream, before checking into the absolutely superb hostel there. 

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Distance 86.2km, ascent 802m.

Distance 86.2km, ascent 802m.

DAY 3. BALLATER TO TOMINTOUL

Heading south of the river through Dalliefour Wood I pretty much straight away came to this:

Which bridge? I don't think I'm going over a bridge.

Which bridge? I don't think I'm going over a bridge.

Oh, that bridge. Joke's on you, I'm not going that way.

Oh, that bridge. Joke's on you, I'm not going that way.

No, instead I've got a whole barrier across my route.

No, instead I've got a whole barrier across my route.

Apparently it was too near the river bank and had eroded away. Thankfully I could sneak through a small path between fallen trees.

Apparently it was too near the river bank and had eroded away. Thankfully I could sneak through a small path between fallen trees.

Continuing on the road I was overtaken by a few teams of road-riders from the RAF before I crossed the river again and found yet another road, the main link for my route, closed. I continued a while thinking I could bypass it on a dirt track, but got the wrong track and ended up at a farm in the middle of nowhere. Identifying my location I turned to head back and found my rear tyre was flat. I repaired the puncture and put everything back together but then couldn't get the required pressure in the tyre, and every time I tried more air would come out than go in. I tried my spare inner tube in case it was a dodgy valve but came to the conclusion it was duff pump. At this point it was starting to feel a little like a horror film, that I had come to the wrong remote farm and now couldn't leave.

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Eventually I decided I had no choice but to head off slowly with under 15psi in there. It wasn't much fun but it also wasn't far to Balmoral. I wasn't expecting any help from the queen but here were a good number of campervans in the ca park, many with bikes on the back. I found one that had its owners present and ended up borrowing a foot-pump off a German tourist to get my tyre back up to pressure.

Following that close call I headed straight along the main road back to Ballater where I bought myself a new pump and inner tube. Then, having travelled 34km to end up back where I started, I set off again. This time a different direction on a small road up Glen Gairn. Where the road turned into track there were big signs saying 'welcome to the moors' and the heather-covered slopes became home to lapwing, oystercatcher and curlew, some of whom had chicks hiding at the edge of the track. A water vole also scuttled across the track in front of me which was a nice surprise.

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I continued on tracks up alongside the River Gairn, slowly gaining altitude and sweating in the sun. I didn't hang about as I was aware how delayed I was. When I reached Loch Builg though I was happily back on track and, having not seen anyone for hours, felt comfortable enough that I could strip off and go for a swim.

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After having to push a bit around the loch I got about 15km of straight downhill almost all the way into Tomintoul.

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Down in Tomintoul I checked into the hostel and went straight to get a beer and food.

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Distance 79.3km, ascent 968m.

Distance 79.3km, ascent 968m.

DAY 4. TOMINTOUL TO RYVOAN BOTHY

A shorter day and one that started with no road closures, just a big, long uphill interrupted by a push alongside a river where the track disappeared for a while.

A shorter day and one that started with no road closures, just a big, long uphill interrupted by a push alongside a river where the track disappeared for a while.

Ten a great descent all the way to Nethy Bridge where I picked up some food.

Ten a great descent all the way to Nethy Bridge where I picked up some food.

Loch Garten. I didn't have time to visit the osprey centre but enjoyed a snack beside the beautiful stillness.

Loch Garten. I didn't have time to visit the osprey centre but enjoyed a snack beside the beautiful stillness.

Heading back up into the mountains.

Heading back up into the mountains.

Ryvoan bothy. There were plenty of people around during the day, and early evening, but I was the only one staying that night. Sitting outside that evening was glorious; warm, calm but with enough breeze to detract midges, at least two cuckoos calling. 

Ryvoan bothy. There were plenty of people around during the day, and early evening, but I was the only one staying that night. Sitting outside that evening was glorious; warm, calm but with enough breeze to detract midges, at least two cuckoos calling. 

Distance 44km, ascent 583m

Distance 44km, ascent 583m

DAY 5. RYVOAN BOTHY TO KINGUSSIE

A rather cloudy start for a change.

A rather cloudy start for a change.

An enjoyable early descent to Glen More.

An enjoyable early descent to Glen More.

Followed by some extremely enjoyable riding through proper Scottish forest.

Followed by some extremely enjoyable riding through proper Scottish forest.

Loch Eanaich / Einich was just to the south and looked pretty dramatic on the map and had a track leading all the way up to it, so I decided to make a diversion.

Loch Eanaich / Einich was just to the south and looked pretty dramatic on the map and had a track leading all the way up to it, so I decided to make a diversion.

It was quite a ride in with plenty of ascent and crossing of fords.

It was quite a ride in with plenty of ascent and crossing of fords.

The spectacular Loch Einich.

The spectacular Loch Einich.

Looking serious.

Looking serious.

Dropping back down towards the forest I headed toward Loch an Eilein and then Inverdruie, where I stopped at a lovely cafe for coffee and cake having arrived in the half hour period between the end of breakfast and start of lunch.

Heading back up through the forest and then down through more managed woodland I arrived at Feshiebridge, site of many happy family holidays when I was young.

Heading back up through the forest and then down through more managed woodland I arrived at Feshiebridge, site of many happy family holidays when I was young.

I headed quite far up the beautiful Glen Feshie before cutting up following forestry roads. The problem with following forestry roads is that they're often different to what appears on your map, thus a few wrong turns. There was also one long back-track as I realised the path I optimistically thought I could use to link two valleys was clearly too boggy to navigate by laden bike.

I headed quite far up the beautiful Glen Feshie before cutting up following forestry roads. The problem with following forestry roads is that they're often different to what appears on your map, thus a few wrong turns. There was also one long back-track as I realised the path I optimistically thought I could use to link two valleys was clearly too boggy to navigate by laden bike.

I ended up coming down an exciting single track through the woods, something I'd feel more comfortable doing on a sturdier, not fully loaded bike. From there it was just a case of cutting across to Kingussie where I spent a very pleasant evening catching up with Chris about mountains, wildlife, conservation and Skomer and Skokholm days.

I ended up coming down an exciting single track through the woods, something I'd feel more comfortable doing on a sturdier, not fully loaded bike. From there it was just a case of cutting across to Kingussie where I spent a very pleasant evening catching up with Chris about mountains, wildlife, conservation and Skomer and Skokholm days.

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Distance 89.3km, ascent 1,247m

Distance 89.3km, ascent 1,247m

DAY 6. KINGUSSIE TO BLACKBURN OF CORIEYAIRACK BOTHY

The forecast was for thunder and rain, but there was some uncertainty as to when it would hit. It seemed sensible to make an early start and get on with it rather than making too many interceptions. I took a direct route along General Wade's Military Road, one of the 18th century constructions that criss-cross the highlands, built to facilitate rapid troop movements to put down the Jacobite rebellions.

Heading up the River Spey I found myself in the middle of Scotland.

Heading up the River Spey I found myself in the middle of Scotland.

Passing the Spey Dam reservoir I was heartened to see a pair of osprey, but the first rumbles of thunder and dark clouds ahead were less welcome a sight. I soon felt the first spots of rain and with no immediate shelter had little option but to peddle into it. It could see it looking clearer a few km ahead and within half an hour I had passed through, with a big climb ahead of me to dry off.

Passing the Spey Dam reservoir I was heartened to see a pair of osprey, but the first rumbles of thunder and dark clouds ahead were less welcome a sight. I soon felt the first spots of rain and with no immediate shelter had little option but to peddle into it. It could see it looking clearer a few km ahead and within half an hour I had passed through, with a big climb ahead of me to dry off.

Back on the military road and approaching the high point of Corrieyairack Pass. The final zig-zags needed a bit of pushing. Not so much the gradient that was the problem as the terrain and getting a good grip with the rear wheel.

Back on the military road and approaching the high point of Corrieyairack Pass. The final zig-zags needed a bit of pushing. Not so much the gradient that was the problem as the terrain and getting a good grip with the rear wheel.

Over the top it was a long, fun downhill that passed some lovely green valleys.

Over the top it was a long, fun downhill that passed some lovely green valleys.

I reached Blackburn of Corrieyairack bothy at about 2:00 and within half an hour it started raining hard again. A couple of walkers dropped in to shelter until a break but other than that I didn't see anyone, hiding inside as the rain continued on and off until well into the night.

I reached Blackburn of Corrieyairack bothy at about 2:00 and within half an hour it started raining hard again. A couple of walkers dropped in to shelter until a break but other than that I didn't see anyone, hiding inside as the rain continued on and off until well into the night.

Whiling the afternoon away with maps, journal and cup of soup.

Whiling the afternoon away with maps, journal and cup of soup.

Trying to dry my clothes off. It didn't really work as I had next to no wood and coals that had already been used at least once.

Trying to dry my clothes off. It didn't really work as I had next to no wood and coals that had already been used at least once.

Distance 57.3km, ascent 1,025m

Distance 57.3km, ascent 1,025m

DAY 7. BLACKBURN OF CORIEYAIRACK BOTHY TO FORT WILLIAM

It started off foggy and although the clouds looked lovely hanging low over the lush green valleys it did feel like it could rain at any moment.

I headed down toward Fort Augustus following a mix of unmarked tracks until I found a sign to a waterfall. Another sign took me on a stupid path down to the main road but only by trapping me inside someone's estate. For the second time this trip I had to wait beside automatic gates until, as if by magic, they opened on their own.

I headed down toward Fort Augustus following a mix of unmarked tracks until I found a sign to a waterfall. Another sign took me on a stupid path down to the main road but only by trapping me inside someone's estate. For the second time this trip I had to wait beside automatic gates until, as if by magic, they opened on their own.

Fort Augustus is nicely located at the south end of Loch Ness, but strangely I couldn't find anywhere with a view of the Loch without trespassing onto the property of expensive lodges.

Fort Augustus is nicely located at the south end of Loch Ness, but strangely I couldn't find anywhere with a view of the Loch without trespassing onto the property of expensive lodges.

There are nice lochs there and plenty of movement along the canal. I got some food and a weather forecast and then headed south west on the Great Glen Way. 

There are nice lochs there and plenty of movement along the canal. I got some food and a weather forecast and then headed south west on the Great Glen Way. 

The going was pretty similar to day one; mostly flat along a well made track. Not so many walkers and not so warm. I felt pretty tired this day though, physically and mentally, and a large part of the journey through the woods alongside Loch Lochy felt like I was going uphill all the way.

I cut off toward Loch Arkaig and the bothy at Invermallie.

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Distance 57.9km, ascent 545m.

Distance 57.9km, ascent 545m.

At this point I had a look around Invermallie bothy, a well constructed building with several rooms, but also scattered packets of food, packaging and, the last straw, a half full / empty pint of beer. I went and sat outside to eat my lunch and consider my options:

  1. Stay here, tidy up a bit, make myself comfortable, have another quiet night in a bothy.
  2. Stay here, whoever left this mess comes back, we probably don't get on.
  3. Head round the loch to have a look at a couple of the other nearby bothies.

After about two minutes of relentless midge attack I added a fourth to the list: feck off into Fort William, and immediately went for that option.

The next few miles were straightforward as I continued down the Great Glen Cycle Way into town. I had a look at the backpackers hostel but it looked like student accommodation and by this point I really wanted my own comfortable, quiet room with a good shower. I ended up heading to the Travelodge, eating an early tea at the Wetherspoons next door and heading to be about 9:00.

I'd been getting quite close to the bike but this felt a little too much. However it's what they recommended, despite the difficulties that entailed getting it up through the lift.

I'd been getting quite close to the bike but this felt a little too much. However it's what they recommended, despite the difficulties that entailed getting it up through the lift.

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Distance: 27.8km, ascent 267m

Distance: 27.8km, ascent 267m

DAY 8. FORT WILLIAM TO LOCH OSSIAN

I woke up feeling very refreshed and, after breakfast at Morrisson's was ready to get started. Even though I'd technically reached my destination I had another two days until my train and the forecast was good.

Getting out of Fort William was hard enough up some steep roads toward Lundarva. There I joined the West Highland Way.

Getting out of Fort William was hard enough up some steep roads toward Lundarva. There I joined the West Highland Way.

The West Highland Way is a well made track but not the easiest to cycle along which is perhaps why I met zero other cyclists. Plenty of walkers though enjoying the last stretch of their trip into Fort William.

The West Highland Way is a well made track but not the easiest to cycle along which is perhaps why I met zero other cyclists. Plenty of walkers though enjoying the last stretch of their trip into Fort William.

I stayed high above Kinlochleven when then WHW dropped down, worth it for the views alone as I continued to slog up the track to Loch Eilde Mor.

I stayed high above Kinlochleven when then WHW dropped down, worth it for the views alone as I continued to slog up the track to Loch Eilde Mor.

It was a nice track until about here. Picking my way across stepping stones should have been a warning about the lack of track to follow, in fact at times I found it easier to ride down the shingle river bank than across the ditch-ridden bog.

It was a nice track until about here. Picking my way across stepping stones should have been a warning about the lack of track to follow, in fact at times I found it easier to ride down the shingle river bank than across the ditch-ridden bog.

I was planning on bivvying or bothying but after pushing, carrying, dragging the bike as far as Loch Treig I thought I'd head down to the Youth Hostel at Loch Ossian and see if they had a bed for the night. They did and it was one of the most picturesque, delightful places I've stayed.  A lady there told me if I wanted a beer or wifi to head up the road. I looked at her like she was taking the piss but she insisted there was a licensed cafe at Corrour railway station, the remote station with no real roads leading to it.  Well it turns out she wasn't lying and I was able to get a beer and a curry. Fantastic.

I was planning on bivvying or bothying but after pushing, carrying, dragging the bike as far as Loch Treig I thought I'd head down to the Youth Hostel at Loch Ossian and see if they had a bed for the night. They did and it was one of the most picturesque, delightful places I've stayed.

A lady there told me if I wanted a beer or wifi to head up the road. I looked at her like she was taking the piss but she insisted there was a licensed cafe at Corrour railway station, the remote station with no real roads leading to it.

Well it turns out she wasn't lying and I was able to get a beer and a curry. Fantastic.

Distance: 49.4km, ascent 1,070m

Distance: 49.4km, ascent 1,070m

DAY 9. LOCH OSSIAN TO FORT WILLIAM

Swapped my brake blocks over before heading out as they were looking a little worn, then headed back past Loch Treig and once agin onto a path rather than track.

It's not the remotest place in the world but even in summer some of these routes are very rarely walked and don't have phone reception. You could quite easily get into trouble there.

It's not the remotest place in the world but even in summer some of these routes are very rarely walked and don't have phone reception. You could quite easily get into trouble there.

At least when you get to tracks like this there's no way you can cycle it, the most frustrating ones are where you're constantly on and (falling) off.

At least when you get to tracks like this there's no way you can cycle it, the most frustrating ones are where you're constantly on and (falling) off.

Time to stop and appreciate the local wildlife.

Time to stop and appreciate the local wildlife.

The joy of being back on the path at Lairig Leacach Bothy, passing a load of paratroopers and, shortly afterwards, a long downhill.

The joy of being back on the path at Lairig Leacach Bothy, passing a load of paratroopers and, shortly afterwards, a long downhill.

The Wee Minister, a surprising presence at the side of the road on a clear day, apparently terrifying approaching from the north on a foggy day.

The Wee Minister, a surprising presence at the side of the road on a clear day, apparently terrifying approaching from the north on a foggy day.

The Kubrickian corridors of Leanachan Forest were fun but as with most forest tracks they weren't properly marked on my map. There are cycle routes through here but the signage at the east side is best described as frustratingly inconsistent, so I headed out and down to Spean Bridge for some lunch.  For my return to Fort William I didn't fancy navigating back through the forest or dodging traffic on the A82 so cut north west a bit and back onto the last stretch of the Great Glen Way, repeating my last stretch from two days ago.

The Kubrickian corridors of Leanachan Forest were fun but as with most forest tracks they weren't properly marked on my map. There are cycle routes through here but the signage at the east side is best described as frustratingly inconsistent, so I headed out and down to Spean Bridge for some lunch.

For my return to Fort William I didn't fancy navigating back through the forest or dodging traffic on the A82 so cut north west a bit and back onto the last stretch of the Great Glen Way, repeating my last stretch from two days ago.

Distance 56.4km, ascent 617m

Distance 56.4km, ascent 617m

And that's it. The next day I had a relaxing breakfast then a somewhat farcical train journey home with delayed and replacement trains, never mind negotiating the cramped lifts of Glasgow station.

Total distance: 564km, total ascent 7,327m

The Shiants by Jerry


Arrival on the Shiant Isles
The welcoming sign on the bothy door.

I arrived on the Shiant Isles on 5th June, after a long journey up from Cambridge via Flamborough Head, Inverness, Ullapool and Stornoway. Early that morning we did a last-minute shop for fresh food and loaded our provisions onto the boat; six big plastic boxes full of camping gear, tagging technology and office supplies, three large barrels of food, four big water tanks, two rucksacks loaded with rope access equipment, a portable generator and large quantities of personal gear, all tightly dry-bagged.

As we sped across the Minch the excitement levels were rising as we were finally getting out to the real fieldwork. The chance to spend some time on the Shiants was one of the main reasons I went for this job. Flocks of seabirds sat on the water and watched us pass, while porpoise and a minke whale surfaced close by. It was a calm day but dominated by mist and drizzle that had steadily increased to a persistent rain by the time the Shiants loomed out of the grey; the tall, imposing, sheer cliffs surrounded by puffins, razorbills and guillemots filling the sea and the sky.

My first view of the Shiants.

It was a wet arrival (partly the rain, partly ending up thigh-deep in the sea while loading and unloading) but before long we were drinking tea in the bothy with the LIFE monitoring team and by early afternoon the sun was out, giving us time to set up our tents before the storms of that evening drew in.

What would become a familiar sight; thermals on the washing line.


The Islands

The Shiants are owned by the Nicholson family and a passionate biography of the islands can be found in Adam's book. They are located roughly half way between Stornoway and the Isle of Skye, in the middle of the turbulent Minch. They consist of three main islands and an assortment of smaller outcrops and rocks. We have been working on Eilean an Tighe (House Island) and the larger, steeper Garbh Eilean (Rough Island), joined at all but the highest tide by a narrow shingle isthmus, crossing of which can dictate time spent in the field.

Looking south across House Island; the smaller, lower and boggier of the two main islands. On the near right side you can just make out the bothy. 
Looking north to Rough Island across the isthmus, boulder field and arch.
The imposing Rough Island. The zigzag route up this steep edge takes you from sea level to 135m without much mercy. Down on the causeway the LIFE team are returning late to find a challenging dash across between the waves.

Our base is beside the bothy on Eilean an Tighe. A small but comfortable, dry building with a lovely open fire and nearby water source, we were extremely grateful for its presence in the poor weather that dominated our stay.

The bothy. Due for a re-roof, it did keep us dry and warm.
Sitting round the table for food, drink, warmth and conversation in the evening.
The west-facing bothy catching a superb sunset. Our tents are off on the right and the small spring where we got our fresh water is just behind me.

Around the camp are nesting oystercatchers, pied wagtails and meadow pipits while a small crèche of eider ducks was regularly seen around the isthmus. 

Female eider ducks and ducklings.

Further up the slope, defending their nests with the aggression one would expect, are the bonxies, the great skuas, often competing with the large gulls and ravens for territorial dominance. 

Bonxie calling out a warning.
You get too close to the nest you're going to know about it.

The cliffs are teeming with kittiwakes and auks, fulmars cackle loudly from patches among them and puffins cover the grassy slopes like discarded confetti.

Slopes full of puffins.
More obligatory puffin photos.
Carrying fresh nesting material. With such a wet summer this was a common sight, as were filthy, muddy birds.

The mixture of upland, marshland and coastal plants and flowers means there is quite a diversity of colour amongst the well-grazed grasses, with bright yellow irises and pink/purple orchids the showpieces.

Common spotted orchid, I believe.
Flag iris.

A highlight for me has been regular sightings of eagles; a pair of golden eagles can regularly seen circling the nearest peak of Garbh Eilean, while the mighty white tailed eagles dominate the other side.

A poor photo of a rather tatty golden eagle. Still, you can see that amazing eagle face.

The real star of the Shiants though is the boulder field, Carnach Mhor, surely one of the most amazing places in the world for sheer density of seabirds. 

Looking down at the boulder field. I'm sure it was never this sunny.

It really is like a crowded city as every square meter is packed with birds, eggs, chicks, noise and smell. In little pockets on flat rocks the guillemots huddle together. Down in the cracks and gaps the razorbills make their home while further down still, in the smaller crevices, puffins peer out at you in their inimitable way. Every so often a loud honking reverberates around the enclosed rocks as a shag makes its presence felt.

Shag on the nest among the boulders.

The sky above is filled with thousands of birds wheeling around, wings beating rapidly as they circle their landing sites. At times, such as when a predator flies over or when large numbers are returning with food at dusk, the sky looks so full it feels like a biblical swarm.

Looking upwards from within the boulder field, there's lookouts on every rock and more coming in all the time.


STAR work

See my previous blog for the background to the work I was doing on the Shiants. We were focussing on gathering track data from the larger auks; razorbills and guillemots. 

Razorbill.
Guillemot.

After a few initial teething problems with the devices we are very happy with the data we got back. The tracks are to be properly analysed and published but I’ll try and get an example of the sort of thing we found.

Working late into the evening sealing tags in their waterproof cases.


Additional work

It’s been a busy time on the normally isolated islands as work gears up towards the rat eradication project. The Shiants have been identified as one of the most important sites for seabirds and for seabird potential should the black rats, accidentally introduced years ago through shipwrecks, be removed. This is a large scale project that will commence over winter, though we had a few traps around our camp to keep our food and bedding safe and rodent-free.

The warning sign within the bothy.
A poor, unfortunate, extremely cute eco-terrorist who came too close to our food. That long tail they have is amazing.

One of the key hopes is that the removal of rats will see the return of Manx shearwaters and storm petrels; vulnerable burrow-nesting species who have increased in numbers on other islands (such as Ramsey) where rodents have been eradicated. Happily on our journey back to the mainland I spotted a couple of shearwaters cutting the waves of the Minch, so they are around.

Fulmar.

Along with the RSPB’s LIFE team, who are attempting to record all the vegetation, vertebrate and invertebrate life present on the island, we have been joined at times by a small film crew documenting human-seabird interactions and by Scottish Natural Heritage, carrying out additional monitoring. In particular they have been counting the huge numbers of seabirds, something we got involved with, marking out areas of known active burrows on the puffin slopes then retiring and counting the hundreds of individuals standing out beside them.


Reflections

The above is a lightly edited version of a blog I wrote for the RSPB’s own website (hence the confused tenses) but with better photos. We left the Shiants on 28th June, heading off through rough seas on a nice big boat after helping the large ringing group unload their huge amounts of kit onto the shore.

Though we had reduced the size and weight of our kit, mainly by eating the food but also by losing a few things, I had an extra two bin bags full of plastic bottles, all collected from a short stretch of beach near the bothy. Maybe it’s because I’ve spent the last few years somewhere truly remote where I collected and recorded any debris found, but I was shocked by the amount of rubbish along the shore. Mostly marine debris and fishing gear – buoys, ropes, nets and crates – but so many bottles, lumps of polystyrene and assorted broken plastics. These are a huge problem, not just aesthetically but in terms of being ingested by marine life. It was so depressing to see a remote, isolated, beautiful, wild island so obviously polluted by sheer human laziness.

I just didn't have enough time to build a huge sculpture / wicker man out of it all.

I was sad to leave the islands but looking forward to comforts like a comfy bed, shower (rather than the cold sea) and a toilet (rather than a wave-bashed rock). Time there had been tougher than I imagined, largely the result of a) continual damp, especially boots, and b) a constantly whistling companion. Still, when it was good it was magnificent. I’ve fond memories of sitting round the fire in the bothy in the evenings, chatting with the others who generously shared their wine, whisky and food.

Razorbill preparing to depart.

The afternoons when the sun was out brought out the blue of the sky and sea, the green of the hills and the yellow lichen on the rocks. When it was clear enough you could see all along the Outer Hebrides and down to Skye. Having time to observe the seabirds in such huge numbers, behaving naturally, oblivious to my presence was always a joy and long may it continue to be.

A glorious sunset over the western isles.


Jerry