Sensational sunsets on the Scillies

Early on in my journey my mild fears of a rough ferry crossing were quashed – the Scillionian had broken down ‘for the first time in 25 years’. I was informed that they would try to get us all on to a flight from Land’s End airport as there was ‘slim chance’ she would sail today. As I got to the front of the queue; ‘sorry the last seat of this morning has just been booked, come back in 2 hours and we’ll see what we can do. We might be able to charter extra flights’. The subtext was; ‘it’s absolutely bloody chaos, we’ve no idea what’s going on so give us chance to figure something out, we just need to wake up all the Cornish pilots’. On my return 2 hours later; ‘sorry no further update but I’ll take your name and phone number and someone might give you a call, if not return in 2 hours’. Having already done too many laps of Penzance I opted to laze about in the sunshine and read my book. The silence was broken with a phone call and I was booked onto a flight at 3, so it was into a minibus and off to Land’s End airport. When we arrived we were told our flight was running an hour late(!) but then I was bumped up to a seat on the next outbound plane with a Saga-type group – with my very overweight luggage but without my confiscated camping gas. (More about that later!)

The Skybus Twin Otter
The Skybus Twin Otter

The flight was an added bonus, a little 17 seater with stunning views and a delightful chit chat with the lady I sat next to. She was a relatively recent widow who had met another widower on the trip and proceeded to tell me ‘I think I’ve pulled!’. This was no Club Med 18-30s…this was an OAP coach holiday, whatever next?!

View of St Martin's
View of St Martin’s

So I had finally arrived! After pitching up at The Garrison and having dinner with a local ale (Ales of Scilly – Three Sheets) I headed down to the coast to see the historic defenses.

Spoilt for choice at The Garrison
Spoilt for choice at The Garrison
Wouldn't want to get in the way of this beast!
Wouldn’t want to get in the way of this beast!

After speaking to Mum and Dad, Scilly produced a stonking sunset and on the way back to the tent I happened upon my local which was in the dungeon of the castle hotel – it was a great pub – and I sampled another Ale of Scilly this time; Dungeon Brew.

Sunset no. 1
Sunset no. 1

The next morning it was off to Tresco to explore. The top half of the island with its 2 castles – one was Cromwell’s the other belonged to King Charles I – was stunning, and felt quite wild. The sea continuously crashed against the rock but the coastline was abundant with seabirds, butterflies and wildflowers – a lovely place for some contemplation. I walked onwards to the capital of Tresco; New Grimsby (via the lovely Ruin Beach Cafe) which was so polished it felt like a model town – a very nice twee one though. I then wandered through the Abbey Gardens which were full of very exotic plants and flowers, were nicely laid out and had long and enticing views round each corner.

Tresco Abbey Gardens
Tresco Abbey Gardens
Golden Pheasant at Tresco Abbey Gardens
Golden Pheasant at Tresco Abbey Gardens

On returning to St Mary’s I took a look in the nice gift shops, galleries and imbibed another local ale in the Mermaid Inn (which features quite heavily in the book by the former Scilly policeman!). Once again after dinner there was another fine sunset – a slightly more muted affair compared to the previous night but delightful nonetheless.

Sunset no. 2
Sunset no. 2

Thursday morning I packed up and headed to the Isles of Scilly museum and learnt about the ancient history of this archipelago, some of the large scale shipwrecks that have occurred on the rocks around the islands, gigs, smuggling and much much more. Then it was on to yet another island – St Agnes (and Gugh which is connected by a sand bar at low tide) – where I was to spend my final afternoon and evening on the Scillies. I did a lap of the island(s) and made sure to dip my toe in the sea off the most south westerly point of the most south westerly inhabited island of the UK, I guess this unofficially marks the start of my journey to Unst (where I plan to dip my toe off the most north easterly point of the most north easterly inhabited island of the UK). Snappy journey titles on the back of a postcard please!

Me, literally dipping my toe
Me, literally dipping my toe

Following a nice hoppy beverage at the local, and a little bit of rockhopping out along an isthmus to Burnt Island I reclined in my tent to read and watch another lovely sunset.

Sunset no. 3
Sunset no. 3

This morning the Scillonian was back in full working order however on an amended schedule due to an impending storm coming from the Atlantic so it was an early start and we set off for Penzance at 10:30. It turns out my worries of a rough crossing were well placed. It was grim. The boat pitched and rolled and slammed into the rough seas (gale force 8 was forecast by the met office) and quite quickly everyone turned a shade of green. I was totally consumed by the seasickness for the full 3 hours but fortunately managed to keep my breakfast down. Once we were safely docked into the harbour the staff showed their signs of relief at arriving claiming ‘that was up there’ in the stakes for one of the roughest crossings and would score 15 out of 10!

* Edit: I forgot to finish the story of the camping gas which I surrendered at the airport. Well Graham the check-in guy took it home and looked after it and then delivered it back to me at Penzance backpackers, how nice was that?! Thanks Graham!

So my advice would be go to the Scillies they’re fantastic but take the plane!

Pirates of …Brixham

Turns out not all the pirates are in Penzance, rather, they have a penchant for Brixham.

I’m in Penzance awaiting a ferry to the Isle of Scilly in the morning…some  feelings of nervousness given it is one of the roughest sea crossings in U.K. waters, and affectionately known as ‘the stomach pump’ or ‘the Sickonian’ (Scillonian). Hmm perhaps a light breakfast for me then.

On the way here I stopped for a few nights with some friends and family in Stoke Gabriel and Brixham respectively. Amongst other things I demonstrated my tent, savoured some fish and chips, and tried to get over just how many pirates you can get in one small seaside town.

Demo-ing my tent in Emma & Alex's back garden
Demo-ing my tent in Emma & Alex’s back garden
Brixham Pirate Fest
Brixham Pirate Fest

Hey ho…well it’s off to the Scillies I go – wish me luck! The adventure for real – sort of – begins…

Currently reading: The Life of a Scilly Sergeant by Colin Taylor.

Eileen Diùra or Isle of Jura; land of deer

What a place! If you ever get the chance to go, go. So much wild space (142 sq mi), so many deer (6000) and not very many people (192).

Where to begin…? Well for all you ferry spotters out there who’ve been waiting with baited breath, these were our second and third ferries of the day.

Ferries...getting smaller!
Ferries…getting smaller!

We then hopped on the bus (the bus, there is only one service – a minibus) along the road (the road, there is only one road and to most of us it would be considered a lane or track) to Craighouse where we pitched our tents on the patch of grass (the grass, there was only one flat grassy area and it was an extension of the beach, the village green, the rugby pitch, the football pitch, the picnic area, the pub garden and the campsite.

Our tents are in the bottom left hand corner of the photo (to the right of the boat) - it was very handy for the hotel bar and distillery!
Our tents are in the bottom left hand corner of the photo (to the right of the boat) – it was very handy for the hotel bar and distillery!

Unfortunately the distillery was closed by the time we arrived but that evening we sampled the whiskey in the hotel bar. The next morning it was an early rise to catch the bus as far north as it goes; Ardlussa. And just past the estate house was our first deer sighting:

Stag nr Ardlussa
Stag nr Ardlussa

And so the walking began, at first we were on a track for a few kilometers then we turned off into the boggy, tussocky ground and headed up and over Ben Garrisdale and then down into Glengarrisdale Bay to find our bothy.

 

We're off!
We’re off!

When we arrived at the bothy Marcus was pleased to see that it had been renovated since he was last there – in its previous state he disregarded the bothy and camped instead. It was a large white cottage with a bright red roof and was visible from quite a way off. It had a hallway, a large storage cupboard and two rooms (a larger one with an open fire and enough of a sleeping platform for 8 people and the other with a stove and space for 3). We took the larger room, unpacked our things and then headed to the beach to explore and search for driftwood. On the beach there was, amongst other things, a beached minke whale, – which according to the bothy book had been there at least 3 days but judging by the smell probably a lot longer – a goat carcass, a few goat skulls, some small pieces of wood plus a 6ft fence post, oh and some seals…live ones.

Back at the bothy, once the mist had rolled in off the hills 2 guys turned up with a sack of coal and a bag of fire wood and then later a boat landed on the beach and 5 people got out to inspect the whale – suddenly it felt like we were in a busy place! We ate dinner and whiled away the hours in front of the fire drying out various items of clothing (mostly socks), sipping whiskey and having a bit of a sing song with Marcus on the ukulele. Having lugged the giant post back to the bothy I only had the energy saw off one log so we kept the fire going by trading whisky for some coal and extra wood with the other occupants.

Leaving Glengarrisdale
Leaving Glengarrisdale

The walk the following day was to be very different from the previous day – it was all coastal. We scrabbled and scrambled and squeezed our way up and over the boulders  and under the cliffs that make the jagged west coast of Jura such a stunning place. After 6 hours we reached Bàgh Gleann nam Muc (bay of the pigs) where we stopped to pitch our tents on the beach before heading off around the northern peninsula of Jura unladen. Off the top of Jura is a small, uninhabited rocky island called Scarba and between them is the Gulf of Corryvrecken where the underlying rock formations and the tides entangle to create a whirlpool. There are myths, legends and modern accounts that talk of this treacherous stretch of water and from high up on An Cruachan you could see unusual patterns and shades in the water. I was glad to be on solid ground!

Deer on An Cruachan
Deer on An Cruachan

Once we returned to camp, Marcus set about constructing a fire (in an existing spot) but without firefighters we were all dubious. It turns out that alcohol gel soaked toilet roll wrapped around a stick makes a good substitute!

The campfire
The campfire

After another evening conversing around a fire we headed to bed when the fire had burn itself out. We struck camp at 9am,  after I had removed 10, yes that’s 10 ticks – the little blood thirsty buggers (no-one else reported to have any, grrr). We headed back to the east coast to where we had got to the previous afternoon and found the footpath which led past a bunkhouse to the house known as Barnhill. Barnhil is where George Orwell came with his family in 1948 to write 1984. We were motoring once we hit the track which led back to Ardlussa where we had been dropped off 2 days previously. By 2:30pm we were down by Inverlussa bay drinking tea and eating  cake (self-service from a horse box – there’s a first time for everything!). We enjoyed lazing about in some strong afternoon sunshine waiting for the bus – a well deserved rest.

The end at Inverlussa. Group shot (L-R) me, Marcus, Louisa and Lisa
The end at Inverlussa. Group shot (L-R) me, Marcus, Louisa and Lisa

For the 3 ladies it was the start of a long journey home. Mine went something like this; bus, bus, ferry, ferry, bus, bus, train and mum taxi! Marcus is still island hopping somewhere…no surprises there!

A Sunny Holy Isle, a canter across Kintyre and off to Jura we go!

(I wrote this on the ferry on Tuesday, thought that it was published but when I got back on the return ferry today, turned out it hadn’t, so here it is…I’ll let you know how Jura was soon, I’ll probably write about it whilst experiencing the Megabus Gold sleeper service later on tonight!)

The Holy Isle worked its magic! The sun has been shining over Arran.


We took the boat over from Lamlash and were welcomed onto the isle – it was the first western Buddhist retreat of its kind in the west and is open to all. We headed up to coast first via the caves of St Molaises, the healing spring (not approved for drinking by the EU!), the private retreats for women committed to lifelong solitary meditation and a square lighthouse. Then it was a short scramble up to the trig point where it was a moment for reflection and sun salutations!


After we’d had our free tea we headed back to Lochranza for dinner on the campsite and then to the pub to catch up with the few others that climbed Goatfell.

Here’s the sunset over Lochranza castle on the way to the pub:


This morning we packed up – slightly nonchalantly – and ended up half running for the ferry which arrived just as we did. On we got and then it was a 5mile schlep on a narrow road across the Kintyre peninsula to catch the next ferry. Just one more ferry and a bus until we reach the campsite for tonight!

Experiencing Arran’s April Showers

Happy Easter from the gardens of Brodick Castle, Rob didn’t make it a particularly tricksy hunt…


On the first day out in the hills we got the bus westwards and down the coast to Dougarie Point and initially headed up Glen Iorsa as a group of 18 and then split up. 8 of firstly us headed up Sail Chalmadale, towards Loch Tanna – the largest but also most remote loch on Arran.


We scrambled up Beinn Bhreac and the winds had become quite strong so instead of heading up Mullach Buidhe we headed due north around Meall nan Damh to Catacol where the hotel was calling to us! After some well deserved food and drink we helped it down with a post dinner walk back to the campsite via the Lochranza Hotel Bar which was extra rammed. That and the lack of staff made for an extra stroppy barman!

This morning we headed south east to Brodick Castle to wander round the gardens is the rain…this is the roof of the Bavarian summer house beautifully adorned with fir cones:


After a rather brief tour of Brodick – cheese shop, aromatics, cash point, outdoor gear shop and cafe for coffee and cake we got the bus up to Sannox and walked the coast path back to Lochranza whilst keeping an eye out for local wildlife.


All of this has been accompanied by many many April showers, hopefully the sun will come out tomorrow!

Off to Arran

After starting at the Great Nepalese outside Euston, a few of us set off from London in the sleeper train bar – classic! Then it was another train, a ferry and a bus to get to Lochranza.


We eventually pitched our tents on the right spots in the field..initially ‘where the cars need to park’ then on the ‘tractor route’, grrr. Then it was off to check out the local spots; the sandwich pavilion at the ferry port, the hotel, the castle ruin, the golf course, the craft shop and then the distillery for a flight of delicious Arran whiskeys.


On our way back from our wander we passed the ‘natural hazards’ surrounding the 8th hole, wouldn’t fancy trying to play a ball from under one of their hooves!!


Finally a nice view of the castle on the way to the hotel for a nightcap.