island

Sponsored by Calmac – Isle of Rum

At the end of June I was fortunate enough to be invited out to the incredible Island of Rum with Calmac Ferries! The Isle of Rum is located off the West Coast of Scotland and is the largest of the Small Isles. I was pretty excited as I had been to the Island before but hadn’t had a chance to do much exploring so now was my time!

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Day 1

We set off from Mallaig on the Monday morning bright and early. We were lucky with the journey as it stopped in at Eigg first so I got another glimpse at one of my other favourite Islands. We arrived and were met by Dave; one of the Island residents who takes visitors around on a buggy transfer!

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We checked into the Rum Bunkhouse met by Jed another one of the Island residents who runs the modern and very well equipped bunkhouse located right on the water and close to the heart of Kinloch Village. It was then onto the first walk of the day: this time a hike on the Northside Nature Trail. This circular trail took us 1 hour and is easy enough to circumnavigate and is ideal if you are just on the Island for a day trip. It takes you up and along the north side of Kinloch Glen, giving you views out into the NNR and a glimpse of the true wild Rum. We also passed by Croft number 3 who had a whole variation of animals and a lovely shed full of handmade gifts made on the inspiring Island.

We then went on the second walk of the day, this time to the Otter Hide! It is only a thirty minute return walk from the new pier and takes you through Loch Scresort’s southside woods. The walk itself is a gentle one along a good quality, but unsealed, path and can be enjoyed by all and passes some of the islands initial settlements. There are a few ruins of black houses from the Highland Clearances within the woods. We spent a great deal of time wandering through the woods and then taking in the sights at the Otter Hide, a fantastic and well-made building which blends right into the wild landscape of Rum. Sadly we seen no Otters but it is an ideal place to sit and just look out to the surrounding Islands and passing sea traffic.

After our two big walks of the day we then headed off for the Island Tea Shop to meet Kim the owner who provided us with a three course meal of local produce in the Island’s community hall. Rum Café is open 10am-4pm, Monday to Saturday, for soups, plated sandwiches, baked tatties and home-made cakes. Packed lunches will also be available on request. Evening meals available 6-8pm but must be booked in advance. Later that evening we set off for the third walk of the day: up to Coire Dubh (just to the back of the village), a 30 minute walk to the corrie with great views of Rum and Skye. There are so many self-guided walks available on Rum and I would recommend anyone that goes to the Island to just get out and explore, the only inhabitants of the Island live in the village of Kinloch so as soon as you leave the village you are met with a true wild and incredibly varied rich landscape where you tend not to come across another human for a very long time!

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Day 2

We set off early having hired bikes with Fliss at Ivy Cottage and headed straight for Harris, a 16 mile return trip to the rugged and exposed south west of the Island. The Harris road is fairly smooth with some rough patches and it’s just under 8 miles one way. You take the road out of the village up 2 miles to the crossroads, then take the left branch. It’s a gradual climb up to the highest point in the road, then it’s a brisk freewheel down into Harris Bay. As soon as we made it down to Harris Bay we were met with a large and friendly group of Rum ponies who happily greeted us along with a pack of feral goats who I was pretty surprised to come across! The Rum pony is an island type of the Highland Pony breed that is native to the Highlands and islands of Scotland and has been present since the last ice age. The first record of these ponies on Rum dates back to 1774. The ponies are a working herd and are used during the deer culling season to extract deer carcasses from the hill. They are also used as a grazing management tool outside of the deer culling season when they live out wild on the hill and can be found grazing at Harris.

Harris was the place on Rum that I was looking forward to going to the most, partly because of the unique and wild geology in the area but also because of the feeling you get when you are there. You truly feel like you are at the edge, it’s very barren, raw, elemental and feels like you really have to work to get there which makes it even more special. It’s also a breath-taking experience seeing the Rum Cuillins from the other side, the force of the mountains in their full majesty. We spent a good few hours wandering around Harris Bay taking in the bizarre sights of the Mausoleum, the farming remains of the old ‘lazy beds’ and of course spotting the many deer and Highland Cows.

It was then onto Kilmory Bay which is a 10 mile return trip from Kinloch Village. As we were at Harris anyway it took us a lot quicker to cycle on the pleasant path all the way down to the beautiful bay. Kilmory is located on the north coast of Rum and there is a 4WD road that you can take to get there. As soon as you reach Kilmory Glen you are met with the stunning views over to the Skye Cullin whilst entering the Kilmory Red Deer Project study area where we were met with many many deer, some even wandering around on the beaches! It was another few hours spent wandering around the stunning beaches that this part of the Island had to offer.

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The evening was spent in one of the Islands new unique properties that are available to stay in. The Rum BBQ Bothy is located right along from Kinloch Village and is set right on the water looking out to all the peaks on the mainland. It has all the amenities you need and is a unique self-sustainable build which I really didn’t want to leave! We ate local venison cooked on the bbq right in the centre of the bothy, the best way to end another full on adventure packed day.

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Day 3

On our last day on Rum we started the day off by joining onto the Ranger Walk from the ferry terminal. We met Trudi the local Ranger who took us on a leisurely two hour small group walking tour whilst telling us about the local flora, fauna and unique geology and history of the Island. After the Ranger Walk ended we headed off to the very quirky and eccentric Kinloch Castle for a small group guided tour with the castle warden. The castle itself is absolutely bizarre inside and is definitely worth a look, it seems so mad to have such a building on such a wild Island yet it is home to some of the most sacred objects from around the world and extremely historic paintings. Our last stop of the Island tour was meeting Sylvia, the local historian who had just recently opened a new Heritage Centre on Rum which is definitely worth a look around.

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After a whistle stop tour of the majestic Island it was time to head off on our Calmac Ferry back to Mallaig! Rum is a paradise for hill walkers and mountaineers. Even though this was a sponsored trip from Calmac I would highly recommend checking this Island out for yourself and can honestly say there is so much to see not only in the village where there are many businesses flourishing but in the great open expanse of the wild Island. Rum is home to some of the most spectacular mountains to climb, coasts to explore, wildlife to watch and is begging for you all to explore it for yourselves! Catch you on Rum, it won’t be long until I’m back for another big journey, this time I think I’ll aim for the mountains!

Here are all the links for the businesses I’ve mentioned in this blog post:

 

 

 

 

The beauty of Treshnish, Isle of Mull

I ventured off to the Isle of Mull having not been on the Island for a few years, eager to see the startling landscape once again and variations of geology that Mull is home to. I was even more excited to stay with Treshnish and Haunn Cottages located right on an incredible coastal farm with panoramic views over to the Isle of Coll and the Treshnish Isles. It’s even close to Calgary beach with many hiking routes surrounding the area so it seemed like a perfect base for me to relax, be inspired but also to see many varied landscapes.

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I was only on the Island for three days but I sure made the most of it. When I go back, (if is not an option) I  definitely intend to just stay at Treshnish point from the cottage and wander around that area as there is so much beauty and variation in the landscape. I would recommend to really take in that area and slow down with the remarkable location of the cottages. However, because I only had a few days I was eager to get out and about and see more of Mull as it has been way too long since my last visit.

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The background of the farm is a very interesting one: There are 8 cottages, 4 at Treshnish, 4 at Haunn but all with simply spectacular views to the vast expanse of sky and sea around the coastline. The property was one that intrigued me in general because of the sustainability and environmentally friendly ethos it promotes. It has been integral to the owners to preserve the quality of it being untouched. Each building has been carefully decorated to a high yet homely standard, many antiquities that fit the purpose of the location. Modern and homely, whilst preserving the natural quality of the cottages as they always were; slotted perfectly into the landscape, years’ worth of history and tales within the walls. They do not impose, they simply blend beautifully into the location, a shelter against (I’m sure some pretty wild elements) however I was fortunate enough on my stay to have 2 days of sunshine and a day of hail, high winds then sunshine again!

The farm also provides many wonderful opportunities for walking and exploring the varied landscape whilst having idyllic beaches nearby including the infamous Calgary Bay! The cottages are even located within the National Scenic Area of North West Mull, a perfect base from which to choose to enjoy the wildlife, (I saw a few golden eagles) walking and exploring lots! There are nearly 4 miles of dramatic coastline to explore – offering wonderful sea and island views.  Look for the Treshnish Islands, Ulva, Gometra, Iona, Coll, Tiree, Rum, Eigg, Muck and Skye. The highest ‘hill’ on the farm is Cruachan Treshnish so it is the best hill to climb to catch the loveliest views. My home for the three days was the Shieling, to be honest I would have been happy in any one of the wonderful properties but this was one perfect for just me, cosy, homely and a quiet secluded spot where I could to and process all the inspiration I had loaded up on from the day!

Here’s some more really interesting history about the place:About Treshnish.

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Day 1: 

Carolyne at Treshnish was so helpful and knowledgeable in providing me with information on what to see locally and also around the Island. She organised a boat trip for me to join onto with the team over at Turus Mara, a family business based on the Isle of Mull. They have been running these exciting and scenic tours to the Treshnish Isles and Staffa for 44 years! Tours can be joined from Mull and Oban and run from Ulva Ferry on Mull to the Islands.

I embarked on the tour from the Ulva ferry and what a day it was! Again we were very lucky with the weather, (I like to think that it’s never bad weather in Scotland, you just have to wear the right kind of clothing) however there’s something pretty special about being on the sea under a clear blue sky and seeing the Islands and surrounding landscape in all of their majesty, that and the fact that the sea wasn’t rough! We headed straight for the Isle of Staffa, leaving the drama of Ben More and the sublime mountains of Mull behind us.

Now the Isle of Staffa has been a place that has been on my bucket list for a long time now, having been fascinated by the Islands from a very young age I made a pact with myself to visit every single one, I’m doing pretty well but the Treshnish Isles were still unexplored to me. The approach to Staffa (pillar Island) by sea is remarkable, the linear magnificence of the rock formations jutting out at stacked angles and the great basalt columns which have inspired millions are a geologists dream!

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We had a couple of hours to explore Staffa which was brilliant as the other boat party were just leaving so there weren’t many of us on the Island. I ambled around, heading for the highest point but then of course Fingal’s Cave was calling and I even spent a good few minutes in there on my own before the rest of the party joined! It is a place that no matter how many times it has been documented or how many images I’ve seen of the cave and rock formations, I’ll never forget the feeling of being sat on the rock looking down at the bright hues of the water and hearing the echoes of my voice carried and bounced around the geological forms. An otherworldly experience.

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Turus Mara collected us and we then set off for the Island of Lunga, the larger of the Treshnish Isles. It was here where I realised how popular puffins are! Like Staffa, Lunga is of volcanic origin and the geology there was just as remarkable! Populated until the 19th century, the Island stills bears the remains of black houses. We had a few hours on the Island which meant I could really explore some of the wilder more remote areas of the Island far from any of the tourists who seemed to just huddle around the magical puffins, (understandably.)

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Lunga is designated a site of special scientific interest because of the abundant plant life found there, many rare plants are endangered and native to the Island. I found walking around the high cliffs of the Island with panoramic views out to the West how large a population of birdlife there was, not only the infamous puffins but guillemots and razorbills too, I’m sure there are even more depending on the time of year!

All in all it was a spectacular day from setting off before 12 and not arriving back to Ulva until 6pm. We had plenty of time to explore the Islands and even sailing back from Lunga stopped to see many seals, and the neighbouring islands of Cairn na Burgh MòrFladda and Bac Mòr. Thanks again to Turus Mara for having me aboard the trip, what a fantastic day! If you would like to book a trip out to the Treshnish Isles with them have a look on their site at: https://www.turusmara.com/timetables-booking/ highly knowledgeable about the local wildlife, history and geology, a big recommendation from me!

Day 2

Now my second full day on Mull was mad, I awoke early and with the beautiful weather I wanted to get out and see as much of the Island as possible.. And that I did! I definitely don’t recommend driving as much as I did and taking in an Island as quickly as me, after all I’m all about the art of slow travel but because I was on my own it was brilliant to just be able to stop whenever and wherever to take in the sights! On this day I ventured all the way down the east coast of Mull taking in the views of the Ardnamurchan Peninsula then over the mountain road towards Carsaig. The mighty roads of Mull are spectacular, lochs, towering peaks and many places to stop and take in the views! I drove all the way down to Carsaig and hiked out to the natural arches, this was one of my main reasons for coming to Mull and the geology there didn’t disappoint!

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I spent a good few hours around this part of the Island and then headed off to my next destination: the Isle of Iona! I’ve been to Iona before yet I wanted to go back for a couple of hours while the sun was out (you have to grab the opportunity in Scotland!) I set off for the highest point on Iona, took in the views and then wandered around some of the secluded beaches in the North of the Island.

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I absolutely love Iona with its sacred and unique archaeology. My last stop of the day was the stunning west coast road that leads from Loch Beg all the way up and around to Gruline making my way back to Treshnish that way! A long windy drive but so worth it, this has to be one of my all-time favourite road trips, each bend I was met with either a sheep, (remember to take it slow) a jutting cliff, an incredible view out to the Hebrides or simply a charming home buried into the land. Traces of history everywhere!

Day 3

My last day on Mull and I thought it would be best to make the most of the location at Treshnish and set off for a big hike around the farm. I spent a good while seeing the full immensity of the farm and visiting a viking burial site, a ruined township and many many sheep all roaming around on the hillside. It also was a great opportunity to see the Haunn Cottages, equally as stunning as the other cottages but that extra bit remote! I’ll let the photos do the talking for my walk around the area, it truly is an inspiring place.

If you would like to follow more of what Treshnish and Haunn Cottages get up to follow them on their social media which captures life on the farm and living in a remote yet scenic area perfectly and of course if you’d like to book a stay here is the website once again with all information!

Thank you once again to the wonderful and inspiring Carolyne and Somerset at Treshnish, I’m looking forward to coming back already! Thanks as always for reading and if you have any questions about the place or what I got up to on Mull simply comment below!

 

 

 

Shifting Land – New works made on Eigg.

As part of my two month long spell on the Island of Eigg, I have produced a new series of paintings and drawings, all 30 x 42cm. All work is made in response to the ever shifting colour, geology and landscape found on the unique Island.

These new works form a new way of looking at the landscape, built up of washes, textures and varied colours, I aim to convey the overwhelming presence of the land, the powerful elements that constantly shift over the horizon and the way in which the landscape is in constant motion.

You can also find more of the detailed images of the individual work over here on my website. If you have enquiries about the work or would like to purchase any of the individual pieces, please email me at ellisoconnor@hotmail.co.uk. All work is original and has been made directly on site here on the stunning western Isle.

Lastly, as it’s my last week here on Eigg, I’ll be publishing a huge blog post in a few days talking about my experience on the Island, my upcoming projects and in general just checking in as it’s been over 2 months since my last post!

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My North Coast 500 adventure!

Last month me and my lovely friend Sam set off on the renowned North Coast 500 Route which covers the whole North East Coast from Inverness, right along the Northern mainland of Scotland and back down the West Coast to join back up in Inverness. I’ve explored an extensive amount of these areas of Scotland before but never had the opportunity of being able to cover the whole route at once.

We gave ourselves 10 days so we could really explore as much of the areas as possible and so it didn’t mean we had to rush around and miss some hidden gems! The experience was made even better because my friend Sam has recently just purchased an incredible motorhome which we were able to park up in and wild camp throughout our venture, an added bonus to an already exciting trip! In this blog post I’ll be sharing with you our itinerary for our trip; the places we went to but won’t go into too much detail as this post would then read like a book! I can honestly say I’ve never seen so much and stopped at so many incredible places in the space of such a short time! It’s gave me an entirely new appreciation for my truly wonderful home country and I was left after the trip feeling completely overwhelmed at the history, the culture and the rich geology we have in abundance in Scotland. It’s also provided me so much inspiration for my photography and art work for the future.

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Setting off!

We started the trip in the best way possible; driving all the way through the Cairngorms instead of taking the quicker but a lot less scenic option of the A9! We were starting the Route 500 and instead of going West which most people do we decided to go up the East Coast First. The first stops of the journey on the East part of the route were in Tain, Dunrobin Castle, a visit to the incredible Timespan in Helmsdale, Berriedale, Northlands Glass in Lybster, Camster Cairns, Hill O Many Stanes and then parked up for the night at the very top of the Whaligo Steps!

IMG_9664Camster Cairns 

The following morning we explored the spectacular Whaligo Steps, this is an area that is quite hard to find but so worth it! I was recommended it by many people and it met all of my expectations and more! The way the steps that were built by hardworking fisherman fall into the sea to be surrounded by the immense cliffs is spectacular. It was then onto Wick to meet a representative from North Coast 500 who gave us some tips on things to see off the beaten path, a visit to the Wick Heritage Centre, Caithness Broch Centre in Auchengill, Freswich to see the ruins of the Bucholie Castle (another must see off the trail.) Afterwards we spent the rest of this day up in John O Groats looking out over to the sights of Orkney, exploring the beauty of Sannich Bay, Duncansby Stacks, a cliff walk along Dunnet Head (the mainlands most northerly point) and spent the evening parked up on the water overlooking Dunnet Bay!

12Whaligo Steps 

IMG_9731Ruins at Freswich 

IMG_9773Geology at Bucholie Castle 

The following day we embarked along the North Coast from John O groats towards Thurso, we spent a good while in Caithness Horizons, a five star museum with so much information and knowledge of the area. It was then along to Melvich, Strathy Point, Bettyhill and it’s spectacular beaches including the wonder of Farr Bay. The rest of the day was spent exploring Tongue in the far North and the Kyle of Tongue beach, Loch Hope and Loch Eribol with it’s breathtaking mountains framing the area. We realised on this day how quickly and dramatically the landscapes change in Scotland, as soon as you are past Bettyhill the landscape starts to become significantly rockier and wilder, the mountains start to rise up towards Loch Eribol where you are truly immersed in their power compared to the more flatter yet spectacular cliff area of the the north eastern part. We made a quick visit to the Lotte Glob Artist Studio which sits right on Loch Eribol. Lotte is one of my favourite artists and if you are interested in geology, ceramics, beautiful paintings and an incredible location I would recommend a visit here highly! Her studio and home is an art work in itself! We parked up for the night right on the shore of Loch Eribol watching the mist drift low over the mountains.

IMG_9867Loch Eribol and the wonderful Island home. 

IMG_9898View from Lotte Glob’s Studio, Loch Eribol

The next day we made our way straight for Durness to visit the wonder of Smoo Cave. We were given a tour of the caves to explore the impressive waterfall and geology that is so bountiful there. This had to be one of my favourite places on the whole journey! It was then onto some of the untouched beaches around Durness, Balnakeil Craft Village including a quick pit stop in Cocoa Mountain (we had to) and then a long walk along the sandy bay at Keodale which completely takes your breath away as soon as you embark around the corner after Durness. South of this route we stopped constantly to get out, walk and just marvel at the landscape at the start of the North West Geo Park area. There were many many long winding roads through mountains, rocky outposts, otherworldly places through wild landscapes that overwhelmed us in their power. After stopping numerous times throughout this part of the route (it was my favourite part of the road trip) we parked up at Kylesku bridge to make dinner and watch Loch More Kinloch and the incredible mountains that dominate the land in this part of Scotland.We then made for the infamous B869 single track road that winds and sweeps up and over all manners of landscape watching deer and being careful not to break down along the way! Last up for the day was hiking up the hills on this route looking out to the Western Isles and parking up in the middle of this wild remote landscape near Drumbeg.

IMG_9958Smoo Cave Waterfall 

IMG_9989The middle of the otherworldly Geo Park Landscape 

The following day we woke up in the middle of the mountains off a single track remote road; that has to be the best feeling! We followed the route around to Drumbeg, Clashnessie and then a turn off towards Point of Stoer Lighthouse where we hiked for a while around the cliff area which looks out to Harris and Lewis. There is even the ‘remotest toilet in mainland Britain’ located here! It was then onto Clachtoll and a visit to one of the most inspiring beaches in Scotland; Achmelvich Bay; we are incredibly lucky to have places like this so unspoilt and breathtaking! Afterwards we headed towards Loch Assynt shrouded by dominating mountains once again to the ruins of Ardvreck Castle looking out to the misty mountains of Assynt and catching sight of Suilven for the first time when we were travelling through Elphin. It was then a big hike up Knockan Crag learning about the impressive geology which is so important and rich in the area.This area in particular was one of the most memorable for me because of the sheer drama and atmosphere of the landscape; I’ll always remember that feeling of standing atop Knockan Crag looking out to the wilderness in the Geo Park area and the mountains of Stac Pollaidh and Suilven. We then passed through Ullapool and continued onward to the incredible road of the A832 passing ruined crofts, deep valleys and more wilderness parking up for the night on the road to Badrallach, a quiet wild secluded spot with many deer around us!

IMG_0051Point of Stoer cliff walk 

IMG_0076Loch Assynt from Knockan Crag 

IMG_0083Geology at Knockan Crag

IMG_0101Abandoned croft on the A832 from Ullapool

We woke up the following day to sun cast over the Little Loch Broom and the surrounding mountains. On the road again we stopped off at Gruinard Bay with its enormous sandy bay and bright turquoise waters, Loch Ewe and down towards Gairloch. In Gairloch we visited Hillbillies Bookshop; a brilliant cafe and bookshop full of impressive mountain reads and a cosy atmosphere looking out to sea. We then drove down through the wild wonderful roads along Loch Maree and onto the mountain road towards Torridon; another part of the journey that consisted of us stopping every few minutes and walking about/ staring at the otherworldly landscapes. The road is tiny compared to the vast and dominating mountains that surround it, another favourite! The last of the day was spent surrounding Upper Loch Torridon, hiking up the hills to see the wilderness around us and spending the night in the quaint little village of Shieldaig with it’s free community campsite!

IMG_0167Gruinard Bay 

IMG_0179Mountain road towards Torridon 

IMG_0199Parked up in just another epic spot! 

Our last day of the route 500 was spent walking around the quiet village of Shieldaig, taking the windy spectacular coastal road towards Applecross with it’s epic views out to Skye, heather clad lands and misty moors. Again, this was another part of our journey that we had to stop and simply stare out at the views in front of us. We spent a while in the magnificently located Applecross and then onto the sublime ‘Bealach Na Ba’. Nothing will prepare you for the views you will encounter either driving up the Bealach Na Ba or down it, either way you will find yourself gobsmacked with it’s beauty, it’s rugged charm and it’s height of course! We stopped as much as we could to drink in the views and feel the impressive atmosphere that is so unique there. It was then onto Loch Carron, the mountain road through Glen Carron, Strathspeffer and back down towards Inverness where we started!

13IMG_0270IMG_0277All three from the ‘Bealach Na Ba’ 

Phewwww, that is the journey covered! I really hope you have enjoyed reading this huge blog post and I hope I’ve covered the route well. I also encourage you all to just get out and explore Scotland, there is so much to see in this breathtaking Country!

Now I’ve taken so many photos and it was very difficult for me to sit down and select the photographs for this blog but I’ve shared my favourites from the masses I took on the trip. If you would like to see more of my images from the route, I have the high res files up on my website and social media: twitter & instagram. Also if you would like to get more tips about what to see and do on the route, head on over to their website at North Coast 500.

As always, thanks so much for reading my blog and I hope this inspires you to get out and explore Scotland or it’s helped you in the planning of your North Coast 500 trip! There’s SO much to see in our wee Country!