smallisles

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:

 

 

 

 

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My summer on the Isle of Eigg

I have now left the wonderful Island of Eigg, one of Scotland’s Small Isles after living and working here as a volunteer for just over two months. I’ve not updated on here for a while as since my last blog I was in this one place, this tiny unique and absolutely incredible Island. I have been truly immersed in the place, getting to know the locals a lot more, being outside as much as humanely possible and working with the Eigg Heritage Trust doing anything from cutting bracken to helping on crofts to clearing forestry paths.

To be honest coming out here and being a volunteer for the Summer was nothing to do with my art work, it’s been a long time since I have done something that has not been for the sole productive purpose of making new work and being in an art environment. I desperately wanted to take some time out and just be outside, working with the land, not for any goal at all but just to be here and immerse myself in a self sustainable Island that is full of some of the most genuine purposeful people I have ever had the pleasure to get to know. I’ve been to Eigg a few times before having fallen in love with the place a couple of winter’s ago and I knew that my first time working as a volunteer had to be out here, not only in my home country of Scotland but specifically Eigg, a place that has been drawing me back time and time again.

I travelled out to Eigg on the 18th of July and have spent the past two months as a volunteer for the Eigg Heritage Trust and spending the rest of my long days meandering all over the place, walking most of the Island, hiking when the weather allowed it, going over to the neighbouring Island of Rum for a few days working with the Ranger there, taking part in my first Small Isles Games and most social occasions including many a spontaneous Ceilidh, completely and utterly getting to know Eigg and everyone here as much possible.

I can honestly say that Eigg is the only place that I’ve ever been that I’ve had such a strong connection to. Even when the weather was completely chucking it down around me, even when the midges were out in force and even if I was completely knackered from walking here there and everywhere, it didn’t matter one bit as I was on the Island and there is a magic to the place that I can’t quite put my finger on. Yet I notice it in the people who have moved here or who keep coming back time and time again, they too I’m sure have experienced the exact same feeling. That overwhelming sense that you are meant to be right there, immersed and surrounded by the inspiring landscape and sheltered from the outside world that seems to be going a bit manic right now. In amongst all of the craziness is Eigg, an Island of purposeful living and a strong sense of community whose strong minded, determined and forward thinking locals seem to be going full steam ahead with their perspective on the world.

I’ve been thinking a lot about a place that chooses you, a lot of people come to the Scottish Islands and find them ‘idyllic’ ‘beautiful’ and ‘quaint’ tending to only skim the surface of a place and see them in the rare occasion when the sun does make an appearance. However my draw is a lot deeper than that, one being it is one of the last places where I got to spend a significant period of time with my late Dad who passed away very suddenly last year. We spent a week together in Sweeney’s Bothy in January 2016, a hilarious time where we were cut off from doing most things due to the prevailing 90 mph winds, yet we had the best time, just us, off grid sharing our common bond, being in the Islands and getting away from the city. I come back to Eigg and I see my Dad everywhere in this place, it’s funny how an Island that I’ve  never lived on for a long period of time has more of a strong connection to me than a place where I’ve grown up my entire life. We spent only a week here yet I’m closer to him here than anywhere because I know how much this place had an impact on him and the real memories we made here without any distractions whatsoever.

This is a reason among many that there is a strong pull for me, the lifestyle, the overpowering elements of the landscape where in our society nowadays seems worlds apart from being in the outdoors and surrounded by nature. Many people have no connection whatsoever to the earth anymore, how much we need this I’ve realised, to get our hands in the soil, feel the earth beneath our feet, we are natural beings shaped by the landscape and it is in our instinctual needs to be outside surrounded by nature. Overall, the place had everything that I ever did need, I really didn’t think I would have such a strong bond to it when I came back at the start of the Summer but I realised more and more how much more at ease I was within the environment and how I truly felt like I was surrounded by people who shared the same ethics as me, how refreshing.

Even though I didn’t set out with the intention of making new work whilst on Eigg, the inspiration prevailed and was in high abundance around me so I found that with my time on the Island came fresh new ideas, a new way of looking at the landscape and spending hours drawing outside in many of my favourite locations.

Instead of going into detail about every single thing that I took part in and every hike that I ventured on, I’m just going to share my visual diary of photographs that I took throughout the summer. I also didn’t set out for this post to become so deep and personal about how I’ve changed here and why there is such a strong connection for me but I’d rather share how personal the place is to me and how meaningful this Summer has been in general. I found that being on Eigg made me realise a lot about myself and look at the kind of society I want to live in.

 

Here I am now having just left the Island this morning and looking back at the distinctive shape of the Sgurr, shaped by the sea and now heading off to the Isle of Skye to do a big project and onto the next huge upcoming expedition of Svalbard. From now until next year I have full on exhibitions, residencies and don’t have much longer than a week at a time in my home country, however I will always remember my purposeful summer on Eigg and just being outside working with the land, getting my hands dirty and walking everywhere. No purpose but to just be. A slight adjustment now that I’m going back to my other life of full on work but it’s time to move on, get back to my projects as a freelance artist but will still hold the sense of peace within me that I felt so strongly on the Island.

And so to summarise my time I would say get to know a place, spend longer than a week there if you can but most of all take the time to get to know the people, you will not be disappointed, especially with the wonderful characters you will encounter on Eigg.

I’d like to personally thank each and every Islander who I met and got to know and for making me feel like part of your small community, I’ll try and remember every chat we had, maybe not the ones after a few cans but just the general banter that is so rife here on this wee Island. I hope I’ve contributed to your Island in a purposeful way!

Till next time Eigg, I have a strong feeling that it won’t be the last you’ll be seeing of me, after all I do want to live there, I’ll just leave it at that. I’ve realised that if a place fits you, it pulls you in and you can’t do anything about it but make the decision to go and do whatever it takes to make it happen. And that is exactly what I’m going to do…

Enjoy my visual diary of this meaningful Summer!

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Sweeney’s Bothy – A window out to the West

My most recent project to start off 2015 was heading off to the Isle of Eigg (one of Scotland’s beautiful Small Isles) and working as Artist in Residence in Sweeney’s Bothy with the Bothy Project. My residency was the very first of the year January 3rd – 10th 2015. However I ended up being on the Island a lot longer than expected, the wild weather off the West Coast of Scotland brought in gale force winds hail storms and heavy snow, I really loved getting to spend a lot longer on the Island though!

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My intentions for the Residency were to think about the layers of the place, the formations, textures and the geological immensity and presence/ relevance of it through the dramatic surroundings and changes in the light and colour.

The experience from spending a week in the amazing Sweeney’s Bothy was just incredible, I had spent time in residence at the Inshriach Bothy last January http://www.thebothyproject.org/ellis-oconnor/ however the location and surroundings were completely different!

The Isle of Eigg is very special to me anyway, I had spent sometime there in December and had really connected with the place and people. On arrival I had already noticed that this was me in my element, a connection to a true place, a real natural horizon, an unwavering sense of what is important and my senses were already re tuned to the nature and vast mountainous areas around me. Being there on Eigg, with the framing of Rums impressive mountains that were constantly changing every minute, the Fog lifting and recapturing my attention of the place, I knew it was where I was meant to be.

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I spent the 11 days that I was on Eigg, exploring the Island (weather dependent) working away in the comfort of the inspiring Bothy with the backdrop of the dark basalt formations, building up a large body of new drawings, photographs and prints, roaming around speaking to the locals and re learning to slow down and connect with the place. I always realise on reflection of being within a place that is wild, remote and sublime. You’re thoughts become quieter, an open mind which mimics the open vastness of the horizon around you and knowing what it is you truly want to achieve away from the constant stimulation and pointless distractions of the outside modern world.

I leave on the Tuesday 13th when the weather settles, 11 days on the Island, longer than expected but on the Ferry back over to the mainland I find myself thinking I have to spend longer here. I have connected with this place in a way I have never connected with an Island before, walking all over, learning how to slow down and leave out all existential matters; just be here present in the place and matter. I feel we all have to do this now and then.

Against the weather warnings, and the wild west coast, I found comfort and sanctuary within the place, mentally and physically.

I will forever remember that window out to the west.

To read a more detailed account of my writings from my time spent at the Bothy Project on the Isle of Eigg please click here:

http://www.thebothyproject.org/ellis-oconnor-window-out-to-the-west/

 

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Isle of Eigg, ‘Waypoints’ exhibition.

Last week I returned from an amazing 5 day trip living on the Isle of Eigg.
The purpose of the trip was to install and exhibit an exhibition titled ‘Waypoints’ our response as artists to the residency we took part in with the Clipperton Project around the Northern Isles of Scotland.
It was also a brilliant excuse to have a reunion with all the other artists who had been on the boat!

And so it turns out the Isle of Eigg is very beautiful!
We climbed, we hiked to the top of two summits; An Sgurr and the Gods Finger lookout, we walked around the whole Island, made friends with the locals, installed our Waypoints exhibition with great success and lived in a beautiful Bothy on the south side of the Island for the week. My kind of lifestyle.
Eigg is impressive and here are some photos of my trip to show why!

I’ll be back to Eigg at the very start of January where I’ll be Artist in Residence at Sweeney’s Bothy with the Bothy Project. I cannot wait!

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