Friday, 14 September 2012

Islands and Islets (4): An Inner Hebridean Odyssey

We have just returned from a holiday in West Scotland. We travelled from Glasgow to Skye, from Skye to Mull (via the Corran and Lochaline ferries) and finally from Mull to Iona (by the Fionnphort CalMac). The weather was definitely 'autumnal' most of the time, and there was one occasion on Skye when I found it hard to stand up on account of the force of the prevailing wind. We had horizontal rain - often followed by rainbows to cheer us on our way.

I hope to add a few specific wildlife details in the next couple of posts, but these are some general introductory views. My camera lens, needless to say, has never needed cleaning so much, and you may 'spot' the ubiquitous rain blobs here and there. I suspect the adverse weather conditions meant that we did not see as great a range of wildlife as we have on previous occasions. We had no *definite* sightings of cetaceans this time - and no otters, despite our short first visit to Mull.  
One of the highlights of our holiday on Skye (as always) was to visit the Dunvegan seals on the skerries in the loch from a small boat. The boatman has vast experience of these waters, and since we were only a 'party' of five, we were able to be almost 'nose-to-whisker' with these majestic and fascinating mammals. I was particularly interested to discover that the resident colony of Common Seals had embraced a single Grey/Atlantic Seal into the fold.

The photo above shows the wild and windswept shore at Staffin on Skye's Trotternish peninsula. We were the only souls on the beach, walking in the sunshine, while all around us a huge storm was brewing.
The seals above were on a skerry in Loch Carron. I always think of Plockton as a sheltered harbour, with its colourful fuchsia gardens and palm trees along the waterfront; but as soon as we were out on the loch, we hit a swell - and it was quite difficult to stand up, let alone hold the camera still! But the colours were superb, and don't really show up in this relatively small photo.

We left Skye and drove through Ardnamurchen to reach the island of Mull, with its iconic coloured houses at Tobermory (aka 'Balamory' by the under 5s). We had really hoped to catch a few special glimpses of wildlife on Mull, and indeed we did; but the blustery rainy weather may have caused some of the animals to 'hole up' away from the reach of cameras and scopes.
The small island of Iona was (almost) our final island destination. It is only 20 minutes by ferry from Mull, and we arrived in time for an excellent guided tour of the Abbey. The weather was mixed, but as you will guess from the water photo above, the sun finally shone for us, enabling us to appreciate the very beautiful shades of azure and ultramarine, which were offset by the intense amber of the sunlit kelp on the shoreline.
We thoroughly enjoyed exploring the Abbey, and watching the Wagtails and occasional fly-pasts of the Greylag geese.
I included this photo of Skye to remind myself (as much as anything) of the intensity of the blues in the sea lochs. We stopped here to take photos on our way to the Waternish peninsula ...
... where you can see the many lichens that grow on these stones at Trumpan Church - a sign of the pure air in this end-of-the-road part of the world.

It is still possible to hear the Corncrake in this exposed corner of Skye. We listened to the Hooded Crows and watched the wind blowing through the wool-lined fences.
I always enjoy a walk along the tidelines to see what has been washed ashore. I saw a (Lion's mane) jellyfish on the beach at Loch Brittle in Bracadale, which was also where I spotted the Sea Urchin above. Many years ago I used to be intrigued by the colourful urchin spines we found on our favourite Cornish beaches. I initiially thought that they were unusual spar-like minerals. They were the trigger for my poem, 'Sea Scribe', which has been included in my first chapbook collection, co-authored with John Dotson, 'The Holy Place'.
I have mentioned the many Wagtails. Well, we were also amazed by the number of Chaffinches. The one above looks a little overweight on account of his perch by the tea table at Dunvegan Castle on Skye, where we would recommend Earl Grey tea and locally-made lemon cupcakes!

The photo above was taken the day before yesterday at the small fresh-water island in Scotland's only lake - as opposed to loch, the Lake of Menteith. We took a couple of hours out, on our way to the airport, for a picnic lunch in the tranquil setting of Inchmahome. This small island is a nine minute boat ride from the shore, laid on by Historic Scotland, who care for the abbey. Inchmahome is usually a good place for Damselflies, with its nettles and blackberry bushes - but we only spotted one on this visit.

We may have seen a lot of rain, but this sheep, way up in the north of Skye, definitely had the right idea!


Nature Rambles said...

That must have been such a wonderful holiday. Loved seeing the photos of landscapes and wildlife that I have never seen. The coloured houses are so beautiful. As for the sea, it can't get any bluer than that! Really beautiful photos!

Andrea said...

Caroline, i thought the lochs are inland lakes, now you said they are sea lochs, meaning saltwater lakes. I remember I texted my friend once, and she happened to be in Scotland. She texted me back saying the lochs are a bit scary because they are colored navy blue, which are so different from our sea color. I know here as it gets bluer, it gets deeper. I can't tell my friend the reason for the bluer than blue lochs in Scotland, which i haven't been to yet!

The boats in Batanes are the bigger counterpart of those boats, without the trigger. Boatmen there said boats with trigger will not fit their waters, unlike most of the waters here.

Crafty Green Poet said...

Looks like you had a wonderful time! That photo of the lone seal is amazing! Funny about you saying you saw loads of chaffinches, we found exactly the same in our recent trip to Dumfries and Galloway!