Tuesday 22 April 2014

We're back.....

Our alternative wild camp on Ulva....(Click to enlarge)
      ......after a wonderful sunny Easter camping on the islands of Mull, Ulva and Iona in the Inner Hebrides. It's a time of year we always look forward to - 'when flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle dove is heard in our land' (Song of Solomon 2:12). Actually, we were rather hoping for the voice of the corncrake but if it had in fact flown back from its winter quarters in Africa, it was keeping quiet. Probably suffering a wee bit of jet-lag. Flowers had already appeared in abundance, violets being so profuse on Ulva they were even growing in our tent.
      In years past we've camped in a sheltered bay
A cushion of primroses.....
on a patch of grass less than six feet away from the sea at high tide, though protected by a substantial sea wall. Nosy seals would leave their skerries and swim across to investigate as we pitched our tent right next to their hunting grounds. We'd hear them splashing around and grunting in the bay as we lay in our warm sleeping bags through the hours of darkness. Alas, when we arrived there this year our 'secret camp' was covered in a thick blanket of seaweed deposited by the same violent Spring tides that had devastated coastlines all round the country.
Ulva eagle.....
      It didn't take long to find an alternative site less than fifty yards away on a raised hillock where we pitched our tent with its back to the wind on a surprisingly flat and comfortable bit of turf. Thermarests were inflated, sleeping bags spread out to 'loft', water bottles filled from the burn and our wee stove purring away nicely for our first well earned cup of tea. Home from home. The views around us and out to sea were, as usual, quite mind-blowing. Seals were singing on their skerries and a noisy wren, nesting in a nearby ruin, kept bursting into song too. Deer surveyed us from a high skyline, a pair of shelduck were regular feeders in the bay, a golden eagle mobbed by gulls provided a brief bit of excitement while newly arrived wheatears flitted from stone to stone. Great clumps of primroses mingled with violets to give a dazzling display. Skylarks sang and all was well in our wonderful world.
      On Good Friday we enjoyed wall to wall sunshine as we struck camp to walk the 3½ miles to Ulva ferry
Bothy on Ulva with Ben More rising across the water.....
en route to Iona. Every time we leave, the stock question of Donald Munro, the ferryman, has been "Did you see the eagle?". This year, for only the second time, we were able to answer in the affirmative. Our theory regarding why we haven't seen it more often is because most of its hunting has to be done on the island of Mull where food is more plentiful. The rabbit population on Ulva has been decimated by North American Mink, a cute looking little animal but unfortunately quite deadly. On one of our walks we found a hind leg of a mountain hare that had probably been brought from Mull by a foraging eagle though I believe a few mountain hares do exist on Ulva.
The Loch Buidhe arrives at Iona
      After a forty mile drive on narrow switchback roads, with passing places, we arrived at Fionnphort to park up and sort out gear to take across to Iona. Our ferry, the Loch Buidhe, had raised it's ramp and about to sail as we reached the slipway. But we were spotted and the ramp lowered again to allow us on board. They're very kind, these Hebridean people. In little more than an hour we'd reached the official campsite at Cnoc-Oran, erected our tent and had some water boiling for our first brew. A pair of geese greeted us from an adjacent field, skylarks scattered their notes from a cloudless sky and lambs gambolled happily in the warm sunshine before bleating loudly because they'd lost their mums.. The site owner, assisted by his mum, arrived shortly with a bench and picnic table for our sole use.
      Being very much creatures of habit we tend to do the same things and visit the same places each time we
Taking a breather by the jetty on our morning run....
set foot on the island. And we never tire of doing so. We run the same circuit, up the hill to Maol, on past the Nunnery to Iona Abbey, then back via the Bishop's House and along the seashore by the dazzling white sands of Martyrs Bay.  It's only around 3½ miles but most invigorating in the clear, unpolluted air. Speed comes naturally on Iona. A new sign had gone up since our last visit, at the place where corncrakes are most likely to be heard on the island. I say 'heard' because they're skulking birds and therefore very rarely seen - though one near the Abbey must have been specially trained to strut about in full view to attract bird watchers from near and far!
Cairn on Dun I just above the 'Well of Eternal Youth'.....
      Iona's highest hill, Dun I (pronounced Dun-ee), is another place that always demands a visit, not just because of its extensive views to other Hebridean islands, mountains, lighthouses and shining white beaches, but also to indulge our ritual dabbling in the 'Well of Eternal Youth' that springs just below the summit. I've been doing this each time I've visited the island since working there way back in 1949 and like to kid people it accounts for my longevity (not that 82 is very old). This year, as I wet my face and hair with the magic water, I remarked to an onlooker "It really works, you know". All I got from him was a grunt before he went away - swearing to his partner about something or other.
      Besides being pilgrims and runners we're also tourists and do what all tourists do, i.e. stick our noses in
A glass of Rosê and new earrings - celebrating in the Mediterranea
restaurant at Salen, Isle of Mull....
all the shops searching for suitable souvenirs or mementos to take home. The Iona Community shop can usually extract money from our wallets and this year was no exception. Celtic earings usually satisfy my wonderful partner but her collection over the years prompted her to plump for some a little different this time, ones with a shiny moonstone mounted into them. Very attractive. Being somewhat harder to please I was about to leave with nothing until a book called 'Running over Rocks' by Ian Adams shouted at me from the top shelf. It's not really a book about running at all, more a manual of spiritual practices to cope with the rocky roads we travel. I was captivated by it's beautiful poetry and lilting prose, so it wasn't long before my hand was reaching for my wallet.
      Which is where I've got to end. I'm away for a quiet read before turning in......night night.......


  1. Replies
    1. .....apart from mile long traffic jams at road works on the way home!!!

  2. Sounds a fabulous trip, great weather. Nearly 40 years since I went to Iona and the Hebrides. You reminded me I must go back!

    1. Iona is absolutely beautiful but gets a bit crowded now Ian, whereas on Ulva we only saw one other person in three days - and that was from a distance....

  3. I just love reading your posts, and I really enjoy looking at your photographs. Your trip sounds fantastic I can almost smell that clean fresh air.

    Well done with your new book it sounds a good and interesting read. Super choice with the new earrings and cheers to you both, I too enjoy a glass of rose wine.

    Here's to your next outing/run

    Take Care

    All the best Jan

    1. Thanks Jan. Normally I drink red wine and my wonderful partner drinks white. Not wanting to buy two bottles, Rosê was a compromise - and a very good one it turned out to be....a Spanish Bodegas Borsao. Cheers!