The Hebridean Way - Our Way

Combining walking with heavy packs to hopping on local buses and dropping off our luggage at hostels while we explored on foot with day sacks, we cherry picked our route along the newly opened Hebridean Way, visiting 8 stunning islands between Vatersay and Stornoway.

Outer Hebrides Welcome sign and the start of the Hebridean Way walking route
Our Arrival at Castlebay and the beginning of our ascent of Beinn Tangbhal

‘Stop! Stop!’ cried the American woman as she rushed past us down the train carriage. ‘My husband's not on the train,’ she continued, while hurrying towards the guard as we pulled away from the station.

We had been stopped at Crianlarich station for only a few moments while the train decoupled and as the American lady sped past us again in the opposite direction she was still vocalising her thoughts to everyone.  ‘I don't even think he has his wallet or phone,’ she said. ‘He only stepped off to take a photo.’

At this point, she disappeared into the carriage behind me and I'm afraid I do not know what happened to our American visitor who was left penniless and phoneless at Crianlarich station but the train didn't stop nor did it go back for him.  Instead, it carried on to catch the Oban to Castlebay ferry where our adventures began.

Tent pitched near the dunes on Barra for the first night
Camp on the first night

It became apparent after 2 days of walking with full packs, covering a distance the guidebook reckoned we could do in a day, that walking the whole of the Hebridean Way was going to be much harder than we'd prepared for and take considerably longer than we'd allowed.

Walking with heavy pack  Hebridean Way walking marker
 Although there were no mountains, my pack was too heavy which made the walking uncomfortable.  Hebridean Way marker 

Unlike some other long distance walking routes, the Hebridean Way walking route is practically void of shops and cafes which meant, at the speed we were walking, about 1mph on day 2, we had to carry nearly 10 days worth of food with us just in case we didn’t come across a shop and for someone like Tony, who is used to a skinny wet latte at 10am every day, it was even tougher.

Lovely warm shower

We’d only been wild camping for 2 nights but excitement burst from us like a giant party popper when we discovered that the ferry terminal at Eriskay had a shower. The freezing temperatures of the north Atlantic, despite its beautiful turquoise colour on silver sandy beaches, just didn’t tempt me. Not only was there a shower in the ferry terminal but a heated waiting room too.   I let Tony shower first while I sorted out the packs away from the wind.  Armed with his towel, and a pound coin for five minutes of hot water he went off for a lovely warm shower. It was really early, about 5.30am and the only other living creatures around at that time was a black rabbit, obviously no raptors in this area, a sea otter lying on his back munching on his fresh catch and a seal.

curious common seal
Curious Common Seal

“How was your shower?” I asked when he emerged from the cubicle.  “Cold!” he replied.

Wanting to get his money’s worth, he had stripped off, turned the water on and then reached over to put his pound in to find it didn’t fit as the meter hadn't been updated to take the new pound coins. Luckily the hot tap in the ample sized very clean toilet cubicle dished out hot water for nothing.

Popular Camping Spot

We camped by the sea at Berneray, an idyllic tiny island at the top of the North Uist and to be honest, anywhere would have been near the sea on the island but we were only a few feet from the high tide mark.  From our tent, we had 5 star views of the islands in the Sound of Harris, a great vantage point to spot dolphins, orca and otter. The wind had dropped too and we fell asleep to the sound of the waves gently swishing over the rocks as opposed to the wind rustling the tent aggressively as we usually experienced. 

The view from the tent on Berneray
5 Star Views from a Tiny Tent on Berneray

We weren't the only ones who thought this was a fine place to spend the night though. During that annoying middle of the night toilet run, the rocks a few feet from our tent started to moan.  I couldn't see what it was but I soon realised who the omoaner was when the noise was accompanied by a pungent, rotten seaweed combined with fish aroma that wafted into the tent. I was just thankful that it was only the smell and not the whole seal that had entered the tent.

Beware the Coaches at Callanish

The mysterious Callanish standing stones form the oldest stone circle in the UK, even older than Stonehenge. Although they are not on the Hebridean Way walking route, it is worth taking the bus from Stornoway to see them while they are still  relatively unknown.

Callanish Standing stones
Callanish Standing Stones - There are two other stone circles within walking distance of these ones.

Currently there are no restrictions on how close you can go to the stones and the visitors centre is a bargain at £3.50.  However, that doesn’t mean you can sit around drinking coffee if you get there early and think you’ll have the stones to yourself.

‘There's four coaches arriving in the next hour’ said the driver to the girl serving behind the counter.

Hearing that announcement, we swiftly downed our coffee and stuffed the apple pie down our throats. There was no more relaxing in the cafe, we had to get to the stones before the coaches arrived or our pictures would look like Clapham Junction  at rush hour.

Will I be back?

Walker on West Beach in Berneray
I don't really think this needs a caption - it's just Wow!

Definitely!  I have unfinished business with the Hebridean Way. For a start you owe me an orca sighting.  But the walking route is so new that there are sections where so few walkers have tread that there isn't even a path yet and Tony struggled to get through the day without a large skinny wet latte, so perhaps we’ll wait for the infrastructure to catch up with the popularity of this new route. But I’ll definitely be back to revisit the Outer Hebrides.

Sitting on top of Berneray looking over the sound of harris
Always on the lookout for Orca or Dolphins.  Looking over the Sound of Harris

Like most of our trips, our plans changed as frequently as the weather in the Outer Hebrides.   Our trip may have been beset with silly problems, from lack of food shops and unwelcome cold showers to sharing a camping spot with a seal but at least we weren’t left stranded on the platform at Crianlarich Station.

Sunset on Barra
Sunset on Barra

Along the way we met Kerry who admirably completed the journey with a full pack, wild camping every night from Vatersay to Berneray.  If you want to read what it was really like to walk the bottom half of the Hebridean Way, she’s written a great little blog about her adventures at:

Jurassic Jim's Fossil Shop

If you thought fossils were just for geeks, you’d better think again.   

Where you used to only see dinosaurs behind glass in museums or shark teeth on the dusty shelves of teenagers’ bedrooms, you are now just as likely to see a beautiful ammonite in the living room of a cosy country cottage or as a centre piece in the trendiest London apartment.

Fossil ammonite in country cottage
Fossils on display as ornaments

With this in mind, I recently returned to a shop I discovered a few years ago on the Isle of Wight, Jurassic Jim’s fossil shop in Shanklin.  I was looking for a different kind of gift; you know the kind you don’t normally get on the high street; something unique but not too expensive for a recipient that I knew wasn’t a fossil collector.

As I entered the shop I was greeted with thousands of fossils, natural history collectables, artefacts and gifts and I knew that among the coloured crystals and displays of polished fossils and gemstone jewellery, I’d find the ideal gift.
Jurassic Jim Shop on Shanklin HIgh Street
Jurassic Jim's Shop

The shop still had all the collectable fossils from the Isle of Wight and around the world.  Baskets of shark teeth and hand sized ammonites piled high, detailed fossil fish on limestone beds and delicately prepared trilobites which ranged from mouse size to some larger than a dinner plate.
Coloured agate slices for craft work dangled from the ceiling and crystal selenite mountains towered over vibrant coloured geodes.

From the centre of the shop I was welcomed by Jurassic Jim himself, a man so passionate about fossils and knowledgeable about his stock that he’ll spend hours telling stories about everything in the shop.  He’s so helpful that you’ll know more about your purchase than anything else you own.

inside Jurassic Jim's Shop
Inside Jurassic Jim's Shop
Jim helped me select the perfect polished ammonite for my friend but of course I can’t tell you how much it was in case she’s reading this post but what I can tell you is that Jurassic Jim’s prices are so reasonable that you could not only start your fossil collection in his shop but almost complete it too.  This Tardis like emporium has so much variety; it’s like going on a fossil hunt indoors.

a selection of fossils from inside the shop
A selection of fossils from inside the shop
Jurassic Jim was recently voted as ‘the best shop to pick up that something special’ by visitors to the Isle of Wight and listed as the number 1 shop on the Isle of Wight by Trip Advisor.

If you’re looking for a cool and original shopping experience in a magical world of reality head to Jurassic Jim’s on the High Street in Shanklin.

Have you ever visited Jurassic Jim's shop? - I'd love to know what you thought of it.

Scotland's Friendliest Mountain Bares its Teeth

Isle of Arran
Isle of Arran
Think of me, as you sit comfortably, I would imagine, with a nice cup of tea and a healthy toasted bagel smothered with avocado and beetroot, as I unwrap an energy bar with unmittened hands, while wedged between large igneous boulders.  I’m clad in unmatched goretex above and below the waist and seeking shelter from the maelstrom that’s been whipping around us for the last 45 minutes.
We were nearing the top of Goat Fell, the highest peak on the Isle of Arran and the last day of our short stay on the island.

“You’re nearly there,” said a couple of hikers as they passed us on their descent.

 Sheltering between Igneous Boulders on Goat Fell
Sheltering between Igneous Boulders on Goat Fell
With a travelling time of less than 2 hours from Glasgow, including the 1 hour Caledonian Macbrayne ferry crossing, our Arran adventure began as soon as we left Ardrossan Harbour.  I only mention the CalMac ferry crossing because I love the food on board.  They do a scrummy Scottish breakfast in the morning and fantastic fish and chips in the evening. I don’t know if this is typical of all CalMac crossings but every time I’ve gone to Arran, I’ve looked forward to a meal on board.

Caledonian Macbrayne Ferry to Arran
Caledonian Macbrayne Ferry to Arran
It wasn’t just me that was hunting out good food; outside, dozens of gannets had gathered to gorge on a shoal of fish.  We watched as they soared 30m above the water before plunging vertically like a lethal weapon to spear and confuse unsuspecting fish, a move they repeated again and again until they were almost too full to float.  The words ‘eating like a gannet’ went through my mind.  An auk flew by at speed, low and close to the water and groups of guillemots bobbed on the surface like miniature fishing boats before diving like a synchronised swimming team as our ferry drew closer.   The cloudless peak of Goat Fell topped the landscape painting in front of us and I knew that it wouldn’t be like that they day we chose to climb.

Goat Fell and the Arran Mountains on a Sunny Day

There are only 2 main roads on Arran.  One goes across the middle, known as The String Road and the other round the coast.  I mention this as a possible reason for all the potholes or massive craters, if you happen to be on a bike, as it must be very difficult to repair a narrow road when it’s the only one.  Potholes aside, although most of the time they weren’t, the road from Brodick followed a stunning coastline most of the way to Lochranza where we were camping.   A cormorant stood by the shore, studying a tanker in its bay, while seals basked on their favourite rocks.

Cormorant Checking out the Tanker in his Bay
Cormorant Checking out the Tanker in his Bay

Seals Basking on their Favourite Rocks
Seals Basking on their Favourite Rocks

 But when we stopped to take some photos we were greeted by the grumpiest robin who was waiting in the bushes by the parking bays to make it very clear that we were not welcome on his territory.

Grumpy Territorial Robin
Grumpy Territorial Robin

Our campsite was next to a golf course which had become a gathering place for the stags’ annual rut and some boisterous teenagers were putting in a bit of practice before the main event.  Others, with more sense, chose to stay up on the hills and watch from a distance.

Playful Rutting by the Stags at Lochranza
Playful Rutting by the Stags at Lochranza

During the night an animal came sniffing around our tent.  I didn’t get up to have a look.  It was raining and I thought it was probably a fox.  I just listened as it nuzzled and chomped at something nearby but in the morning, I noticed the droppings left by the night time rummage and realised how lucky we were not to have been trampled by it.  All the stags had seen greener pastures in the campsite and had stepped over the fence and were still wandering around.  Our little tent barely came up to their knees.

The rain paused long enough for us to prepare breakfast and put the tent away before heading off to Goat Fell. A well marked path from the back of The Wineport at Cladach through a moss covered wood decorated with colourful mushrooms formed the gentle start of the walk up Goat Fell.  It was still dry and quite warm when we started our walk but unlike the previous day, the mountains were shrouded in Scotch mist.

Mist over Goat Fell
Mist over Goat Fell

For those that don’t know, and it would seem that was quite a few judging by the number of walkers with their waterproofs tied round their waist (and those were the ones that had bothered to bring a waterproof at all), mist is a cloud of tiny water droplets suspended in the atmosphere – It makes you wet!

And at only 40m shy of a Munro, the summit is as treacherous as any Scottish mountain on a wet and windy day.

Walkers without Waterproofs
Walkers without Waterproofs

This wasn’t the first time I had climbed Goat Fell and I admit, on a few occasions, the weather has been very kind and a light fleece is all that would be required but more often, the weather at the top is drastically different from that at the bottom.

The smooth gravel path became boulder strewn with thigh high boulders making each step a big effort.   Visibility had reduced to around 20m or so and the wind demanded attention and with it, came the rain. 

The wind was relentless at the top and the boulders provided little shelter.  The usual views of the paps of Jura and even the famous saddle in the Sannox valley below us had been completely whitewashed from the picture, so we didn’t hang around and quickly descended to calmer weather.

Proof that it can be lovely at the top of Goat Fell
It was time to leave the island behind and head back to the city but not before we stopped off at James – Arran Chocolate for a well deserved, at least we thought it was well deserved, chocolate fix.

Relaxing on the ferry, watching the gannets spear another shoal of fish, the mist started to lift off the mountain and although I love the sound of the rain and wind on the tent and the smell of morning when I poke my head out the tent, I was glad to be going back to a warm, soft bed after the soggy night and weather beaten day we’d had.

  Gannets Diving in the Firth of Clyde
Gannets Diving in the Firth of Clyde

The Royal Rut at Richmond

The red deer rut must be one of the highlights at this time of year in the wildlife calendar. So last weekend, I headed off to the royal hunting ground of Richmond Park in South London with the camera club to catch some early shots of the deer.

Red Deer Rrelaxed at Richmond Park
Red Deer Relaxed @ Richmond Park

Staying in a Monastery - The Positives and Negatives

Having always thought that you needed to be ultra religious to stay in a monastery, I now realise that isn't the case although a tolerance and respect of others' beliefs is understandably expected.

st francis of assisi statue at hilfield
Image courtesy of

Having recently returned from a stay at Hilfield Friary in Dorset, I am now going to let you into a few more secrets, just in case you were thinking about visiting a religious order. Granted, friary life isn't for everyone but here are the positives and negatives.

A boat trip to Lundy Island

Ever thought about taking a trip to Lundy Island?  - A little island of adventure with a resident population of sika deer, wild goats and 28 people.

MS Oldenburg @ Lundy
MS Oldenburg @ Lundy