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I love sleeping in a hammock. It’s nice getting rocked to sleep by a gentle wind and being able to look at the night sky as you drift in and out of sleep. I also love sleeping in a hammock because you usually need to be near trees. This weekend I spent some hammock time in a pine forest that sits in between Harris and Lewis…

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For those who would prefer a video account of the trip please have a look at the video below…please don’t be put off by the still that YouTube has selected for the video, the content is suitable for all!

Last weekend I had probably the best Mexican food I have ever had at a dinner party. It left me wanting more and so in addition to the overnight trip I also wanted to put together some decent Mexican food, preferably cooked over an open fire.

The plan was quesadillas for the first night followed by huevos rancheros for brunch the next day. However first thing was to explore the forest to find a nice spot to watch the sun rise from my hammock in the morning…I let my head rule my heart and so passed this hammock island by…

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I settled for the spot below (this was taken the following morning):

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The quesadillas the previous night were delicious, particularly when washed down with some chilled Mexican beer…yes that is a tray of ice in the background!

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The night in the hammock was pretty special. I had initially been a bit disappointed about the cloud cover as I had been hoping for a repeat of the Uig star-gazing extravaganza but in a strange way the clouds actually enhanced the sky views. Every so often there would be a break in the clouds which would give you a passing glimpse at the constellations that were otherwise hidden. I find that when given an unrestricted view of the star I gravitate towards either familiar constellations, the brightest stars or satellites. Having a small moving window encouraged me to focus intently on parts of the night that I’m quite sure would have normally passed me by.

I was treated to a stunning morning which was calm but also still cloudy enough to allow the sun’s oranges, pinks and purples to complement the shades of the heather and rowan trees.

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Although I was happy to use my gas burner for dinner given that an open fire would have been a bit irresponsible in and around the campsite I selected, I was keen to prepare breakfast using a more traditional approach. From the campsite I made my way down towards
Loch Seaforth hoping I would come across a good supply of driftwood and a rocky area where I could prepare the huevos rancheros and ‘Navajo’ flatbread…I wasn’t disappointed!

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I like the pace of ‘camp days’, where you have the time to cook and eat properly rather than having to eat quickly so you can cover the distance between different legs of a longer journey. A case in point was the flatbread which not only enhanced the breakfast greatly but were enjoyable to prepare and let settle on the warm stones around the fire. As you can see from the pictures below I used Quail’s eggs. This is not as frivolous as it may sound and were used purposely instead of chicken eggs because of the speed at which they cook. Getting huevos rancheros right (I.e. not too dry, eggs poached just enough to ensure a cooked white yet running yolk) is hard to achieve on an open fire and so using Quail’s eggs you are more likely to avoid the difficulties associated with the unpredictability of hot coals.

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I have to say the end result was fantastic! The flatbreads had taken on a smoky quality from the driftwood while the depth of flavour from the huevos rancheros was exquisite. I served it up alongside homemade salsa, guacamole and soured cream…wonderful!
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Bivi out in Uig

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For those readers who are in a hurry this video is a 4:30 version of the blog below…

The week started off with an excellent talk by Doug Scott as part of the Harris Mountain festival. It is amazing to hear of the climbing feats of Doug and others of his generation, particularly when I have been known to wobble up a VDiff laced with gear! Doug also spoke of the work he had done in Nepal around education and improving the standards for the guides. It is certainly worth having a look at his website. Having spent last weekend on the mainland I was keen to make the most of this one. Already inspired to get out on the hills after Doug’s talk I had my mind made up to Bivi somewhere by the star filled sky I had to stop and stare at as I drove back from Tarbert to Stornoway. It is a pity the my camera doesn’t really capture the night sky that well because it was simply breathtaking.

Fast forward to Friday and I am once again beside myself with excitement at the prospect of getting out. I had promised myself that during the week I would have packed and been ready to go as soon as I got home…a broken promise later and I am stuffing things into my pack trying to get on the road by 7:00!

I decided to combine a couple of walks described in Richard Barrett’s Walking in Harris and Lewis over in Uig. One of the reasons for this was that following a school visit to Sgoil Uig (Uig primary school) I was mesmerised by the turquoise ocean and stunning hills that surrounded the school. Here is the route and where it is in relation to me.

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Route from Stornoway to Uig

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The hike

Even through I wanted to get out on to the hills as soon as I could there were once again vistas that forced me to stop the car and explore…

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I had a number of other enforced stops on my way out to Uig including two rams that decided to have a battle on the single track and a heavily pregnant highland coo that wasn’t moving for anyone!

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The upshot of the delays was a hike started in the dark…

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I find hiking in the dark, especially alone, quiet surreal. The scenery changes completely and you get to appreciate the outdoors through another lens…

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I try as much as possible to walk without the aid of artificial light, not for any mystical or environmental reason, but simply because your approach to the walk changes. You walk more slowly and deliberately, particularly on the heathery hills that will trip you up if you move too carelessly. I also find that I discover ‘paths’ in the dark and I’m fascinated as to whether in fact they exist or are simply my mind playing tricks on me in the dark. I am inclined to think that it is the later given the other tricks it gets up to on night hikes! The combination of deer grunts, owl screeches and fleeting grouse had me imagining all sorts as I ambled up the hillside.

I made a Bivi beneath some rock cover but close enough to a steep edge that meant I would have a stunning view to wake up to in the morning…

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As I said in the video my favourite part of a Bivi is the anticipation of having your bones warmed by the rising sun in the morning…a feeling heightened by coffee and toasted Banana Soreen!

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The great thing about bivvying is that it takes no time at all before you are packed and ready to go.

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The first stop for me that morning was a hill loch that seemed from the map to be a promising trout loch…I wasn’t disappointed

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The walk itself took in a number of summits (Naideahal a-Muigh, Laibheal a Deas, Laibheal a Tuath and Cracabhal) which provided awe-inspiring views..

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Summit cairn of Naideahal a-Muigh

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Summit cairn of Laibheal a Deas

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Summit cairn of Cracabhal

I didn’t actually make the summit of Laibheal a Tuath as I was distracted by some visitors…

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The walk was sensational but quite long and by the end I was fantasising how great it would feel to be walking barefoot along a sandy beach…

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…luckily such a vision is readily made into reality in the Outer Hebrides…

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The breaking waves makes me think it won’t be too long until i’m back for a visit with my surfboard.

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Edinburgh weekend

I’m just back from a weekend in Edinburgh following a conference I attended there on Friday. The conference itself was really good, with keynotes from Sir Henry Burns (Chief Medical Officer for Scotland) and Prof Neil Mercer who worked just down the hall from me in Fac of Ed in Cambridge. I will probably write a separate blog on the best bits as I couldn’t do them justice in the 30 mins I have given myself to put out this blog up!

Ruari and his girlfriend joined me on the Friday night following the conference and we had a great selection of Tapas at Cafe Andaluz on George St. Each dish we got tasted wonderful (although I had to take Hannah’s word for her choices as she didn’t really embrace the ‘share’ aspect of Tapas….until it came to my dessert!) but my favourite was their braised pork cheeks…amazing.

The next day was spent wandering around Edinburgh. Ruari had suggested Leo’s Beanery for brunch and it certainly didn’t let him down.

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Although Edinburgh was great I did miss the walks along the beach I have become accustomed to taking almost daily and so within 20 minutes of touching down in Stornoway today I was walking along the beach at Steinish.

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Steinish is visible from my bedroom window and if the tides work out it is my number one choice for a run route in the morning.

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Along the edge of the beach is a grassy bank with occasional pools of brackish water.

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The mineral content of the pools makes for diversity of colourful plant life:

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I have accumulated a variety of ‘how to’ books in relation to watercolour, sketch, drawing and the like but what I produce it always so far away from what has inspired me that I always feel a little disappointed. Since the move up here I have dusted off the books and hope to give it another go simply because I see so much around me that is beautiful that regardless of the outcome of the time spent trying to create I love the idea of prolonged engagement with the following:

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The pools that form when the tide goes out are supposed to hold a good head of salmon and sea trout but having bought my season on the Creed I have been spending most of my time there…although with views like this I might have to reconsider…

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This weekend also saw the start of the Harris Mountain Festival and there are a few events coming up that I am hoping to make including a talk by Doug Scott on big wall climbing (including Sron Ulladail, Shivling and the Ogre) tomorrow night. Should be a great week…

I have found myself increasingly drawn to hobbies that not just get me out but also make me wonder if I will make it back safe and sound. This surprises me a little because I don’t feel particularly ‘extreme’ and I have plenty of plans that I would like to see come to fruition. That being said no matter what the ‘main event’ of the day is I still find myself brought to a standstill by the ‘walk in’. Since arriving here a month ago I have found myself wanting just to walk among the heather and the hills and have set aside Sunday as a walking day.

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Looking out over the harbour at Cromor

The walk described below is taken from the Cicerone Guide ‘Walking in Harris and Lewis

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It is quite short (2:30) and about 40 minutes from Stornoway.

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The only real complication is timing the start of your walk so you can get across the tidal path to Eilean Chalium Chille and also to the cairn at Crois Eilean (the orange arrows on the map below).

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I had such perfect weather for the walk and the clarity of the water at Cromor harbour where the walk starts made me wish I’d brought my snorkelling gear.

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Hopefully as you make your way from the harbour towards Eilean Chalium Chille you are met with the reassuring sight of the tidal path you will need to take.

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Once you are on the Island you are able to visit an old ruined church by turning left once off the path. I wanted to take some photos to give a sense of the hardship those living on the Island must have faced but photographing the faded tombstones felt quite wrong.

The views looking out to Loch Eireasort were absolutely stunning and with the wind carrying the scent of heather blossom it made for a wonderful afternoon.

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If you do choose to do this walk I would definitely recommend the scramble round the headland to Crois Eilean as the views from the cairn are some of the most beautiful I have seen so far on the island.

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Judging by the remains of crabs, sea urchins and numerous shellfish at the cairn I was not the only one who appreciated the view! It did make me wonder if Nicholas Steno’s contributions would have been so insightful had he grown up here.

Leaving the cairn there is a 10 minute period of tidal uncertainty before you can see whether your hike has turned into in impromptu bivvy or not…thankfully I made it back safe and sound…

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Out in the canoe

I am currently carrying out a bit of psychological research on myself. I am interested to see how long I can sustain a level of utter excitement and anticipation before I pass out. This week I came pretty close…

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On Thursday I meet with a guy called Mike Sullivan for lunch. Mike is one of the authors of The Outer Hebrides: Sea Kayaking Around the Isles & St Kilda which I have poured over for hours in preparation for the move up here.

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Over lunch Mike spoke at length about the Sea Kayaking up here and I was beside myself with excitement hearing about the multitude of trips and opportunities for all types of Canoe/Kayak related escapades. I harbour a dream of getting in my kayak here and arriving at Culzean beach (the beach of my childhood) a few days latter…watch this space.

Conversation then turned to other outdoor pursuits and Mike seemed just as passionate about the climbing the Islands have to offer, the fishing and also the diving. I left lunch a jibbering wreck, not sure how I was going to fill the sun drenched afternoon and evening.

After racing home from work I looked through Mike’s book to focus me on something more specific than I want to do everything now. Closest trip to home:

Trip # 9 Stornoway Harbour…looked perfect, close, took in a few small islands, great scenery looking onto Lews Castle grounds.

Just a bit further was Trip # 10 ‘Loch Ăˆireasort’ which seemed to be that bit more remote and also more likely to produce a couple of fish for dinner.

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Crosbost itself was well setup, with a large car park right next to the gangway where I could inflate the canoe and get everything ready.

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I’m still getting used to the car and keep coming across little bits that make life so much easier…the electrical point being the latest find.

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I started the trip about 6:00 and got back to Crosbost at about 22:30. I really could have stayed out all night as the moon provided plenty of light and it was so mild…

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The trip was superb and once again exceeded what I had hoped for. I think the thing I loved the most was the feeling of having a moonlight powered Canoe as I made my way back to Crosbost…

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Unfortunately, as the end of the video below demonstrates, it was actually Callum-powered!

I also think I’ve found the ideal cabin to rest and recuperate from my research…

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It has been another busy week which has taken me all round Lewis and Harris.

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Beach at Uig

So aiming for a lazy weekend I went down to the Saturday market in Stornoway and picked up some Langoustines from the the fishermen’s cooperative stall with a view to a late lunch on the beach.

To work up a bit of an appetite I took the surfboard and snorkelling gear so that I could have some fun in the sea regardless of the conditions.

On my last swim I was put off a little by the presence of a massive Jellyfish but fortunately the waves were far too big that would allow me to make out any impending danger!

Like last time I was struck by the ferocity of the Gannets diving at fish just a few meters from me. This time I was also joined by seals who seemed delighted to show me how surfing should be done! I tried to get it on video…

…but the best I could manage was a long distance shot of them playing just in front of me.

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Needless to say after the pounding I received in the waves I was ready for some grub. The ‘recipe’ itself is really straightforward; the deliciousness comes from fresh ingredients (langoustines, lemon, garlic and parsley) and a good baton of crusty bread.

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Langoustines on the beach

Ingredients:

10 langoustines tails per person
Enough olive oil to cover the base of a frying pan
The juice from half a lemon
A bunch of flat-leaf parsley
30g Butter
2 cloves of garlic (thinly sliced)
Your favourite crusty baguette

1 Uninterrupted sea view (diving Gannets optional)

The procedure is summarised in the video below but with the following change- let the oil heat up for a bit longer before adding langoustines…I had to rush things a little as my camera was threatening to run out of battery.

It was delicious! The langoustines were melt in your mouth and the lemon and parsley freshened up what could have been an overly rich sauce.

Being up here now you are constantly confronted with aspects of Scottish heritage and tradition and as such I have been reflecting on my own. I remember a Scouts’ trip to Lochgoilhead where amoung the usual rubbish I tended to pick up at the souvenir shop I brought back an Urquhart clan bookmark, which had the following Coat of Arms:

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Urquhart Coat of Arms

The clan motto is “Meane weil, speak weil and do weil” or more contemporaneously “Mean well, speak well and do well” and I think it captures quite succinctly how I would aspire to live. But, as I munched down on the buttery langoustines, I thought how traditions move on and how successive generations influence and alter heritage somewhat. Given my own family upbringing and traditions I think it is time a fourth strand was added to our motto…

“eet weil”

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Arrival!

With the Internet finally up and running (wish I had my own Dan S!) I thought I put up the first of many posts on my new life in the Hebrides. It was an epic journey up from Cambridgeshire made a lot easier by stop-offs at Darwen and Maybole but made considerably more difficult by over-indulging at Jenna and Dom’s wedding.

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Last day in Chatteris

Once past Glasgow the scenery was fantastic. On the way up to Skye to get the ferry there were plenty of stops for photos…

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The new car waiting to enter Glencoe

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About an hour from Skye

Arriving late on Sunday meant everything was closed…except the Chinese takeaway! Not the ideal start to healthy and wholesome living. Thankfully the Monday was a bank holiday here and so I could get out and explore a little.

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The next few days was spent working and exploring Stornoway.

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Stornoway Harbour from Lews Castle grounds/em>;;;;

I was delighted to find that a great Salmon and Sea Trout river was five minutes from my door!

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Salmon pool on the Creed

What was also amazing was the newfound ability to throw some bits and bobs in the car and after a short drive be dining in style.

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The beach at Gress

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Still getting round to eating healthily, overlooking the Minch

I found myself getting to the end of the working day feeling a bit like a boy in a sweet shop with everything I love doing on my doorstep. Last week was my first trip down to the Uists, Benbecula and Barra.

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The flight from Stornoway to Benbecula only took 30 minutes and I was greeted with some of the most beautiful views I have ever seen…

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Horses in the Machair

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Beach on the East coast of South Uist

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One of the 400 photos I took on the first evening in the Uists

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South Uist Sunset

I also managed to get some fishing in while I was down. At certain times the Lochs get an influx of sea life (shrimp, little crabs) which bring out Slob Trout. Unfortunately they didn’t take me fly but the views more than compensated!

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straight from work…shirt still on!

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Stunning

The drive back to the hotel (empty handed) was perhaps the slowest I have ever driven…must keep eyes on the road!

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Benbecula Sunset

After getting back on Thursday I managed to fish each night and took in a brisk walk this morning.

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