/ Scotland2016

Saturday - Messing about in boats

The reason for choosing the campsite here at Scourie is that there is a bird nature reserve island just offshore and ferries run from Tarbet just up the road to the island of Handa. Parking down at Tarbet is limited and parking will be cumulative, people will park in the morning to go to the island so spaces will not free up until late afternoon, and so yet another early start is the best way to make sure of uncomplicated parking.
The road to Tarbet is not a road one would normally take without a good purpose, it is narrow, even for a single track, hilly and windy but amazingly we don't meet anyone coming in the other direction (thank goodness). Parking's not a problem but will be in another hour or 2 (we learn later that during the course of the day 68 people were ferried across to the island). Remember me mentioning yesterday about the road being one for sports cars, well a dozen of so of those 68 people were Aston Martin owners and their spouses.
The ferry is a small 12 man RIB inflatable. Liz doesn't like small boats so this was not her preferred mode of transport (but wait until the return trip, it gets worse). I think this is as much to do with the difficulty of clambering on and off as to the actually bouncy ride close to the water. Well, we all had life jackets on! A 10 minute ride later and three Scotland Wildlife volunteers were holding the RIB on the beach so we could clamber off and fight our way up the sand dunes to a small briefing hut. 

Basically they've carved out a 4 mile footpath around the island, much of it duck-boarded. The instructions were to keep to the path, for the protection of nesting birds. Actually wander too far of the path towards the nest site of a Great Skua and you'd soon know about it as you were subject to a vicious aerial attack. No Red Grouse spotted on the way up to the cliffs and no Puffin to be seen amongst the thousands of Guillemots and Razorbills, sharing the cliff face with the Kittiwakes and Fulmars. Then a Puffin, then another, and another, and one flying. Once we knew where to look spotting them was easy. Liz was overjoyed – having missed them at Shetland 6 years ago she at last gets to watch the cute little birds, most of which seemed to be collecting grass to line their burrows. On around the clifftop and another puffin village atop cliffs teeming with Guillemot. A little Wheatear on the grass just a few metres away seems totally strange and at first hard to identify, normally it the flash of white rump as they zoom past so seeing one close up face on is definitely different. Arctic Skua, eider, meadow pipits, crows, rock dove and some glorious skylarks completed the round-up. Well apart from the various gulls and a few divers to far away to identify throat colouredness.

Despite the excellent work on making a good path and lots of boardwalk it was still a tiring 4 mile walk. Yesterday's sun was well behind the clouds and a cold wind was getting up, along with a few spits of rain. Much colder and feeling colder again for being on an exposed island. So we'll be off as soon as we get back to the Ranger's hut. Nope – there's a minor problem. It's spring low tide and despite a really long pier/slipway at Tarbet the tide is out so far that the RIB can't reach the dock. Consequently passengers are being transferred 2 at a time from the RIB to a tiny dinghy and brought to shore. Colour visibly blanched from Liz's face on this news. She was all on favour of just sitting around on the island for another 3 hours and catching the last ferry when the tide might have risen enough to make shore. I should point out, that apart from the last ferry, the service was completely untimed, it was when it was.
I wasn't keen on waiting, we were cold, the wind was getting up so the crossing might not be too pleasant (mindful thatyesterday was the first day this week the ferry has been operational because of the winds) and it might rain. I really didn't want to contemplate the prospect of overnighting on the island in the warden's bothy. So I pressed Liz to at least try a crossing, if the boat transfer really was too difficult/scary they could always take us back and we'd return later on a higher tide. I was right about the wind, the return crossing was much rougher (but still not bad). When we got to Tarbet we realised that the RIB could get within about 10m of the shore and was held in about knee high water. The transfer dinghy wasn't even rowed ashore but towed by someone in waders. Still Liz found sliding between the two boats an uncomfortable experience but didn't have and real problem. Even with the dinghy we had to jump out into a few inches of water and move quickly to avoid wet feet. An adventure indeed!

Scourie is a tiny town, a small Spar, a hotel, a couple of B&Bs, a walking equipment store that doubles as the village's petrol station (just the one pump). Oh and weirdly an electric car charging point. Orkney had several, and they seem to be in every tiny town in Scotland, probably on the previous site of the town's horse hitching post. We stop at the Spar to pick up a paper. As I'm getting out of the van a local, who had just overtaken us and put another stone chip in the windscreen (smaller and out of my main vision line) informed me only one brake light was working! Rats again. Dilemma time, do I risk dismantling the rear light assembly here in the middle of nowhere and risking problems that will be unfixable for 50 miles until Ullapool or do I drive with one brake light and great danger of a rear end shunt should the other fail. I elect to change it. It works and the rear assembly goes back OK, phew! I've not tested the reversing light and indicator in that cluster. I must do that.
Liz needs to rest her feet, she is having much trouble with a rheumatic toe joint. So no going out tonight. Scourie has a chip van – it is only operational on a Saturday night and seems to be a well used local amenity. And so it should be, the fish was excellent and the chips weren't half bad either.