TRAVELLING NATURALIST TRIP REPORT
3rd - 10th June 2000
Saturday June 3rd
On arrival at Mallaig, with lots of time in hand, Robin made straight for the cafe where they sell prawn rolls (after all, leaders of Travelling Naturalist groups are expected to be authorities on local produce and it is important to see that standards have been maintained from year to year!), where he was immediately found by Geoff and Maureen, who had already met up with others of the group. It was therefore not long before everyone was assembled on the pier, in the breezy sunshine, waiting for the arrival of the Lochmor.
The sea trip to Eigg was beautiful, but surprisingly devoid of birds. On arrival, having transferred to the Ulva, and scrambled up on to the pier, we were met by Davie, with the minibus and a trailer whose wheel was in imminent danger of coming off (it did later in the week!), by which means we were transported the short distance to Kildonan House. Marie gave us a welcome cup of tea, and some cake (the first hint of gastronomic joys to come) in the sunny garden, before we (rapidly) settled in.
We then went for a slow walk across the island, with glorious views in all directions, just getting used to being there, and to each other, and talking about the wildflowers, there not being many birds in evidence. We stopped above Laig, where we had wonderful views of Rum, and a circling buzzard, before retracing our steps. Once back, the suggested rota for the one bathroom was immediately seized on and refined by the group (can they really all be in management?), after which it was utilised, and we had a superb supper; it is as well to say now that the food in Eigg just got better and better, and we began to run out of adjectives.
An evening stroll produced more birds around the bay: Tysties, Oystercatchers, Wheatear, Greylag Geese.
Sunday June 4th
The day started damp, cool and grey, but nothing daunted we set off on the long walk around the north end of Eigg, below the long escarpment of dramatic cliffs, which was the impressive background to the whole day. The going was rough and tricky in a few places, but everyone managed OK.
Initially, there were few birds to be seen, but then a Golden Eagle appeared, later on two, then one again, being mobbed by a crow and a Kestrel; we had been told that the pair based in this corner of the island were not breeding (and later heard that the southern pair were also not).
As we continued below the amazing cliffs, the number of birds slowly increased: Oystercatchers, Arctic Terns, and an extraordinary number of Common Sandpipers, far more than Robin remembered from two years ago; again it was later confirmed that 2000 has seen a dramatic increase in their numbers - (why?).
As we walked along, and talk, as is traditional in the Inner Hebrides, centred on waterproof clothing, especially trousers, Martin was told by one member of the group, (who should perhaps remain nameless), that he had a "dinky little bottom!" (It's very difficult, leading these groups of reserved southerners!). Slowly it got warmer and drier, and we rounded the north end of the island, returning through the crofts of Cleadale, after which we fell in with John Chester, the SWT warden on Eigg, who, among other things, passed on the bits of information relayed above. Another good meal, and everyone seemed to feel that they had had a good walk.
Monday June 5th
A lovely clear day, although cool. We started by walking through the luxuriant grounds of the Lodge, where once again we met John Chester, who tried to produce a calling Redstart for us, but failed. There were, however, Willow Warblers, Chiffchaff, Greenfinches, Wrens and Cuckoo.
Once we were up on the open moorland, the senior David (if he will accept that form of distinction) told Robin that he expected to fall behind or give up early during the day; it came as little surprise to anyone else that he was still keeping up with everyone at the very end of the afternoon! In the heather, there were heath-spotted orchids and lots of mountain everlasting.
We walked into what Robin calls "Eigg's Lake District", a surprisingly big area, with abrupt little hills of extraordinary, volcanic, rock-formations, and, in between, attractive, dark, little lochs - the first had two Red-throated Divers. We settled by another for lunch, and not long after another group came and sat down rather too close for our comfort - we moved on fairly quickly, as Robin did not want to be stuck in the very narrow glens with another group, but they promptly moved after us!
Eventually we lost them, and we able to relax as we explored the intricate landscape, and a number of archaeological sites-mostly shielings, summer grazing places, according to Robin. We ended up with a lovely view of Rum through a dramatic gap in the hills, fronted by another dark loch, where we had a pause for tea. On the way back, four of the party and Robin climbed the truly spectacular Sgurr, with extensive views. (This was quite a triumph of mind over matter for some who had suffered in the past from vertigo). There followed a beautiful sunny evening, and, yes, more good food!
Tuesday June 6th
In the morning we packed up and removed to the pier, awaiting the arrival of the Shearwater, which was to take us to Rum. This gave us a good view of the route we had taken on the first full day, and very impressive it looked too! The day became equally impressive, dark and ominous, certainly not summery, but we did at last see some Manx Shearwaters! The weather cleared up a bit as we landed, and we transferred to the rather improbable castle which was to be our home for the next few days.
We had fun settling in to the amazing rooms, four-posters and all, although it was immediately apparent that they were not designed for the taller members of the party!. (Robin and Martin were sharing a room large enough for a game of football). We then tackled the rough path up to Coire Dubh, where we saw some hinds, and, briefly, got wet, before returning to baths or showers and a pleasant meal in the Bistro.
A brisk, cool walk around for some of us did not produce too many of the fearsome midges of Rum, but did reinforce the feeling of being somewhere quite extraordinarily "different".
Wednesday 7th June
We walked briskly out along the so-called "Main Road", to the collapsed dams, where we turned up on to the open hill, slowly gaining height through extraordinary rocks and past a number of lochs. It seemed to be clearing slowly, and after lunch we could see that the ridge of Barkeval was well within reach, so up we went, seeing a number of deer as we climbed. There were also wildflowers, moss campion, and then the less obvious mossy cyphel. Once on the ridge, although a cold wind blew, we enjoyed the glorious views of the mountains of Rum, and a very brief appearance of a Golden Eagle, and of a Snipe. Probably the same eagle reappeared as we descended, but this time gave us much better views, as we looked down on the great bird, with the sun glinting on the gold of the nape. (You expect these poetic bits in the Hebrides).
From here, it was simply back down Coire Dubh to Kinloch, baths and more food. (Robin did his obligatory worry-bit, wondering about going up the hills at night to wait for the shearwaters coming in to their burrows, but no-one seemed particularly anxious for the additional exercise, and, in fact, each evening the hills disappeared in cloud!).
Thursday 8th June
The day dawned authentically wet and foul; we struggled out on the coastal path, but did manage some good views of Golden Plover, before being so soaked and cold that most opted to return to the shelter of the glen. Robin carried on for a while, saw two Red-throated Divers, a Peregrine kill that had once been a Manx Shearwater, and a Stonechat. In the afternoon, it improved a bit and most folk walked around Kinloch, seeing a number of birds and a few midges. In the evening, along with hordes of Swedes off a boat, we had a guided tour of the slightly tatty splendours of the front rooms of the Castle.
Friday 9th June
In the morning, we had to leave Rum and return to Eigg; we really did not mind, it felt like going home! We walked to the sands of Laig, where we lunched and watched the sea and the clouds, before slowly progressing along the shore, with its remarkable (geological) dykes. On the way back, we stopped to look at the still-used, but rather dilapidated, brick-built Catholic Chapel, which told the story of the island's decline more vividly than several books could do. Back to a final meal provided by Marie, and our last evening truly "away from it all".
Birds Seen and Heard:
Red Grouse (only droppings)
Greater Black-backed Gull
Lesser Black-backed Gull
Treecreeper (seen only by Maureen, I think, who also achieved an ambition in at last seeing a Cuckoo!)
One dead Pygmy Shrew
Flowers seen included:
Northern Marsh Orchid
Common Ladies Mantle
Bird's Foot Trefoil
Fir Tree Club Moss
Rock Cress (probably Small Northern)
Slender St John's Wort
Alpine Ladies' Mantle