The Scottish islands have enchanted and enthralled us for millenia. They have provided escape from class and convention, inspired writers and poets, provoked volatile emotional intensity in songwriters and have provided explorers and adventurers with the opportunity to ‘contemplate a system of life almost totally different from what we were accustomed – to find simplicity and wildness and the circumstances of remote time or place…..’
I’ve been inspired recently by the fantastic Arthur Williams’ show, Flying Across Britain. Putting general aviation and the spirit of curiosity and adventure at its heart, it reconnects with an essence of aviation we’ve more or less completely lost day-to-day. Tales of derring-do are very much still out there if you know where to look, such as the completely awesome Backcountry Pilot stories, but on the whole, the first thing most of us think about when it comes to being in the air is that it’s more akin to being on the bus than anything else.
The first tentative steps. Inching forward on my new plastic accoutrements, I’m not altogether sure I’m ready for a week in these things. The snow’s falling, it’s windy, there’s little shelter and we’ve only just left our mountain station sanctuary. My relationship with my snowshoes I can already tell is going to be love/hate. It doesn’t matter, I tell myself, it’ll end up feeling natural. I find the most concerning thing the fact we’ve only just gone round the block.
Down an unassuming lane between Brentor and Mary Tavy, a small, hand-painted sign points the way to a clearing and some surprisingly well hidden buildings. It’s only when you get a little closer that you realise these relatively industrial looking structures doesn’t belong to any of the number of farms that surround the area. It’s early morning on a sunny Saturday, and members of the local Gliding Society are putting plans in place for a day of soaring above the Dartmoor countryside.
Travel around rural Cornwall by train is time-consuming. At its most frustrating (if you’re in a hurry), in the middle of the night, in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of a rain storm, it can also be downright creepy. There’s one line that stretches 79 miles from Plymouth to Penzance, and at a top speed of about 65mph for its duration, it’s still a valid and appreciated example of slow travel on the British railway network.
I am standing on the edge of the pier in Oban, the gateway to the islands of Scotland. Tomorrow, a Cal Mac ferry from the ferry port down the road will take me on a 6 hour journey to Castlebay in Barra. As the light begins to fall, I head to the nearest pub, maps in hand, to contemplate my journey. I feel a connection to Oban; as a place in its own right it has the brimming anticipation of any port town, but as part of a wider relationship to the rest of Scotland it feels isolated, and it provides a brief taste of the wilderness I’m yet to experience on my journey.
Amongst the creeks and coves of the Cornish coast, small businesses devoted to craft and tradition thrive. On the sheltered south coast, near Falmouth, a community of Cornish sailors flourish in the calm waterways of the Carrick Roads. Ben Harris is a fully signed up member of that community, and his reputation for building authentic wooden boats from scratch has earnt him praise from across the country.
The Republic of Ireland is at its best a vibrant and heady mix of wild isolation, wilderness and bruising weather combined with a gentle, more calm sense of peace, culture and close community. The southeast corner of Ireland is the perfect example of this. A two hour drive from Dublin and a four hour ferry journey from the UK, it’s known as the ‘Ancient East,’ and is lush, green and bursting with historic stories, unexpected landscapes and stunning beaches.
As the road west into the far reaches of Cornwall gets smaller, local businesses begin to pop up at almost every turn. Geography necessitates cutting your own way through life in this part of the world, and it doesn’t take long for me to realise that Shaun Trenoweth is no stranger to forging his own path in the world of reclamation.