Green travel to green places

In search of climate and wildlife stories…by bike

Learning to slow down and enjoy nature — August 25, 2012

Learning to slow down and enjoy nature

Someone accused me of not being very low carbon because I was planing to get the train and ferry to Coll. I laughed. True, I could cycle all the way to the sea and then follow the example of some people from Coll who on the 8th August swam from the Ardnamurchan peninsula to Coll (I heard later that they did the swim in relays so no-one actually swam all the way). Finally I could walk to the RSPB reserve, so technically it is possible but it would be one hell of a mixed up crazy triathlon. It’s true that the ferry is not exactly low carbon. You would have to do the sums, but if you were on a half-full ferry in winter it might be better for your carbon footprint to fly in a full plane. But if you did fly you would miss the sight of porpoises, dolphins, basking sharks, gannets diving into the sea, and more. I prefer the slow route and with Calmac ferries investing in some electric powered ferries this year, all the better.

Both Coll and Tiree are amazing for watching wildlife but Coll is wilder, quieter and with less people and houses – more romantic perhaps. There is more moorland and even a few trees. Tiree seems busier, flatter and greener, with sandy beaches all around the island. Getting to the reserve on Coll was fine by bike. I stayed in Arinagour the village on the island close to where the ferry offloads. It’s about 10 miles from there to the reserve, a bit up and down but not too arduous. Anyway the views are worth it and being on a bike you feel in the countryside and closer to nature. I had my own bike but you can hire them or even stick your thumb out and hope for a kind passer by – quite likely on Coll.

Also on a bike you can pootle along and stop when and where you like along the single-track roads. I’ll admit I’m not very good at this slow cycling philosophy – I like the ride too much. But I’m learning to slow down. I was inspired by two people I met who took most of the day to cycle their hired bikes around Coll, they saw so much wildlife. A family I met on their bikes said they loved Tiree because they could spend the days, slowly cycling from beach to beach. So on Tiree I put my mind to a slow ride to where I was staying for the night and was rewarded with a view of a rare female hen harrier hunting over the heather. With so much nature all around why not take some time to just enjoy it.

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Outward to Coll — August 21, 2012

Outward to Coll

When I was 11 my family went on a holiday to Mull. I remember we took the short ferry journey across from the Morven peninsula to Fishnish Bay. The thing I remember most clearly was looking down into the inky black water and seeing thousands of huge bulbous jellyfish, the ferry cutting it’s way cutting through them.   My ferry to Coll today passed through the same waters of the Sound of Mull, but no jellyfish this time. A solitary porpoise was the highlight, and I nearly missed that save for a friendly passenger nudging me in the back to show me. No white tailed eagles circling over Mull, no exciting seabirds (none that I could identify). It was windy up on the observation deck and not sunbathing weather so I did retreat to the lower decks before we reached Tobermory. So I didn’t see much wildlife today but I’m sure I will not be short of wonderful things to see this week on Coll and Tiree.

Corncrake
Andy Hay (rspb-images.com)

I’m looking forward to visiting the RSPB reserve tomorrow and finding out what impacts climate change is having out here on the islands. And perhaps, if I am very lucky, I might see a secretive corncrake.

 

Bute-iful cycling — July 16, 2012

Bute-iful cycling

I’m not back on sabbatical yet but thought I would blog about my latest green travel. I’ve been on holiday with the family the past couple of weeks and after abandoning our Moray camping holiday due to rain we decided to extend our time off with a short trip somewhere else.We found a B&B in Rothesay on the Isle of Bute so headed there from Glasgow. Best of all we decided to leave the car at home and go by train, ferry and bikes. We loaded 2 bikes, 1 bike seat, 1 tag-along bike, 2 panniers, 1 small rucksack, 1 handlebar bag and not forgetting 2 children onto the train to Wemyss Bay for the journey along the Clyde. At Wemyss Bay the station is at the ferry terminal so an easy roll down the pier to get a ticket. At the other end a short ride got us to the B&B – easy.

Taking a rest from digging at Scalpsie Bay

Taking the bikes meant we had them to get about the island, mainly to the sandy beaches for us. Cycling on Bute is easy as nowhere is very far away and doesn’t take a climb over a big hill to get there. On the east side the road runs along the coast so getting to Mount Stuart, for example, is flat all the way.

Rothesay is, sadly, a town in decline – a faded seaside destination of the past – and the worst fish supper I have ever had! But the beaches and views are glorious. I have never been to a beach where the sand and sea is so full of life. Give me a spade and a sandy beach and I have to dig, constantly, so I saw a lot of worms, shellfish and other invertebrates – even though I didn’t know what they are it felt like Bute was teeming with life. The weather was great and a few porpoises in the Kyles of Bute topped it all off, especially for Anna, my wife, who had missed seeing bottlenose dolphins in the Moray Firth.

Bute without the car was so easy. If more people decided to leave the aeroplane on the ground and even the car at home to cut their holiday’s carbon footprint Rothesay could be in for a second heyday.