Watching the wildlife off the coast of Scotland.

It is always hard to judge the weather in Scotland. It is like taking a huge gamble. The Scottish weather is unpredictable, annoying, full of surprises. It can hide beautiful landscapes behind a curtain of heavy rain or reward you with stunning views across the ruins of Urquhart castle. It can give you the most beautiful rainbow and touch your face with sunny spells. Last year we have experienced all seasons in one day – starting with stunning sunrise, slowly warming up the air.  Then a heavy rain came, suddenly changing into snow. The day has finally ended with a red-painted sky.

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We were not entirely sure what to expect when we decided to take a cruise to watch the wildlife. I had read about the cruises, leaving from John O’Groats, and thought it would be a perfect day out.  Not only did we get to explore one of the furthest Northern points of United Kingdom, but we also got a ferry to see an abandoned in 1962 Island of Stroma.

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This tourist attraction has strings of colourful houses, quite a few places you can have your lunch in, and surprisingly big tourist information centre. As the sign at the top indicated the place is 690 miles from London, 280 miles from Edinburgh, 2200 miles from the North Pole and just 4.25 miles from Island of Stroma. When we sailed away for our cruise, a group of cyclists reached the sign. You could hear their happy voices and sense the joy. I wondered if they had cycled from one end of Britain to another? Not in one day, obviously!

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Not many people decided to go on the cruise that day. Luckily, this gave us a great opportunity to admire incredible views of the cliffs at the Island of Stroma. The seals rested on the rocks and guillemots went about their own business. The weather was behaving for most of the time, soaking us with rain for few minutes and rewarding our suffering with sublime rainbow over abandoned houses the Island.

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The history of Stroma is sad and beautiful. The last family living there, permanently, left in 1962, leaving everything behind. Like many others they responded to the call from the mainland. To the dream of more modern life. The final desertion happened in 1997, when the lighthouse keepers and their families left. Only sheep and wildlife stayed.

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The savage weather and very strong tides of the Pentland Firth made the life on the island a solitude one. The inhabitants became practically self-sufficient, trading with the mainlanders their agricultural products and fish. But the mainland was calling and desertion became inevitable. At this moment the sole owner of the island – William Simpson, former resident, is using it to graze cattle and sheep. He is also organizing cruises to the island to see ruined houses and the lonely lighthouse sitting at one end of Stroma.

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We wandered around the ship, trying to position ourselves, so we could see the seals lying on rocks. They were moving their bodies lazily and slowly, looking rather heavy and awkward, until some of them finally reached water… You could hardly believe the change in their movements, how fast and graceful they became. Their bodies one with the sea, their eyes suddenly alert and their heads moving fast as they looked around. Guillemots occupied the cliffs, jumping from one to another, attached to the rocks, if by magic. Ssometimes unexpectedly slipping into the water, looking at us without fear, vary of our presence, knowing we are just passing by.

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The cliffs were incredible. The captain of the ship was a skilful one: we sailed into the valley and could almost touch the rocks. Sadly, the guillemots and puffins droppings stench was overpowering. We could not stay long. However we managed to see two seals resting on a small rock shelf, considering if it’s safe for them to stay. Perhaps they should slip into water quickly, where we could not reach them? They decided to stay, and allow to us admire them until we left them in peace.

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As suddenly as it started to rain it stopped. The sun came through and the beautiful rainbow took up residence in the sky. The Island looked even more beautiful and charming. The nature was showing off, even though it was not necessary. People admitted the mistake and disappeared from here, long ago. However, for a moment I sensed the loss the island felt. The bitterness of this betrayal hanged in the air…

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The ferries are available from John O’Groats. There is no need to book it, just turn up there and get your tickets from the office. More information available here.

John o’ Groats


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