Garefowl – Great Auk

I have collaborated with the musicians of Garefowl Music and their publishers Pennyfiddle Records to make this Limited Edition Glicée Print from a drawing I made of the Garefowl or Great Auk. This large flightless bird of the North Atlantic was made extinct in about 1845, and the new CD Cliffs by Garefowl Music was written to commemorate the anniversary of the last known one in the UK.

The story goes that it was killed by 3 men from St Kilda in 1840, or maybe 20, anyhow a longtime ago. They had travelled from the village on Hirta to one of the neighbouring stacks to gather eggs or birds for food, and a storm blew up stranding them on the rock for several days. There was a Great Auk with them on the rocks and they convinced themselves that it was a witch that had summoned the storm, and so they killed it. One of them Lachlan, was a direct ancestor of Ewan who has conceived and lead the music.

Yesterday was also the 90th anniversary of the evacuation of the last residents of St Kilda, and as luck would have it the air was clear and St Kilda was visible on my walk along the NW shore of N Uist. The skerries of Haskeir (not to be confused with Heisgeir or the Monach Isles) black in the foreground, with Hirta on the left, and Boreray and the Stacks like a space invader on the right. They are over 40 miles away, and boasting the highest cliffs on the UK. You can’t often see them, but when you can, you get a sense of their height and scale however smudged.

St Kilda ahoy! 29 August 2020

2 hrs later on my way back they were gone

St Kilda, il a disparu

I like the idea that this extinct flightless bird is once more winging it way around the UK. You can get your own copy with the CD from Pennyfiddle’s Bandcamp store or from my own store (without the CD) here. But be quick because they are limited and will soon be gone…just like the real thing.

the living wall

The guillemots have been installed. Still hidden from public view for a while there is hope that they might be visible in situ soon, though I doubt the bustling busy cafe will light up their gaggle as the original intent.

There’s a virtual preview on zoom on Friday this week 3rd July, at Taigh Chearsabhagh. 7-8 pm. Contact me if you’d like an invite .

The Living Wall – Guillemot Cliffs

six panels – charcoal, ink and gouache on paper.

I conceived this work almost a year ago. I had a vision of a drawing installed in the busy cafe at Taigh Chearsabhagh. Filling up the height of the space with the social noise and clatter of crockery and tables to support it and help bring it to life.

In Adam Nicolson’s The Seabird’s Cry, he asks you to:

“Look up at the jammed up life of a guillemot shelf….a densely tapestried network of longstanding relationships which have already lasted and evolved over the generations which have been continuous over the generations for thousands of years, on this cliff since the end of the ice age, perhaps 8000 years ago.”

I wanted to create a sense of the towering weight and space of the cliff for people sitting under it; to make them look up at the jammed up life. I planned a work that celebrated our seabird life and coasts and the heady days of high summer on this Atlantic edge where the elements of air land and sea meet.

As I’ve been working over the last couple of months to develop and realise my initial concept, these gregarious birds have filled up my house, kept me company, and populated my world. I did not plan or expect to make a piece about lockdown, isolation, and loneliness, but it turns out I have.

The Guillemot Shelf – The Antidote to Social Distancing.

Nothing in the seabird world is more cramped than the guillemot shelf


…is slow to arrive in the Hebrides.

While I’ve been enjoying posts of leafy verdant trees from further south for weeks now, our deciduous trees are only now beginning to sport a green fuzz of unfurling foliage.

Over the last 10 days though, our wildflowers are beginning to emerge on grassy banks and in the sun. Tucked low and sleek, little gems of colour.

It’s been dry with clear blue skies and we are lucky with space in lockdown to be able to move slowly by foot or cycle through the land and have time to notice and to stop and stare.

Eggs and bacon
Wild Pansy


Tussilago farfara

Sometimes I wish I was one of those sexy black and white photography people, but it is the colours that catch my eyes…. a bitter northerly on the dunes yesterday, in flat overcast light, flashes in the marram, small golden gems of spring.

Other common names for coltsfoot include: tash plant, ass’s foot, bull’s foot, coughwort, Interestingly it’s also been called It has been called bechion bechichie, or bechie, from the Ancient Greek word for “cough”. It’s been used in traditional Austrian medicine internally (as tea or syrup) or externally (directly applied) for treatment of disorders of the respiratory tract, skin, locomotor system, viral infections, flu, colds, fever, rheumatism and gout. An extract of the fresh leaves has also been used to make cough drops and hard candy. All from Wikipedia.

Feeling blessed

I’ve not posted much here for a while, but now suddenly there feels a need to up my communications. Not to record some anxious corono diary, nor to deliver panacea escapism, but as a way to connect with friends and family and a wider circle as we all sit confined to our own bubbles of living.

Yesterday I walked up to a standing stone, and stood next to it for a while, thinking of the generations of people who have passed below its shadow. That they loved and laughed and were sometimes anxious alone and afraid too. A short eared owl circled us twice, clockwise, low by my shoulders, and close that I could see the pattern on its wings, and yellow eyes in its flat pale face.

A lucky omen? I don’t know, but a moment of peace that left me feeling blessed. An old fashioned phrase, one my grandmother used, not one that trips easily off the tongue of convinced atheist of over 40 years, with not a wobble or doubt along the way.

As I walked back down, a pair of curlews whistled across my path, and a snipe flushed out from the heather by my feet.



Yesterday a respite between the storms, calm and quiet. When the wind stops you can open a door without having to take a deep breath first, you don’t need to anchor both ends of your scarf securely, life is suddenly easy, you feel like you can float on by. The wind is a physical thing, to move through it takes effort and concentration, it’s noisy, incessantly noisy, and a struggle.

Last winter I drew this for my friend Natasha who lived up a track and on the other side of a rickety bridge. I’d dropped her off one evening, and was waiting for a text to say she’d arrived home safely, and while I sat in my sealed warm car as it rocked and shook with the gusts I imagined how she might be navigating outside and unprotected.

It illustrates some aspect of living in this exposed windswept environment.

Storm Ciara down, and Dennis revving up outside…here we go again

The Potatoes of Berneray

are said to be the best.

this year’s crop has been harvested this week, and now they are all around.

It’s a communal event, people have small individual patches, but everyone helps to gather.

Grown on the sandy machair, and fertilised with seaweed off the beach, it’s pretty good local produce.

Gin, cake, bacon butties, and some rowing.

The setting: Feis Mara na Hearadh, a 4 day festival of the sea in Scalpay and Tarbert in Harris. On Saturday we arrived in Scalpay, after catching the 7.15 am Ferry from Berneray and a drive through South Harris, to the welcome aroma of bacon.

A promising start to great day out, with 3 fellow Berneray rowers but no boat (long story involving a tow bar and a hip replacement) so 4 of us hitched a ride in another boat for ladies race -1 mile- and came 3rd – out of 4, but quite tense as photo finish for 3rd and 4th and all of us really racing hard for the last 200m despite saying earlier that we weren’t really interested in racing, just here for the jolly. 

Berneray Ladies on yackydoola before racing

Then a quick turnaoud for longer 3 mile race/row from Scalpay to Tarbert, spread among different boats for this one, about an hr, as the drizzle turned to wetting rain but glassy sea with no wind. Finish line of the gin distillery, wet through and suddenly cold when we stopped rowing . Luckily a rummage through the boot of my my car, once retrieved from the departure harbour, revealed an assortment of dry leggings, and shirts and jumpers. Enough for all four of us to feel dry again, especially after sitting by the peat fire in the gin distillery and testing the gin, and cake…..

Being reeled in by Harris Distillery that stands proud on the front in Tarbert.

We had to leave before the prize giving and ceilidh to get the ferry home, but glad we were not camping, as still very wet. 15 degrees…..
Home by 8.30 and a welcome soak in a hot bath.