Jennie, a wreck in a cave

The bow of Puffer Jennie, in her last resting place.

Partly due to the weather the light is already dimming out. We had an early start and some rest on the southwestern tip of Arisaig. But then late in the afternoon, we started a long crossing in some formidable waves and a strong wind. Now we move along the lee side of Isle of Eigg and everything is calm again. However, it is hard to make landfall on the rocky beaches and the grassy slopes are to steep for a tent. We keep pushing on and around 20:00h we approach the northeast point of Eigg and the Sound of Rhum. Sgorr Sgaileach, which appropriately translates from Gaelic as the Shady Hills. Here the cliffs that fall straight into the sea. Before we can circumnavigate the point we pass a cave, in it the skeletal remains of the bow of a ship. The force of the sea has the rusty corpse firmly wedged in the dark chamber. Where the hull is riveted together the heavy metal plates are not jet corroded, leaving a rough but picturesque trellis. Fascinated by the scene, I snap a few pictures with my small digital and waterproof camera. Unfortunately, the camera is already signing that it is too dark or that I am too shaky.

Back home there are two issues, a burning curiosity and some blurry pictures. The later is solved by some drawings and watercolour and results in the image above. To satisfy my curiosity, I start normally at the Canmore site (https://canmore.org.uk). The site contains information about archaeological sites, buildings, industry and maritime heritage across the whole of Scotland. By starting on the map page you can normally find the smallest cairn or mitten by just zooming in. Just get the right location on the map.

In this case, I discovered, it was the Clyde Puffer “Jennie”. She sank in February 1954 when she hit Sgorr Sgaileach. The tragedy worsened when int the spring of 1954 the Puffer “Lythe” tried to salvage cargo from the wreck of the “Jennie”. The “Lythe” did strike her and ended up on the bottom of the Sound of Rhum herself.

The Clyde Puffer VIC32 at the Crinan Canal

Puffers are stumpy little coal-fired steamboats. They were the workhorses of the Hebridean. Transporting cargo between Glasgow, through the canals and on to the islands. This “Jennie” was built in 1902. We did see one of the last two seagoing Puffers, the VIC32.

Alexander Gannet

The Old Man and the Sea

Reproduction of Norman Acroyd's by Alexander Gannet.
My study of Norman Ackroyd’s work. Mingulay Bay 2015

After a day, sheltering for the endless rain, we decide to explore the town a bit further and find ourselves a nice dinner. Dressed in our dark green rain ponchos we wander around Castlebay. We are desperate for a hot and spicy meal and walk into the Kisimul café, a small Indian restaurant with views over the castle. Unfortunately, all the empty tables are reserved for the night and we leave disappointed.

We ramble on, looking for an alternative restaurant. The choice is limited, in a tiny town like this. The desolate streets end quickly into the hills, so we return and climb the stairs to the Craigard Hotel. Hotels are not really our thing, especially after four weeks of peddling, a handful of showers in a cold creek, some crusty streaks of seaweed on the bottom of your trouser legs and wearing our most elegant rain gear. Indecisive, if we would like to eat there, we loiter around. Looking for a menu and some glimpses of the food being served.

“The food is good”, a smoky voice declares. We turn around and in a cloud of smoke we see an elderly chap wearing a shabby blue sweater and jeans, he is standing on his socks just inside the hotel door. With his friendly, but glassy blue eyes it’s hard to tell if the man is tired or just enjoyed a whiskey or two. We start chatting and learn that he rented the “Boy James”. For two weeks he makes boat trips around the Barra head isles with his family and friends. So we tell him that he must have passed us this morning while we were getting on the water near the deserted village on Vatersay with our kayaks.

This triggers his interest, he used to kayak himself when he was young. Now he is still fascinated by the outer edges of the British Isles formed by this chain of rocks, skerries and little islands. He has been close to a lot of them. For every remote island, we mention there appears a new twinkle in his eyes. The more we exchange about our sea journeys, the more exuberance and vitality inhabits the man. It’s funny how a love of remote little islands, the sea and an obsession for the ever-changing light, can turn a meeting into an instant connection. A connection based on shared experience of the solitude shared in the screaming of the seabirds, of this deep longing for this aesthetic enchantment in the architecture of the land and the isolation of being on the edge of everything. We enter the building together, and while we wait for a table we chat about our kayak trip. He is clearly impressed, telling his companions enthusiastically about what we talked about outside.

When the waitress comes, to tells us that our table is ready, we say goodbye. For starters, we choose the local cockles, harvested on the Barra beach that doubles as an airfield. We really enjoy the seafood. One of the fears of eating in hotels is that I’m still hungry after the last bite. Fortunately, this is definitely not the case today. By the time we are on our last few bits, the man and his entourage are seated by the waitress at a table close to ours. We recommend the cockles. When I spot a sort of sketchbook in the man’s hands. It showed signs ruffled pages like it is used for watercolours.

View on the cuillins, skye in magical hebridean atmosfeer refelected by a calm sea
Magical light in a mesmerizing Hebridean landscape

As the main course, we are served on a large and full plate and the salmon comes with a good dose of potatoes. A habitual smoker, as the man is, he walks to the hotel doorway again for a quick cigarette.
The conversation starts going back and forth again. I become more and more intrigued and curious by the big stack of paper he is carrying around. It looks like a home-made holy book, a precious volume that needs to be guarded. Being an enthusiastic watercolourist myself, I recognise that behaviour and bluntly ask if he is drawing and painting. He confirms my question, but the stack of drawings stays firmly by his side. I do not push on, understanding that it can be quite difficult to show someone else your fresh work. Only at the end of our dinner, when we leave and say goodbye I ask if I can find his work on the World Wide Web. One of the men in the group quickly respond and writes a name down followed by “.com”. I read slowly, “normanackroyd.com”, it does ring a bell, but I can not remember where I have seen it before.

Only a couple of days later, on the ferry back to Mallaig, I can use my phone to access the Wi-Fi and check out his website. I am very surprised, the watercolours are familiar. Half a dozen of his paintings are already on my phone. I had downloaded them a long time ago. I studied them, to learn from his incredible capacity to capture this beautiful Hebridean sea light in watercolour. And there I was thinking this man was a fisherman when we met at the doorway of a Castlebay hotel.

Later, at home, I learn that Norman Ackroyd is a very accomplished artist, his work in the collection of the Tate Gallery. I copied some of his watercolours to acquire a bit of his skill. If you would like to see some of his work check out the Eames Fine Art Gallery.

At the time of our meeting, he is 78 years old. But with this vitality, both in his work and life, the sea must be his elixir of life.

Alexander Gannet

I’m a weirdo and I know it

Self made dwelling of Tom Leppard, leopard men of Skye, on a remote shore of Skye

Visiting Tom Leppard on Skye

What is that? Two kayaks are approaching the beach? Oh no, not today. He thinks back to an evening three nights ago when a couple in kayaks landed on his cleared beach. He had totally been ignored then. He’s not going to have that again! He’s going to scare them off by looking angry behind a wall.

That morning he stretched, touching the rough dry stone wall with his feet and hands, as he does every morning. The light was flowing through the blue plastic tarp used as roof coverage. He doesn’t know what time it is and he doesn’t care, when daylight comes it is time to get up.He pulled his knees up and swung his body towards the narrow entrance to the small kitchen area. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he reached for the neatly folded clean clothes on the shelf and got dressed. Turning around he made his bed in the tiny bedroom. To call this a bedroom was an overstatement, the space hardly fit his mattress.
The book, that he is rereading for the tenth time, went back on the shelf above the bed. In its right place in alphabetical order.

In his tiny kitchen, he reached for a half pint of lager. Grolsch nowadays, a Dutch brand, he had gotten fed up with cider. He learned that beer roughly has the same nutritional value as bread. Both carbohydrates. Bread doesn’t keep as well as beer and he likes the taste of beer better, so the choice was easily made. He opened another can of beer while he walked out through the plastic flap which acts as a door. The early sunshine tickled his face. It was so relaxing to feel the warmth on his body. He’d better make the most of it, the sun would be behind the hill at noon. He crumpled his beer cans into neat little packages and stowed them in the designated trash bags.

He walked back into the kitchen of his shelter, rough cut planks formed a narrow kitchen counter covered in plastic.On wooden shelves and in cupboards were all his meager possessions stored. Satisfied that everything was organized and clean, he sat down on the edge of the bed and scratched his chin.
He knew he was getting older. Things were taking more of an effort nowadays. He wondered how long he could keep up this lifestyle. But he had no regrets. Not about his tattoo, nor about living out here alone. He still held the Guinness Book of Records title for being the most tattooed senior citizen. He had the full body tattoo that transformed him into a leopard, done in the eighties when he came out of the military service. It had cost him 5.500 pounds, an investment in the idea that ‘If I live like a freak and look like a freak, people will want to pay money to take pictures of me and write about my life’. But it did not work out that way. No, he was not sorry about that. He didn’t want too many people around anyway.

He felt the stubble under his fingers and reached up to his scalp. A shave was in order. With a bowl under his arm, he walked out his shelter to get some fresh water from the stream a few meters away.
Carefully he walked back. In front of the mirror, he lathered the shaving cream with a brush on his chin. He looked at his reflection while he scraped off the foam and stubble from his face with a cheap disposable razor while making funny faces.
On closer inspection he saw that the leopard spots were fading, every day a bit less vibrant, although the black and blue are still clearly visible, the orange was getting less and less visible.
He put the shaving foam on the top of his head and shaved that stubble off too. He knew his hairline is receding, but the black spots and dots made that barely noticeable.
With the last two strokes, he shaved off his eyebrows, bringing out the black tattooed ones.

watercolour painting made by Alexander Gannet of Tom leppard

Tom Leppard watching 2 kayakkers approaching.   (watercolour by Alexander Gannet)

He walked along the shoreline. There was nothing much on the beach except some plastic bottles. After a storm, he usually found good timber, which he could use to improve his shelter, and sometimes valuable things, like big plastic crates lost by fishing boats or ropes and strings. During the years that he lived here, he has cleared the big boulders from the beach to below the low water line. He enjoyed the sight of the clean small red pebble beach and on the practical side, it made an easy landing for his shopping laden kayaks.
He walked back to the shelter via his manicured garden through a labyrinth of small red pebbled paths, passed sculpted heather plants and pruned Rowan trees. The grass looked a bit too wild and needed some clipping. So he decided to do a bit of gardening in the afternoon.

It was Wednesday, washing day according to his activity planner. Not to get too wet, he changed into a short-sleeved shirt and tiny aqua blue thong and slipped into his big yellow wellies. The combination with his skinny spotted orange legs was striking. It was like he was wearing a leopard print leotard, but this one never came off.
The freshwater stream near his shelter ended in a small waterfall before it flowed into the sea. He got the fish crate from the top step of the waterfall and with his huge big hands, too big in comparison to his small body, he started to wring out the washing. He hung the wet washing outside in the sun and checked the clothes on the indoor washing line. Dry enough, he folded it, stuck it into a plastic bag and stored it.
He put yesterday’s clothes into the free fish crate, replaced the fish crates and put today’s crate on the bottom of the waterfall.

The sun passed behind the hill. Lunchtime, two pints of lager again. He sat outside staring over the water to the town of Kyle of Lochalsh. Tomorrow he would need to paddle over with his kayak to town, to do some shopping, his supplies are getting low. He needs food for a couple of weeks again.
There was that bloody gull again. It was like the bird had a watch. It was always there at the same time. He shuffled into the shelter and got a can of corned beef, opened it, cut it into pieces, fed the bird, while he drunk his beer. He watched the bird gobbling down the meat before another gull came to steal it away. For ten minutes he enjoyed the company of the bird and then it flew off.
He sat there staring over the water for another hour, it was a quiet time, almost meditative.

Standing behind the washing wall, he watched a man and a woman landing their kayaks on the beach. What is that language? It sounds familiar. South African or Dutch?
‘Hello’, the man said, Do you live there? Shall we move on and leave you in peace?’
‘No, no’, he hears himself say, ‘It is fine. Hi! My name is Tom.’
To be continued…..

Charlotte Gannet

P.s. Slow traveling is meeting people in there own environment. It is not always fitting to ask for a picture in that situation and we did not feel the need for it at that moment. Tom Leppard is in our memory but now, with people reading this story they can hardly believe or imagine how he would look like, is he real?

If you like to check real images, checkout the video

or google images (tom leppard skye)

Training in France

Sorry, the story will be late. This week we are in training; writing, painting and cycling in France.

Watercolour of the barbwire gate of Natzweiler-Struthof, german concentration camp

Natzweiler-Struthof was a German-run concentration camp located in the Vosges Mountains close to the Alsatian village of Natzwiller.

Watercolour of a french field with a sunlit tree line and looming thunderclouds

Back, just in time, before the thunderstorm. A nice atmosphere for a watercolour.

Alexander’s boat

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It was the most dreich of dreich days. In the fifty shades of rain common to Scotland, this rain curtain had droplets thicker than mist but with the same density of mist. Weather to stay in the tent for a day.

‘Hello, good morning.’ We hear someone say.

Alexander opened up the tent. Outside our tent stands a friendly old man, a teenaged boy and an energetic dog.

‘I saw your tent yesterday evening, but it was already late. I thought it was better to greet you this morning.’ the old man starts.

We get out of the tent in full rain gear and start chatting. The old man, not wearing any rain gear and also called Alexander, told us how he took over the fishing shack and boat from his elder brother. Fishing for lobster to supplement his pension. At times he will fish for Pollock and bring some of the catch to the elderly in the community up the road. The twelve-year-old boy is helping him, just to have some entertainment in the summer holiday.

‘Are you going out today, fishing for the lobsters?’ I ask.

‘Yes, there are a few pods in the bay that need emptying but the tide is going out and I’ve got to fix the boat. The engine is not running great.’ He answered.

‘I love to see how it works, can we join you on your boat, this afternoon?’ I ask expectantly. ‘Och aye, if I get the old girl fixed.’ He said, pointing to the boat.

Patiently we wait in the shack, the boat is apparently not easily fixed. Time enough to make some good pictures of Alexander’s boat. The boat lies on its side most of the afternoon, waiting for high water. Just when we expect that it will not happen and start planning dinner, the old Alexander is ready to go out.

It is great, we haul some creels like a real fisherman at work on a lobster boat. Four of the lobster and two crabs are kept aside, they are missing some legs or claws.

‘They are dinner.’ The old Alexander decides. The rest of the lobsters are stored in the holding cages close to the shack.

We return after 22.00 o’clock. Back in the shack, Alexander cooks the lobsters and the crabs. We are provided with an old rusty hammer and two lobsters each. We crack this luxurious food on the dirty wooden floor. The funny thing is that Alexander does not join in this lobsters eating feast. He prefers his dinner with white bread and baked beans. We end the evening at midnight with a wee dram of whisky.

It was a great day, meeting people, learn something new, share a meal in the most dreadful weather ever.

As a tribute to this lovely elderly chap, my younger Alexander made a watercolour of his boat.

Charlotte Gannet

The Old Man of Hoy

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The Old Man of Hoy rises a one hundred and thirty-seven meters above the sea. It is a temporary monument in an almost timeless landscape. It is the tallest sea stack in Britain and in my opinion one of most fascinating ones around the Scottish coast.

Its warm orange and red layers of Old Red Sandstone pierces the cool shades of blue in the sky. It’s stance so delicate in the ocean, where the tides run strong and the waves ride free. It seems so timeless but in the geological scale of its Devonian strata, where it is sculpted from, it is here for less time than a blink of an eye on a day. According to Charlotte, this is too geo-geek information but! The stack only formed 250 years ago, by the erosion of a headland and it might topple soon. The orange sandstone, however, is at least a 350 million years old.

We did visit Orkney in 2012 and past the west side of the island Hoy in two days. It is a magical place of immense beauty. I started painting the scene and finished one version, which I gave to the friend that joined the trip that year. This version was started in the same year, but the scene became almost too magical and I chickened out. So for four years, it drifted on it’s his paper stretcher board. Last weekend it was finished and ready to share as this week’s visual blog post.

Alexander

Watercolour, 43x18cm on Saunders Waterford CP(NOT) paper 300 gr/m²