The zombie apocalypse.

Have you ever thought about what to do when zombies take over the world?

Arisaig beach with our kayaks on it.

Arisaig beach.

Neither did I until I met James on a beach in Arisaig.

We land our kayaks on that lovely beach on a glorious day, fully expecting not to have this gorgeous beach for our own. It is relatively close to the road and with this fine weather people will walk up to this white sandy beach with azure blue water. Just to get a Caribbean feel to your Scottish holiday.

We carry our kayaks above the tideline and change our outfit. Ready to meet the neighbours.
I found a lovely little green sea urchin and offered it to James. You know those people that you instantly connect with at first glance? It was like that with James and his girlfriend. You just know you can talk to each other for weeks without it getting boring.
James is a musician and Jen works as an architect in Edinburgh. We talk about holidays and how to spend it. He wants to know everything about kayaking and how we survive at sea, what we do for food.
When I find out that James is a blogger as well as a musician, I want to know everything about that. My secret ambition at that time is to start a blog. But I do not know how to start and to be honest, I find it all a bit daunting, I’ve never written before so properly am carp at it. My idea of social media is A-social media. So I’m not going to use it.
James encourages me by telling me he learned to write better during the years. And if I did not enjoy it I can quit any time. He has a point there. It got me thinking again. I do want to share my Scottish stories….

Fried seaweed on our stainless steal plate

A selection of fried seaweeds.

We gathered some varieties of seaweeds to experiment with earlier that day. And caught some fish. After cooking food we asked them over to join us in the seaweed tasting adventure. We put some coconut oil in the baking pan and fry the various seaweeds in it until crunchy.
The Dulse is a definite winner, fried until crunchy, it’s like a salty crisp and melted on the tongue. Surprisingly, Jap weed tastes like fatty mackerel, a bit smokey and oily and with its fine texture, a bit spaghetti-like. The larger leaves of the sugar kelp need some handing, it almost seemed to be afraid of the frying pan. It curls up when it comes in contact with the heat and the hot coconut oil. It results in some bits were nice and crispy while other bits are chewy. The Irish moss isn’t that big of a success, very chewy and tough. We knew it was supposed to be better in a bouillon but we gave it a try anyway.

It is lovely, sharing a whole new experiment, learning stuff.
But Scotland would not be Scotland if the weather didn’t spoil the party. Huge big drops of rain pour down on us and we rush into our separate tents but with new ideas and possibilities. The world has just grown a bit.

The next day when we pack our stuff and say goodbye to James and Jen. James tells us that he’s been thinking about our way of travel last night. And his conclusion was, ‘Now I know what to do when the zombie apocalypse comes, I just get into a sea kayak, do some fishing and gather seaweed.’

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If you squint real hard you just might see zombies marching onto the beach, a few beers might help aswell.

Charlotte Gannet

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Dae ye ivver hiv days when – as hid draas tae a close- ye lukk back an realise ye’ve aachieeved absoluutly nutheen?

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Jimmy’s harbour as it looks in 2018

Don’t you just love Google Maps? It is a very useful tool to study the coastline of the Scottish Islands before visiting them. Dreaming away behind your computer before actually being there.
Based on the aerial pictures we look for suitable beaches to land the kayaks safely and avoid being trapped by slippery weed covered rocks when getting in at low tide. We judge the beaches on not being too close to houses or roads, a good escape at low tide and campground options. But beware, the beach can look good on the picture but can be rubbish in reality.

After studying the coastline of the island of Hoy at home we found out there were not many beaches suitable for landing our kayaks. But we found a little beach on the east side overlooking Graemsay and landed our kayaks on that beach at high water. In reality, it seemed to be some sort of harbour for small boats, something we missed while checking it out on Google Maps. The boats could only leave the harbour when the tide was in. There we met Jimmy and his best buddy Franky. Two nice elderly men who lived their entire life on the island. I and my friend started a conversation with him.

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This little bench is a good refelction of Jimmy himself.

A bit shabby looking in his unbuttoned checkered shirt over faded blue overalls and high waders covering his legs. He was leaning on his shovel, squinting his eyes to the late sunshine he took his time to talk to us in his thick Orcadian accent. Taking his time while Franky was labouring on.
I don’t think Jimmy had any teeth left in his mouth and the sounds he produced were recognisable as some sort of language. But he was very expressive with his wrinkled facial expressions and wide gestures. It turned out that he and his pal was digging out a harbour for their own benefit and for the local fisherman. Visiting sailors would have to pay for the privilege of using the slipway.

Jimmy would work twice a day at low tide to dig out the harbour. Rain or shine, at any time of the day/night, midge or no midge, with buckets and spades. He said had some bigger equipment coming to dig out the harbour a bit faster. At the same time, the contractors would do some construction work.
He was paying for this project out of his own pocket and with a lot of elbow grease. And he had his trusted friend Franky helping him.
I knew exactly what his wife thought of the entire enterprise. Totally bonkers. But the work would keep him occupied and out of the house.

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In 2012 the digging of the harbour is was in full swing.

My friend never knew what the man was talking about and left the conversation early. Me, on the other hand, fell a bit in love with the elderly chap. He was so passionate about his project. Committed to his job, going on against the odds. You got to admire that kind of tenacity.

Now read the title of this story again. Read it slowly and out loud as it is written. Now you have a taste of the Orcadian accent. What I have learned from talking to this toothless elderly chap is that in order to understand what he is saying, you got to listen to the words you do understand. But the most important thing to do is watch the gestures and body language and expressions on the face. Most of the time that will help you to fill in the gaps of bits you missed in the conversation. However, the most important thing is to listen with your heart without any judgement and the intention of really wanting to understand the other.

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The harbour in 2018, the boys have realized their ambition.

Charlotte Gannet

 

How to kill a fish.

Charlotte Gannet fishing with a hand spool in her kayak.

Catching fish with a hand spool

I put my index finger in one gill and my middle finger in the other. I place my thumb on the spine. I close my eyes and bent back the head of the mackerel. I hear a tearing sound, like the ripping open a seam of your favourite jeans.
The whole fish just went limp in my hands. I open my eyes and see a big red droplet of blood trickling down the left glass of my sunglasses. As I look down I see my kayak covert in blood. The same colour as my own blood. It is almost too much blood, I quickly check if I have any wounds.
I look at the silver coloured fish, so dynamic and lively as it was on the fishing line. So beautiful in the black coloured pattern on the back and the iridescent shimmering in the smooth scales.

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Beautiful iridescent skin of the macerel

‘Yeah, that looks like dinner, gut it and fish for some more!’ Alexander cheers.
‘What?’ I look up from my dazed moment contemplating the fact that I just killed a fish. I overpowered another living thing, weaker than I am. I tricked it with a shimmering piece of plastic and a hook, pretending it was food. Food, the basic necessity for all life on this earth.
Ironically, I’m going to eat it as food. How can I not have feelings about killing a fish?

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Killer kayaker

Recent scientific research has shown that fish do feel the pain of catching and when it dies of suffocation when out of the water. This knowledge changed my entire view of killing fish.
I used to catch fish and let my husband do the killing because I am a bit of a coward. But in a higher sea it is not possible to hand over a slippery fish, we tried and lost some good fish that way. In bigger waves, I would just remove the hook and leave the fish to die in my kayak. Now I know that is a horrible way for the fish to die.

Killing the fish is the most difficult thing to do when you think about it. It appeals to my conscience ‘Thou shalt not kill’. Taking a life to feed yourself. At home it is so easy, the fish is already dead and gutted when I buy it. It is neatly packed into some plastic. It is not even a fish anymore. Life has left the body, it is just flesh. But out here, I need to find my inner hunter, that ‘ eat or be eaten’ instinct. Although, I don’t think a mackerel will strike back and throw me overboard to kill me. Because it is not a big threat to human existence it makes an easy prey.
But if I choose to eat fish I better take the responsibility to kill it as quick and painless as possible. If that even exists.

But I don’t think it is sustainable to eat fish or any other animal every day. The planet can not cope with that.

I only fish with 2 hooks on my line twice a week, only catching what I eat, kill it swiftly and thank the fish for feeding me.

Eating the makerel after it is cooked in alu foil on the fire.

Eating the makerel after it is cooked in alu foil on the fire.

Charlotte Gannet

The man with bad make up.

This story is a followup on ‘I’m a weirdo and I know it’

‘Lets camp over there, at the blue car’,
‘What blue car?’ I haven’t got my glasses on so any detail in the landscape is a blur to me.
With a deep sigh, Alexander starts a description of the landscape. As always, I just don’t see it, even if I had my glasses on.
‘How did a blue car end up there, is there a road going there?’
‘No. Must be washed up there by the sea.’

As we paddle closer the picture changes. It is like looking at clouds and see what kind of shapes they make. Could it be blue plastic barrels? No, washed up plastic sheets?

The closer we come the odder the scene becomes, the heather and the Rowantree, the grass, it looks a bit unnatural. And suddenly we see a head of a man looking over one of the walls, looking angry at us. Is he going to throw rocks at us? And why is he wearing makeup?

‘What do you want!’

‘I am sorry,’ Alexander answered, ‘We were looking for a place to put up our tent for the night. But we will find another beach. Sorry for bothering you.’
This seems to be the right password. The man comes from behind the wall. I expected a big bloke, but this small man appears. He is wearing an interesting combination of a blue T-shirt and skinny orange spotted legs in big yellow wellies.
‘No, it is fine. Hi, my name is Tom. I apologize for my rudeness just now. A few nights ago I had some intruders who also came by kayak, they ignored me completely. I don’t want that to happen again.’

I get out of the kayak and shake his hand. On closer observation, he has blue eyes tattooed on his eyelids and black spots on his face. This is not a young man, he must be close to 60. I’m bursting with curiosity, but it seems inappropriate to ask a question about it just now. Alexander and Tom are chatting and I am can’t help just looking at the man. What, how, when, WHY…?

‘When you are ready, pop over to the house for tea. I will put the kettle on.’
And he walks away. What house? The derelict bothy could hardly qualify as a house.
‘Wow’, I say to Alex when he left, ‘What a character. He sounds so English, did you see his legs?’
Alexander and I change into dry clothes, put the kayaks above the high tide line and have lunch. We want to know everything about this man. How did he end up on this east coast beach on Skye?

A derelict bothy, the kind that Tom Leppard used to convert to a shelter

A ruined bothy, the kind that Tom had converted to a shelter where he could live in.

We walk over the carefully laid out narrow pebble paths in the same direction as Tom had disappeared. The blue plastic we saw from the water, turns out to be the roof cover for a low shelter made from the leftovers of the old bothy. A strong incense smell comes from a doorway.
‘That is for keeping the midgies at bay’, Tom explains.

We enter the narrow doorway and walk in a narrow room which looks like a kitchen. There is a rough wooden work surface covert with a heavy plastic sheet. Some creative use of wooden crates and stones make shelving to put his food supply in. He has a gas burner and several plastic wash basins and a colourful mix of plastic fisherman gloves. A small opening in the wall shows us another narrow room which acts as a bedroom just big enough to stretch out in. More wooden fish crates used as shelving, a black sleeping bag on a mattress. Several books and knick-knacks on the shelves and no pictures.
I am soaking up the entire scene before me. It strikes me how clean and organised the place is.

‘Coffee or tea? Tom asks. ‘Or would you rather have a beer, I also have a white Chardonnay.’
We squeeze ourselves on some improvised seats in the cramped kitchen. On the gas burner, he cooks water for coffee.
‘I’m ex-military, I served in Zaire, now called Congo, Rhodesia and South Africa. I got out in the 80ies when Maggy was in charge. I could not find a job and found civilian life difficult, so I thought “If I look like a freak and live like a freak, people will want to pay money to take pictures of me or to write about me”. So I got tattooed as a leopard.’
‘Why a leopard print?’ I ask curiously while looking at a long orange spotted arm passing me on eye level as he pours the water on the instant coffee.
‘It is the thing that the guy holding the tattoo machine could do best. And I was fine with that. But the whole thing did not go according to plan. Those management guys in London did not care about me and sent no-one to meet me.’
Really, is that the whole reason behind the choice of tattoo? So, he could have been covered with butterflies? At the same time I feel sorry for him about his big plan falling through.

‘What brought you to this east facing beach with the only sun in the morning?’ Alexander asks.
‘This had a town nearby, this bothy and fresh water, looked like I could live here, so I stayed. Twenty years now this summer.’ He avoids looking at us and stares at the 2 steaming coffee mugs. I quickly glance at Alexander and see the amazement I feel, reflected in his eyes.

‘What do you do for food?’ This I really want to know. For me, good food is important to keep up moral. I sip my coffee and look at Tom expectantly.
Well, I paddle across to town with my two kayaks. I paddle in one and fill the other up with stuff. I tow it behind my back to my beach. I shop when I need to.’
He starts to chuckle: ‘Once I had to go across and on my way back the sea was too rough. The ferry scooped me right out of the water and brought me to my beach. With kayaks and all!’
The smile revealed surprisingly healthy looking teeth, only one tooth is missing but the face relaxes a bit.
‘But what do you eat?’ I try again. I’m so full of questions but don’t want to overwhelm him.
‘I have a can of vegetable at seven o’clock in the evening. I drink two pints of beer in the morning, two pints at 12, and a rum at four o’ clock. I do buy cheese and corned beef to feed my gul.’
‘Don’t you eat bread or pasta, potatoes perhaps?’ I ask in wonder.
‘Carbohydrates will make me fat!’ he answers with conviction in his voice.
He did not have much meat on his bones. In fact, he is a tiny little man. This food regime must be working. But what about that amount of alcohol? Is he an alcoholic trying to forget certain things? But I don’t dare to ask him, he looks so fragile. How far can I push him with my questions?

‘But there is a whole sea with fish, don’t you fish? Alexander asks in amazement.
‘Cleaning fish is very messy, I don’t like messy, so I don’t eat fish.’ Tom answers practically.
‘And what about a fire?
‘I heat my can of veg on my gas burner, I’m perfectly happy with that.’
‘Not even for warmth?’ Alexander tries again.
‘If I am cold I go and lay down in my sleeping bag, but it doesn’t get very cold up here. Besides, making fires is always very messy.’

‘I’m sorry for not talking very clearly, my tongue is quite out of practice. I don’t get a lot of people around to talk to,’ Tom apologises. ‘Besides, I already talked enough for a lifetime while I was in the army, I don’t want to talk much anymore with people.’

‘Don’t you get lonely here, all on your own?’ I ask carefully.
‘No,’ He reply fiercely. ‘I used to have a job in the youth hostel in Kyle of Lochalsh but I gave that up. You know, I attract the wrong kind of attention with my looks. I’ve been beaten up on a few occasions. I don’t want that to happen anymore.’

A combination foto of the elderly Tom Leppard and an insert of his younger self

A combined photo of the elderly Tom Leppard with and insert of his younger self.

We visited him whenever we were in the neighbourhood. He would recognise us and called us “The Dutch”, but never remembered our names. There were some topics of conversation he did not like to talk about. Religion and a certain meeting he had with a German girl. There were things that were bothering him but we did not dare to ask him about. He looked so sad when the conversation went that way.
At 60 he was still looking good and was strong enough to keep the lifestyle going. Going towards his 70 he could not keep it up. He could not manage the boats to get his shopping so he went more often. The guys from the nearby fish farm were keeping an eye on him as well as the people in Kyle of Lochalsh. It was touching to see how a community takes care of someone who has chosen to live in isolation. Not the odd one out but the odd one in.
Eventually, he was offered a flat in Bradford, a small town just over the Skye bridge on Skye. We wondered how he would adapt to living in a house and all its comforts.

We found out that Tom died of old age in June 2016 at the age of 80.

P.s. Slow traveling is meeting people in their 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 https://youtu.be/g8-cbPLEZ58
or google images (tom leppard skye)

https://www.google.nl/search?q=tom+leppard+skye&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi828G4pYLbAhUBzqQKHfOgBa4Q_AUICigB&biw=1536&bih=760

FAQ’s on hygiene, lowering my standards

Alexander and Charlotte Gannet at the end of their holiday, dirty and smelly

Lucky that pictures do not come with scent….

How much time do you generally take to pack your suitcase when you go on holiday? How many times do you repack? And when you get home again how much did you not wear?

In a kayak, there is only so much stuff that fits in the boat. I must really put a lot of thought into what clothes to wear.

So, for the 5 weeks we will be travelling I pack;

  • 1 pair of trousers,
  • 5 pairs of underwear,
  • 3 short sleeve shirts,
  • 3 long sleeve shirts,
  • a fleece sweater,
  • 5 pair of socks,
  • 1 windproof jacket,
  • 1 wetsuit,
  • 1 jacket for paddling.

Yes, I will wear one pair of knickers for one week as well as one pair of socks. It is only bad in the first week. My body has to ‘detox’ itself from deodorant and a shower every day and other hygiene interventions. The next week my body will adapt itself and become in a more natural state. The shirt that I will be wearing in the first week I will also be wearing the next week while kayaking.

A washing line with kayak clothes in front of the tent hanging in the wind to dry on Cape Wrath

Alexander sitting in front of the tent while kayak clothes are drying in the wind, Cape Wrath.

You might ask, do you wash your clothes during the weeks?

The answer is No. But the trousers and fleece sweater have amazing self-cleaning properties. I might have sheep shit, rotten seaweed or fish oil on my trousers, a week later the stuff has vanished, isn’t that amazing? If I think that after 3 weeks my fleece might be a bit smelly, I go and sit next to a smoky fire and all smells will be gone. Luckily, Scotland does not have a very warm climate. Bad smells travel not as far in colder climates. I admit, after 5 weeks of wearing my trousers they are able to stand on its own without me in it.

Well, how about a shower or bath?

We do not encounter a lot of showers along the way. We can call ourselves lucky if we can find some fresh water to wash our faces. Sometimes I walk around with hair that will not dry because of the amount of salt water in it. I must admit, it is a great hair product. My hair looks really healthy, curly and full.

Natural stream with a deeper part, excelent to have a bath in

This was an excelent bath. Just a bit on the cold side.

When it is warm enough we wash in the cold stream. We use a cup and some soap and help each other to wash our hair and body. The most difficult part is cold water to wash my back, it sends shivers down my spine, making me gasp for breath.

If we are really lucky and we find some firewood lying around, we might wash with warm water. That would be, however, pure luxury.

Anyway, cleanliness is so overrated. Only in modern society body odour is unwanted. To wash your body daily with water and soap destroys all good bacteria. This only renders us susceptible to diseases and illnesses. When I come home I must confess that I shower every day (without soap) but it takes two weeks to get used to it. And I don’t feel as good as I feel being ‘dirty’.

Damp clothes drying in the wind on the car before packing for the way home

Damp kayak gear hanging in the wind to dry before packing them in the car for the way home.

Travelling home with a car filled with dirty and damp laundry during warm sunny weather really brings out the lovely horrible smells.

At the ferry crossing from Britain to The Netherlands I just hope that customs don’t pick out our car for a thorough search. Although, that just might be very funny.

Charlotte Gannet

How to improve your mermaid spotting skills.

One of the seven metal gates closing the former salt cellars at Wick Harbour depicting a mermaid based on childrens pictures

One of the seven metal gates closing the former salt cellars at Wick Harbour

Paddling around this enchanting landscape of the Scottish coastline, illusions of magical creatures under the waves start floating around in my head. It is almost tangible that there must be mermaids around.
Mermaids, sirens and selkies are all part of the seafaring folklore. They have been depicted at maps of the world from the middle ages. Shakespeare wrote about them in a midsummer night’s dream. Columbus reports having seen mermaids in the Caribbean. Although he thought the mermaids he saw, were ugly, mermaids are usually considered as gorgeous and seductive creatures. Nowadays the coffee brand Starbucks has a mermaid logo. So I’m not the only one with this fascination for these lovely half humans. I definitely want to find one and ask if she wants to go on a selfie with me.

But where to look for those shapely, long-haired, fishtailed women with enchanting singing voices of the deep in real life?

To find an answer to that question I start a scientific investigation to find mermaids in Scottish waters. What comes close to a woman’s figure? A dolphin or an otter?
The only creature that I can think of is a seal. Especially the harbour seal with its lovely round face and big dark eyes, though I’m not sure about the cubby body and bald head.
They love to sunbathe on the rocks and stones near the sea and curl their body, tail up, in a banana-shaped form just to have a good look at the approaching boats.
They swim close to the shore and are very interested in humans, they pop up right behind our kayaks just to have a curious look at us. But they are quite shy and when I look around, they quickly dive underwater. Very mermaidish behaviour if you ask me…

Sunbathing seals on a rock acting mermaidish

If you  use your imagination and squinted realy hard….

Perhaps I am looking at the wrong time of day, maybe I should look for mermaids at twilight or in semi-sleep moments.
The only sound I hear are the cries of the seals, which is similar to a howling dog, not very attractive to listen to. But no beautiful singing women’s voices.

Perhaps I’m in the wrong state of mind.
So I sat on the beach and try to find the 14th-century person in me and be more superstitious and open up my vivid imagination. Every unexplainable thing that is happening I will contribute to ghosts, monsters or gods. Expectantly I pear over the water and beaches, will I see a mermaid? One night does not yield any result, the mermaids are elusive, I sit there for 14 nights…
Alas, too much education I’m afraid. Science in that sense killed off all the monsters of the past.

Perhaps I’m not tired or hungry enough.
‘No’ I said to Alexander. ‘No food today, I want to see mermaids! This is a scientific investigation, very serious’.
He looks at me amused. ‘Have it your way’ he replied.
During the day I felt my energy dwindling. Yes, it is working. I should be seeing mermaids this evening’ I thought delighted.
I was getting behind and paddling slowly and in no fit state to pull the kayak above the tideline.
‘How is the experiment going?’ Alexander asked interestedly.
‘Brilliantly, I’m getting in the right state of tiredness and hunger.’ I answered enthusiastically but feeling absolutely lousy.
It all went downhill when Alexander started cooking. The smell of the food was too much for me. I could not resist and wolfed down the entire pot of pasta, only leaving scraps for Alex.
No backbone to endure the hunger experiment. And no mermaids.

Perhaps I need to be ill.
The perfect opportunity came when I had a blister gone bad and needed antibiotics badly. In a stupor of fever and medicine, we went out for a paddle. The only thing that happened is I tumbled over out of my kayak and no bloody mermaid came to rescue me.

Perhaps I’m not drunk enough.
Sitting on the beach with a bottle of whiskey I try to get drunk. I’m not a practised drinker so a few sips will make me completely lala. A perfect state of mind to see mermaids. The world went woozy, I saw a lot of falling stars and then passed out on the beach. Damn, I just need to practise more….

Perhaps I’m not desperate enough.
An abstinence of sex must be sufficient for me to see mermaids, shouldn’t it? I mean, all those 14th-century guys didn’t see a woman for months. They must have been pretty desperate and crave sex. They would jump everything that looked remotely female, desire makes everything look good even bald, chubby seals with moustaches on their faces.
Five weeks, I think, is not sufficient time to try this one in order to see mermaids. And I’ve got a man lying next to me in a tent. Too much temptation, I think I pass this one in my investigation.

Watersplash, just missed the mermaid

Was it really there!?

To wrap up my personal research I must conclude that having a vivid imagination, or being hungry, tired, ill, or drunk in itself is not a sufficient condition for seeing a mermaid. We have not ruled out however, that they might be a necessary condition for seeing a mermaid.
Therefore my recommendation for further research is to test whether a combination of these factors might bring flocks of mermaids to life. For the single traveller, the abstinence of sex could be a very promising field of further investigation. So many sailormen and fisherman can not have been wrong in the past for seeing mermaids, can they?

Charlotte Gannet

Foraging companionship and the taste of seaweed

Crispy seaweed, baked in the fryingpan by Charlotte Gannet

“Do you know the different types of seaweed?” the guy asks, he’s one of the 14 nephews and cousins we just met. They stay in the large house for the yearly work party on the currently unpopulated island of Ensay or Easaigh in Gaelic. Standing side by side, the house and chapel shape the deep sandy bay on the east side of the island surrounded by the fast flowing water of the Sound of Harris. He is lucky, this year I had decided to learn the names of the seaweeds we normally encounter and brought an identification guide to the most common seaweeds. Brian, the guy just asking about the seaweed is interested in eating them.

I know my seaweeds in a way. I know the different species by their toughness because I like to tie my kayaks to them. I also recognise them by their slipperiness by just carrying heavy boats over them. Especially Charlotte is very good in the sliding bit. But most importantly I used them as my watch. Each seaweed species identifies a period in the rise and fall of the water and by knowing the high and low water times of the tide it easy to derive the time from them. This year their names interested me and during the trip, I took little expeditions with my identification chart to name some of the seaweeds. I had hopes that with the names I could find recipes to cook them in the future.

View over Ensay house, chapel and standing stone taken by Alexander Gannet

So I said “yes” to Brian “I know some seaweeds” and we decided on a foraging trip at low tide the next day. One of the other nephews joins; he wants to find razor clams. We had heard about the trick of sprinkling salt around the holes that appear in the sand at low water. For us, this is normally a problem, because salt is a commodity that we don’t carry in a quantity that is useful for hunting razor clams. They have plenty of salt in the house so we give it a try. We are not very successful and with hindsight, I think we didn’t find the right holes. Apparently, you have to look for keyhole like shapes in the sand to find your meal of razor clams and we only found round ones.

After a while, we started going through the seaweeds on the rocks left and right of the beach. Not only collecting the Sea Lettuce (Ulva lactuca) and Dulse (Rhodymenia palmata) but also Common periwinkles from between the different types of Wrack. He returns the favour by inviting us into the large kitchen. There is a nice atmosphere in the house. The large group of people, mostly in their 20s hanging relaxed and loose on chairs and in couches. They join in small groups for all kinds of activities. Some fanatically play games on the table beside the window and others sing accompanied by the sound of a guitar, a nephew takes his fishing rods and goes out for some rock fishing. Brian is joined by one of his nieces and starts experimenting with cooking and frying the seaweeds. He goes around like a chef, tasting and then trying something else. This is the part we never tried, afraid that we would burn the non-stick coating of our frying pan. When he is happy with the results he prepares the whole bunch of seaweeds. The blanched Sea lettuce radiates a bright green colour while the Dulse is a crispy snack fried in very hot oil.

At dinner time everybody joins around the long table in the kitchen. Our bounty of the foraging trip proudly presented as the appetiser before dinner. Everybody agrees on the fried Dulse, it tastes delicious. I judge the Sea lettuce as okay but not so special as the Dulse. Eating periwinkles, however, is for some a little bit too much, the idea of eating snails turns their smiles into expressions of disgust.

This problem is quickly solved by those who like them. It involves some work to gather around 70 periwinkles on Ensay. Usually, it is not a big problem to collect them and it is the amount Charlotte and I normally would eat together with a glass of cider. With 14 people, however, this only accounts for five periwinkles per person. The leftover periwinkles are quickly gathered and redistributed to the people who enjoy their flavour.

Charlotte Gannet picks out a cooked periwinkle out of its shell

After dinner and some tea, we leave the group and head back to our tent. What a wonderful day, just sharing and learning with a person you’ve never met before and meet on an “uninhabited” island. We should add seaweeds to our diet because we now experienced how delicious they taste.

If you look for a simple seaweeds identification chart you can use one from the Field Studies Council (FSC). This is an environmental education charity providing informative and enjoyable opportunities for people to discover, explore, and understand the environment.

http://www.field-studies-council.org/publications/pubs/seaweeds-identification-chart.aspx

Alexander Gannet

Trouble in paradise

Charlotte Gannet emptying the kayaks before the storm

Prelude

The sky turns slowly in the color of a big black bruise, Ominous and threatening on the horizon, while we peddle over the to Mull, it looks harrowing.
Although it is getting darker the weather is still and calm. Literally: ’the calm before the storm’.

We paddle fast, at the other side of the sound we almost crash the kayaks onto the rocks. There is no time to find a nice landing or to change the kayak gear, hastily we pitched the tent.
And there it is, the rain, like someone pushed a button. The water falls out of the sky in big heavy drops. Just in time, we created our little safe haven, I sigh.
I check all last things in the boat and secure them, Alexander checks all pecks and strings to secure the tent. All plastic sheets neatly tucked under our cloth shelter.
We peel ourselves out of the suits in the rain and just leave it there to get soaking wet. We will sort it out later.

‘Just in time’, Alexander remarks.
‘Yeah, luckily everything is dry’, I reply. ‘How long is the rain going to last you think?’
‘At least a day, maybe two, we just have to endure this.’ He laments.
I only think: ‘Oh yes, a nice day – or even days – of some rest! Lying in bed, lovely and snug in my sleeping bag’. All conditions are great, we have a boat full of food, plenty of fuel, enough water to last us a few days, a brand new waterproof tent, a good book and with a bit of luck some radio reception. What more could a girl who has already kayaked for a couple of weeks with very few days of rest? I am so going to enjoy this!!
Munching on cookies we listen to the rain falling on the tent. I feel safe, happy and content in my lovely dry and warm sleeping bag.

Day one

After a good night sleep, we need to go out the tent to go for a pee. That’s the only downside to camping out in a rainstorm. Back in the tent and sleeping bag, we cook our morning porridge. After breakfast, I snooze a bit and listen to some radio. Reception is not great but sufficient enough to listen to BBC Radio Scotland, they broadcast talk radio in the morning. I enjoy listening to it because the conversation gives a nice window on what is going on in the community. I alternate the radio listening with reading a few pages in ‘The Lord of the Rings’. I am enjoying myself, for Alexander, however, it is less enjoyable. Just out of boredom Alexander starts shooting with elastic bands to the tent ceiling to kill some midgies.
 ‘Shall we have lunch?’ Alexander suggests at around two o’clock.
While I put butter on the sandwiches Alexander cuts the cheese. Making lunch is really a joint effort. We end our meal with a nice cup of instant coffee.
‘I’m going out for a walk and do some fishing, are you going to join me?’ he announces.
I look at him dumbstruck, going out in this weather?! I’m not going to sacrifice my dry shoes to go out for a walk, no way! I am warm and dry in my tent, thank you very much.
 ‘But it is raining outside! You will be soaking wet.’ I moan.
 ‘I’m staying right here, dry and warm.’
I listen to some more radio, a music program. I read more LOTR, I snooze a bit when my eyelids become too heavy from reading.
Suddenly I hear the plashy sound of footsteps through the soaking wet grass coming closer to the tent.
 ‘Hi, love.’
 ‘Take your wet things off before you come in the tent!’ Oh no, you make everything wet, great’ I reprimand.
My favorite program is on the radio. Get it on!! I sing along with all the songs while we cook dinner in the tent. The outdoor activities forecast is predicting more rain tomorrow. Another lazy day in the tent, lovely.
 ‘Yeah, you like that, don’t you?’ Alexander tries to kiss and tickles me.
 ‘Go away, not with your cold hands. Stop it!’ I scold.
I read a bit more and Alexander writes the journal. What a comfortable day, I think. But I expect not everyone in the tent will agree with me on this. We drink some cider and go to sleep.


Eureka tent with tarp extention

Day two

The rain is still dripping on the tent as we wake up. Sometimes a bit heavier, sometimes a bit lighter. The day progresses in a similar rhythm as the previous day, listen to the radio, read a book, a snooze, lunch… I have this feeling of unease creeping up on me.
 ‘Are you going to join me for a walk?’ Alexander asks innocently.
 ‘NO!’, I aggressively answer back.
 ‘But you need to go out for a walk, it’s good for you.’, he pleads.
 ‘I don’t want to. If you want to go, that’s fine. I don’t want everything wet. It is too cold.      Leave me be, go and fish. Bye!’
I pull the sleeping bag over my head and turn my back to Alexander. As he leaves the tent I listen to the radio for the rest of the day. On talk radio, they talk about how much damage the rainstorm has done on landslides and flooding of cities and towns. It is estimated that there is going to be 68 hours of rain. I don’t feel that content anymore in my cozy and warm tent. I don’t know why I had to react so irritable to Alexander, and I’m not even tired! I’ve had enough rest. The rain can stop now. But the weather gods pay no attention to my silent prayer.

Alexander Gannet fishing from the rocks


Alexander comes back to the tent, a big smile on his face and happy with his achievement. Proudly, he raises a big Pollock above his head.
 ‘How on earth are we going to prepare fish. You have to cook it outside!’ I bark at him. So much for a warm welcome home for the heroic fisherman and his catch.
 ‘You need to come out of the tent and help me put up the tarp’, Alexander barks back, disappointed by my reaction.
Raging en raving, while I put my clothes on and step into my rain gear.
 ‘Happy now?’ I snap as I come out of the tent.
We put up the tarp and start to cook the fish. It is a big fish, and Alexander really puts an effort in to make nice large bone-free fillets, just the way I like it. The big slices of fish are coated with Indian herbs, the tangy taste warms me up. It is actually really nice, but I am not going to admit that, I am way too grumpy.
 ‘Can I go back in the tent?’ Provocatively, I put my hands on my hips and look at Alexander.
 ‘Pffff, yes, please!’ Alexander replies annoyed.
I take off all rain clothes and complain loudly about how wet my trousers and shoes are.
Alexander comes in about an hour later. Silent we drink some cider.
 ‘Goodnight.’
 ‘Yeah.’

Day three

After a very uncomfortable night, it is hard to sleep when you are used to so much activity, I wake up to hear the rain still coming down on the tent.
 ‘I am sorry for being so grumpy yesterday’, I say to Alexander.
 ‘Oh, sweetheart, that is okay. I know, this is really very difficult weather.’ Alexander whispers while he takes me in his arms.‘
I start crying. I mean really crying, with the ugly face and snotty nose and all.
While having breakfast we listen to the weather forecast on the radio. There is still a bit of rain around but there will also be spots of dry weather.
 ‘Let’s start to clear out.’ Alexander suggests with a happy face hoping to lift me out of my sadness.
 ‘No, it is still raining, everything is wet, we cannot pack up now!’ I say exasperated. I look at him like he made the most indecent proposal ever.
 ‘You heard the forecast, it will be dry and all the stuff will dry too’, he said annoyed.
 ‘Yeah, in about a fortnight. I’m not going, everything will be wet and cold!’, I yell.
 ‘Everything that is wet will be dry and warm. Come on!’ he shouts back.
With all the bad mood I could muster I start packing the sleeping bags and mattresses. Everything is a bit damp and moist. But Alexander doesn’t pay any attention to my bad temper.
 ‘Look, it is getting lighter, there is a break in the clouds. Even the sun is poking through!’
I delay and sigh and moan and curse. I am radiating my bad mood.
 ‘Especially for you the rain is easing, you see, it is getting less!’ Alexander teases.
He is having fun with taking the mickey out of me.
The worst thing is still to come, getting into my wetsuit that has been lying in the rain for the past two days. With the utmost use of bad language, I start wriggling into the sodden suit.
 ‘You will warm it up in no time, look at the number of calories you will be burning!’ Alexander optimistically says with a big smile on his face.
This aggravates me even more. I put all my anger into carrying the boats to the water. While we paddle into the Sound of Mull Alexander points out how beautiful the light shines on Duart Castle, the rainbow in the distance, the eagle in the sky.
The paddling and the beauty surrounding me lift my bad mood a just little bit.

I give a little smile to Alexander, back in my mind I know I am silently hit by a bad case of cabin fever. But next year we go to Ibiza!

Charlotte Gannet

Another high

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This weekend we enjoyed and other high water. This time on the river Waal, the largest distributary branch of the Rhine. First by bicycle, which was fun.

The birds are making the most out of it. The dykes are littered with walnuts at the moment. The crowd scoured a flood line where all the notes are collected. When they find one they fly to do tarmac to correct them. Also, the common kestrel gets their food on a plate. All the little rodents flee the rising water and onto the dykes. So the kestrels only have to soar the steep banks of the dykes. Hovering, at eye level, almost motionless in the stiff breeze. They are little marvellous wonders to see.

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Today we used our kayaks, which was a little adventure. First the Gendtsche polder, where wind and current pushed us almost in the trees. Then we had to cross between the big barges, on a fast flowing river, with a stiff breeze against it.

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On the other side, the Millingerwaard. We pedalled through the forest which was ravaged by the storm of two weeks ago. At least the beavers don’t have to chew their threes down now.

 

 

 

The love boat

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A ship is always safe at the shore, but that is not what it’s built for.

— Albert Einstein or John A. Shedd.

I always tell my kayaking students, jokingly, ‘the best thing about this sport is that it allows me to yell and scream at my spouse’. And it is true, a rough sea and strong wind demand short, loud and well verbalised commands. But there is more to it. So in this blogpost, I will dig into the way’s, how getting your feet wet with your significant other will built a state of strong emotional attachment or love.

The landscape we travel through, with its rough exterior, it’s old ways and it’s fascinating lighting, invokes not only feelings of romanticism towards it, but also to each other. During our ‘working life’ Charlotte and I already do a lot together; walking, inline skating, kayaking and cycling are part of our standard routine. We always share our dinner. But over here, in this rough landscape and the self-reliant way of travelling, the relationship becomes more symbiotic. It would be so much harder to do this alone and there is a real need to tune into each other’s state of mind, especially during exciting sea states.

I truly noticed this romantic aspect when we took a friend on the two first weeks of our Orkney trip. She was a single woman at the time. Somehow, at least not continuous, I did hold a more reserved pose towards Charlotte. Less holding hands, fewer kisses. When the friend left and we were together again the trip became this over compensated, sweet, sticky romantic thing. Later, to explain it to a good friend, I described these three weeks as ‘The Love Boat experience, just like in the television series from the 1990’s’. So let’s explore our different facets to this love story.

One of the most simple aspects I see are the shared stories we created together. The encounters, with people and wildlife. The romantic sunsets and enchanting landscapes we linger along. The tough and testing times and circumstances we suffer. It builds a shared narrative and forms the basis of a strong “We-ness”. Besides the narrative that grows there is also the learning by experience together, that bonds. We are so used to teachers teaching us, where knowledge is transferred from a person with knowledge to one without. But out there you explore and experience together and learning becomes bouncing concepts and ideas of each other and therefore the learning is experienced as growing together.

But, like it is with all cruises, it’s a package deal and has limited space. Being locked in by the rain on a 1.2m by 2.1m tent floor, less space than our double bed at home, for a whole day. It requires flexibility in both limbs and mindset. Wiggling around each other to get some form of cooking done, arms through a small hole underneath the tent seam, a dangerous flame of the petrol stove just outside the tent. This excitement is alternated with the more intimate moments of trying to have a wee in a decapitated cider bottle on your knees in the cramped vestibule of the tent. Yes, normalising new standards, it’s all part of the game. For example; when I said once, ‘I love you’ after dinner, Charlotte said ‘Why?’. My only answer at that particular moment was ‘I love you because you believe that spoon is clean enough to use next time after you lick it off’. Like it is normal to do the dishes in that way.

Part of the package deal is also dealing with each other’s negative moods. I can be too eager and willing to move faster. Being with me for more than half a day stuck in the tent can be a pain. But the worst flaw in my nature is the dreadful cases of going home blues. Silent or emotional, with strong mood swings. I hate returning home. Charlotte, on the other hand, can be indecisive at times and in an ‘I want to go but not too wet please’ mode after a day stuck on shore by wind or rain. In most cases, there is no winning decision in that situation and it can clash with my impatiens. So it is a case of acceptance, not aggregating the mood too much and learning to ignore the unworkable bits of each other.

For me tuning in Charlotte’s state of mind is a key component for a safe journey. As part of the navigation, on and off the water, there is always the check; how much is too much. I really had to learn, a challenging day is not measured in wave height alone. Three days after we passed the Great Race, in high waves we crossed to Colonsay in relatively small waves. But Charlotte’s perception was the complete opposite of mine.

Rest me to only tell you about the symbiotic aspect of the relationship/journey. In the testing conditions of camping in Scotland, there can be a need for a fierce efficiency. Outrunning the rain in putting the tent up or cooking on the fire with limited space and a sandy ‘counter top’. It requires constant cooperation the one keeping the fire going and cooking while the other is cutting the vegetables in the right order and pace.

So who would have known that one of the good tips for relationship building would have been to carry a 75-kilogram kayak over often slippery rocks and twice a day? Some of the readers might say: “this is not possible with my significant other!”, but remember you have to train. I started with the simple stuff; like just catching her bicycle after a strenuous uphill climb on route to Santiago de Compostela.

One thing that shocked me the most is that she stopped taking my love tokens. I like to beach-comb her heart shaped boulders and stones. But Charlotte believes my love will sink her ship.

 

Charlotte I love you!

 

Alexander.

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