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

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

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