In July 2011 Cape Farewell embarked on a month-long expedition by boat across the Scottish Islands, bringing the notion and experience of expedition home to the UK, with an exploration of island ecologies and cultures, and of the strategies for sustainable and resilient futures being implemented across the Scottish Isles. More ›

The Crew

The expedition crew of 40 includes island artists, storytellers, film makers, playwrights, architects, designers, musicians, community leaders, social scientists, ecologists, marine biologists, oceanographers, poets, acclaimed Gaelic singers and a chef.
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Video highlights

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In motion

The weather’s closing in, grey spray above and below, as we travel up the Sound of Mull to Tobermory. We’re all here, 12 artists and scientists and 3 crew, crammed, wedged and folded into our cabins on Song of the Whale, absorbing the practical details of life on a boat: sea toilets and life jackets, gas alarms, hatches, winches, blocks and switches: the multiple tripping, slipping, and lurching hazards involved in moving about on a rolling object in a shifting sea.

On Friday morning we picked up Gaelic poet and Sabhal Mòr Ostaig writer in residence Rody Gorman from the pier at Oban. Then a short hop north to Dunstaffnage, home of the Scottish Association for Marine Science, where we met up with scientists Emily Venables, Kyla Orr and Ruth Brennan, who’ll be joining us in weeks 2 and 3. Director Laurence Mee mapped out the centre’s research programme in marine ecology, Arctic monitoring, renewable energy, biofuels and sustainable management of ocean resources. Established in 1884 and now part of the distributed University of the Highlands and Islands, SAMS is the only institution of its kind on the west coast of Scotland. Its researchers are engaged at local, national and EU level with issues of policy, practice, knowledge transfer and commercial application of new marine technologies. Kenny Black, director of Marine Bioenergy Scotland, introduced us to the wonders of macroalgae (seaweed). Growing in abundance in these cold waters, seaweed’s been harvested by islanders here for thousands of years; hauled up from the beaches to fertilise the shell sand and acidic black soils, to feed sheep and cattle, to provide fuel in the absence of wood. Kelp – a form of processed seaweed – was extensively used in the 18th and 19th centuries in the production of soap and glass. A thriving kelp industry – based on exploitation of the labour of island farmers by clan chiefs – pushed island populations to their historical maximum in the early to mid nineteenth centuries, but the market collapsed with the end of the Napoleonic Wars. Now seaweed’s time has come again, this time as a cultivated, fast-growing, high energy resource with multiple uses in the food, cosmetic and biofuel industries. It’s still in widespread use as a fertiliser across the Western isles, and contributes to the managed health of the coastal crofts and the wonderful flavour of local fruit and vegetables.

From Dunstaffnage to Lochaline, up the misty Sound of Mull, where we tucked in to the quiet bay, looking across still water to Morvern and the wooded Ardtornish Estate. We buzzed ashore, and tramped up to the Whitehouse Restaurant above the ferry terminal in our fetching red life jackets. Set up 8 years ago by Jane Stuart-Smith, the Whitehouse serves delicious, imaginative, locally sourced food, which we devoured in noisy happiness with Jane and her husband Hugh Raven, who runs Ardtornish with the same commitment to local resources, stewardship and sustainability. At the end of the evening the rain had set in, and Vicky Long grimly prepared to set up her tent somewhere on the shore (we’ve got more sailors than berths, and one of us has to camp ashore each night), but Hugh and Jane took pity on her and whisked her off to a medieval castle on the estate, where she lolled about in a four-poster bed for the night and bounced back on board in the morning, rested, washed, glowing and smug.

Author: Ruth Little


Joins the expedition for week 1, 2 and 3 Ruth Little is Associate Director at Cape Farewell. She is an Australian dramaturg, teacher, writer and former academic who lives and works in London, where she is Literary Manager of the Royal Court Theatre. Much of her work with writers and theatre artists explores the territory at the edge of chaos, and the dynamic relationship between order and disorder.
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  1. Ruth,
    Well done all though probably today you are getting full wind and sea. I am sorry to miss the feast but Nick Drake and I were at the National Maritime Museum giving a reading of his poems and a discussion about what you are exploring, curious and with a tenacious spirit. Last week I gave a presentation at the RAPID conference of international scientists – if a bye product of our climate enquiries is a bringing together of the arts and scientists then this is for the good and possibly a good pointer to the future. One of the scientists was from SAMS so pleased you had a good meeting there. Good luck on EGG and can’t wait for more stories. Great re Vicky and four poster beds, alas that might be her last time in such luxury on this expedition. Hugs to all, David

  2. avatar andy mackinnon says:

    jammy vicky

  3. avatar Julia and Theo says:

    It looks pretty dark and cold up there, but I think is expected to improve. We love you Roo. Whole world of politics, media and police imploding without you! xxxx

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Sea Change Programme

Puffin from the Bird Yarns project, part of Cape Farewell's Sea Change programme.
Grown out of the Scottish Islands Expedition, Cape Farewell’s Sea Change is a four-year programme of research and making across Scotland’s western and northern isles. Sea Change involves over 30 UK and international artists and scientists, working collaboratively and independently to consider the relationships between people, places and resources in the context of climate change.... Read more ›

A timely reminder of how valuable an outsider’s perspective can be

Community Energy Scotland’s annual conference offered a timely reminder of how valuable an outsider’s perspective can be.  It was reported on some research into how different countries are taking forward the development of renewable energy. The study looks at several European countries including Scotland, as well as five states in America. The most striking feature... Read more ›

First there was an island – then there was a boat

Shiants 2
“First there was an island – then there was a boat”, so begins a poem by Shetland writer Laureen Johnston.  Since owning my first boat at the age of eleven, I have been an obsessive explorer of islands, the smaller and more remote the better.  Once, in the grip of a sudden attack of aquatic... Read more ›

‘On these isles’

Lawrence has a 7am coffee break after feeding cattle.
‘On these isles’ is a project by photographer Ed Smith, whom we had the great pleasure of meeting when visiting the Island of Eigg. Ed has spent large periods of time on Eigg and other Inner Hebridean isles capturing life there in pictures. Have a look at more of his images and this project at... Read more ›

A gaelic song

Mary Jane Lamond, Jo Royle and Julie Fowlis Video by Ruth Little

Cape Farewell – we know what to do, can art help us get on and do it?

The following is an excerpt from Sara Parkin’s article found on the Forum for the Future website. …I was fortunate enough to join the crew for one week of a four week tour of Scottish Islands, starting with Skye and Canna before crossing the Minch to Mingulay, Barra and South Uist. The weather was kind,... Read more ›

Islands and Visions

Eigg Barbecue on Song of the Whale
There is a sea view when travelling from Eigg to Mallaig where you have a 360° vision of the Small Isles, Skye, the mountains of Scotland, Mull and, far into the distance, the Outer Hebrides. At 6 am yesterday the grey of the sea bled into the numerous blues of the mountains all dramatised by... Read more ›

Annie Cattrell and Jo Shapcott in conversation about week 4 of the expedition

Annie 1
JS Annie, what is it about islands? AC I like the fact that there’s a larger proportion of sea than land mass visible. There appears to be a completeness and self-sufficiency about the individual islands even though they are all distinctly different. There seems to be a big distinction between uninhabited and inhabited islands –... Read more ›


Photo by Sion Parkinson
(1) On the crossing from Ullapool to Stornaway on the Calmac, I wrote myself a list of rules, a set of behaviours that would concentrate my efforts, or assuage any guilt from any feelings of impotence, in my seven days aboard the ship. (1.1) Rules: (1.1.1) Take photographs, more than you need to, get in... Read more ›


Cotton Grass marking  Dwelling Rona
It was my birthday when I went to Rònaidh first. A place I wanted to see since I was little but I had always missed the boat. It is about forty miles north of my house near the Butt of Lewis. I went on the sixth of August aged thirty eight on the yacht ‘Song... Read more ›

Mary Arnold-Forster

Skye architect Mary shows the house of Fred Taylor she designed and reflects on the progress on Eigg and other green based aspirations for the islands architecture and energy supply.   Video shot by David Buckland     Sketches by Mary Arnold-Forster

Farewell and Ahoy: Log of a Voyage

Photo by Mary Smith
“Back in the kitchen.  A new group has joined Song of the Whale. There is an overlap of crew, Cape Farewell folk, and the artists and scientists who will sail together this coming week. They are planning to sail to North Rona, the Shiants and the coasts of Skye. But I’ve left the ship though... Read more ›