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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Guarding the sands of the West Coast

While The Song of the Whale continues it’s voyage to St Kilda I find myself back in Taigh Chearsabhagh to have another peruse of Ian Stephens exhibition as well as a post trip chat with Andy.  Sitting in the café, an elderly gentleman strikes up a conversation that initiates from a minor technological struggle that I have with my dictaphone.  Conversation quickly moved on to Island religions, to Islander generosity and to the familiarity of faces in the café.  Stories flew and before I knew it we were onto the beaches of the west coast during the Second World War.  He tells me, “they were banned from the beach, school children you know”. I didn’t.  He fills me in.

During that time period, when the seas were laced with mines and ships were sunk along with their cargos, all manner of objects and indeed resources were washed up onto the sandy shores.   I am told of whole crates of butter, “fine to eat, you just had to scrape the skins off’.   Not to mention the jackpot prize of a tobacco crate that kept one islander stocked for nearly the rest of his life.  In amongst these prizes however, mines were also found, sometimes with tragic results.

“But you’ll like this one” he continues in a thick Scottish accent. Often, along with boat parts, food and mines, bodies would also find their way to the beach with the tide.  On one such occasion two local lads, one very quite and the other a little mad, made their way to the beach to see for themselves.  As they emerged onto the sand and approached the body, they saw it rise, first crouching, then standing, and then turning. They ran. Back to the village, to tell of the war victim that had arisen from the dead.   On the beach, standing over the body he had been examining, the doctor was left chuckling quietly to himself.

But amongst what was clearly, at the expense of the two lads, a moment of mirth, were the more serious safety issues posed by this assortment of debris.  As a child in the war, my informant was banned from the beach.  His father was the man in charge of noting and dealing with the fragments of wreckage that landed on local shores and when he died, my informant, then aged 22, took over the role. The legacy of war time debris that littered the sea and with it the shores of the islands, it seems lived on well past the wars end. “Still now”, I am told, things sometimes get washed up.

Still now.  My mind drifts to the seaweed workshop and the consideration that seaweed might be a viable resource for biofuels.  But with the recognition of this resource, we might say the role of those guarding the sands of the western shores has been inflected. No longer do a brave handful of islanders protect the community from dangerous debris. Rather today, we find scientists exploring the possible effects of seaweed removal on the wider ecosystem, in a sense, potentially guarding the western shores from us.

Author: Libby Straughan


Joins the expedition for week 1 Libby Straughan is a geographer currently working on an international project jointly funded by the AHRC and NSF, which is conducting research into the process of collaboration between artists and scientists.
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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 ›