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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Heisker (Monach Islands)

Swam this morning off Ceann Ear, one of the Monach islands (Heisker) torn from North Uist by centuries of storm and broken into an archipelago of white shell sand beaches, dunes and flowering machair. We travelled in a day from the dark vertical near-impossibility of St Kilda to the horizontal stillness and limitless skies of Heisker, where Julie Fowlis’ ancestors once lived, abandoned since the last family – the Morrisons – departed in the 1940s. Lachie Morrison, now in his late 80s, sang at the Taigh Chearsabhagh ceilidh a few days ago – now we’re walking in the place where he lived and sang and swam, beside the fine needle of the old lighthouse; Hiorta, Dun and Boreray faint on the horizon.

Sheep roam here, and rabbits. The beaches and spreading marram grasslands are scattered with buoys, creels, flung plastic shards and driftwood. Once the islanders rescued flotsam crates of tobacco and whisky from these shores; untaxed bounty from an often punishing sea. There are gales here 50 days a year, but not today. The air is still and warm; gulls and waders cry and flit across wet pink granite and rotting weed. And there’s another sound coming in slow waves from the water, high, sad, pure and ancient: the Atlantic grey seals are singing.

It’s breeding season now in one of the world’s largest breeding colonies. Yesterday we sat on the dune edge on the west coast of the neighbouring island and looked down on a white pup, blinking at the cold pulse of salt waves on a rising tide, dragging itself effortfully across rocks and sand, waiting for its mother to return. The seals are gathered in their thousands on the eastern beaches of Ceann Ear, and hundreds more are bobbing in the ocean, sleeping with triangular faces uplifted from the water, or turning in lazy profile to watch our Zodiac come in. As we slip into the bay, they seem to move with us as a mob. They are moving with us; rousing themselves and pushing strongly at the water to keep pace with the boat. Then suddenly they dive en masse in a flurry of anxiety, leaving empty seas and glassy oval footprints, before popping up again, more curious than frightened.

From the quiet beach I walked into the water, cold and utterly clear from the shallows out to the surging kelp fields 20 feet beyond. Alone for a moment, and then surrounded, completely surrounded, by broad, blunt faces, breathing hard through black nostrils and watching with dark eyes my slow paddling. Beneath me, a sudden blur of movement; a speckled white pup swimming on its back, staring up at me. No aggression here from the snorting adults alongside, no fear either, just watchfulness, curiosity, a testing of air and water, beside the bolder approaches of the pups…In their element, they can disappear as suddenly as they come, and I’m the visitor seeking permission to be among them, quietly, until they lose interest in my cold fluttering fingers and return to their bobbing and coastal gazing.

Back on shore, I have to run along the beach to warm up. A group of seals swims with me, easily, and as I climb the dune to the abandoned settlement i can hear their song rising like myth from the deeper water, and then it’s lost among gull-cry, water-noise, and distant song from Julie, Mary and Mary Jane, who sit, faces upturned in the sun, outside the lichen-spattered schoolhouse. The whole day feels uplifted, elated, full of song and water-language.

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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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 ›