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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Islands and Visions

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 the unique Scottish light, a panorama so glorious it is forever etched onto my retina for instant recall. Eigg was a brilliant last night of 28 days of journeying, a feast of barbecued fish, wine, song and delicious whisky all shared on board the ‘Song of the Whale’ with islanders, scientists and artists. A great night of very little sleep.

Ruth had headed out from Oban, meeting islanders, encountering basking sharks, sailing and sharing future visions. Each week a new crew embarked and I first shared with Ruth the third ‘Gaelic’ week to far away St Kilda before leading the final week. Leaving Lewis to port we headed north to Rona for two days before night sailing on a glorious 30 mph northerly wind back to Harris, the Shiants, Skye and finally Eigg.

This was a new departure for Cape Farewell, not just to understand the realities of Climate but to see how solutions have been crafted among the islanders and understand the challenges of achieving a low carbon existence. Practical examples on Eigg and elegant solutions offered by the architectural practice of Mary Arnold-Forster show that this is not only doable but also desirable. All is not milk and honey, there is resistance and fear of change but what these islands have offered us is a focused lens on what is possible uncluttered by the complexity of our dense urban lives. That and the sheer pleasure of the wild, the marine, the teaming birdlife and sea animals.

Our onboard scientists probed the seas for temperature and salinity changes and ornithologists counted and observed the influx of new species; a lack of sand worms and changing sea temperatures indicating the effects of climate change here. The weather systems are becoming more pronounced and thankfully we avoided the storms of May and June and instead basked in hot sunshine and often windless days.

Some personal highlights: Julie Fowlis singing to seals in sea caverns; Ian Stephen’s stories told and retold often hanging from rock faces and his beautiful exhibition at the Taigh Chearsabhagh art centre on Uist run by Andy Mackinnon; Mary Smith’s historical knowledge of all things Gaelic; visiting Arne Vögler from the University of the Highlands and Islands in Stornaway; collecting Iain Finlay Macleod via zodiac and taking him to visit North Rona for the first time – and on his birthday; visiting the island home of Frank which Mary had so beautifully designed; night sailing and introducing the wild sea night to our onboard artists; taking Jo Shapcott to sea and the endless glow on her face as she relished life on the ocean waves; having the people of Eigg onboard for our last night barbecue; having Maggie tell the crazy and wonderful history of the Eigg buy-out: swapping endless stories; swimming in 12 degree water and the mile long swims of scientist Emily Venables; the scientists struggling to collect data and explain to us the intricacies of their knowledge.  And mostly the exchange of each others worlds, how we work as artists, writers, musicians, how we can re-position our activity and art to engage, how the science feeds us and how the lives of those we met along the way added such a rich vane of what is possible.

This expedition has been two years in the planning and both Ruth and I and the whole Cape Farewell team had hopes and expectations. Briefly conferring last night with Ruth, the success of this venture has exceeded our aspirations almost on a logarithmic scale. Plans are already in place and new schemes being hatched to bring what we have seen and what we have learnt and the ambition to do what is needed towards visioning a shift towards a safer and more just and sustainable cultural future. In many ways the work has only just begun as it takes time to create, converse and bring art to new audiences, worldwide. It has reinforced for me the mantra that climate is indeed a cultural challenge.

It is also the beginning of a four-year program of activity in Scotland; we are now underway and want to continue building on brilliant new friendships and opportunities.  All of us have worked to make this possible, the generosity of everyone we have met on the islands to share stories, food, song and knowledge, the creators and scientists who have joined us and applied effort and time, the brilliant crew of Song of the Whale, Richard, Jim, Matt and Jo who have kept us safe and joined in our curiosity and the Cape Farewell team, Natasha, Nina, Vicky, Lisa, Tawia, Kathy, Gorm and Siôn. Plus many others and more along the way. Thank you all.

Author: David Buckland


Joins the expedition for week 3 and 4 David Buckland is an artist. He created and now directs the Cape Farewell project, bringing artists, scientists and educators together to collectively address and raise awareness about climate change.
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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 ›