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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First there was an island – then there was a boat

“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 Monroe-bagging, three fellow kayakers and I landed on twenty four islands in twenty four hours.

What draws me to these places is hard to define.  The journey is part of the magic.  The sea is endlessly, and wonderfully alive; unlike concrete, unlike tarmacadam.  No two sea journeys are ever the same.  On the trip to North Rona, we met families of dolphin, Risso’s, basking sharks and minke whales.  The sea was calm, the swell long and leaden.  The night-time journey back was before a north-easterly gale, sailing only on the jib.   Driving southwards at eight to ten knots, we listened to the clicking of a school of pilot whales some three miles away.

Next day the sheer sculptural magnificence of the Shiants was a revelation.  I have a personal lexicography of island profiles; the Kame of Hoy; the Kame of Foula; the Drongs of Eshaness; each place uniquely powerful and awe inspiring, yet even now, weeks later the basalt columns and screes of the Shiants are etched on the back of my eyelids.

Two other aspects of the week stand out for me, the birdlife and my fellow travellers.  I cannot talk of seabirds without experiencing a sense of imminent loss.  These familiar gliders in the wind, the tiny dancers-over-the-waves, the stinking oil-spewers, the pirates, the cliff comics, are under threat as never before.  It was encouraging to see fledged juvenile kittiwakes in the cliffs.  The same species is failing to breed year-upon-year in the Northern Isles, as sand eel stocks plummet.  I had never before seen shearwaters in such numbers, nor at such close quarters.  This was my first sighting of Leach’s petrels.

As distressing as the environmental threat is, my fellow travellers gave me cause for optimism.  Through sickness, discomfort, sleeplessness and fatigue, they were endlessly cheerful, altruistic and generous.  Here within the twenty-one metre steel hull of Song of the Whale, were twelve very good reasons to be cheerful; to believe that there is the will for change and a better future.  My sincere thanks goes to everyone who travelled with me.  The journey was gloriously life affirming.


Author: John Cumming


Joins the expedition for week 4 John Cumming was born in Burra Isle, Shetland, where he grew up in a crofting and fishing community, before studying sculpture and ceramics. In 2002 he co-founded Hansel, a publishing cooperative dedicated to promoting and publishing literature and the visual arts in Scotland’s Northern Isles.
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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 ›