Where do islanders go when they’re looking for a little bit of adventure, a touch of relaxation, and a good measure of celebration? Another island of course!
When it came time to plan the Team Downpour Summer Celebration this year lots of ideas were thrown around; wild swimming, water sports, boat trips to uninhabited islands, camping on the beach… In the end, we managed to combine all but the water sports, with the most incredible trip to the uninhabited island of Mingulay followed by dinner at Eriskay’s Am Politician, songs around the campfire late into the night, and waking in our tents the next day to the sound of waves lapping gently onto the beach.
It was a wonderfully sunny morning as we drove from North Uist to Eriskay, the journey just long and beautiful enough to feel like we were really leaving work and day-to-day life behind for a long-awaited adventure. During our planning we had asked an Eriskay local for their camping advice, and were recommended a fantastic spot that was secluded enough not to be in anyone’s way, but close enough to the road that we didn’t have to carry tents, firewood and coolers of drinks too far. After an hour of setting up our site was looking extremely festive and like the perfect place to retreat at the end of our upcoming adventures, and we were ready to zoom off to the harbour to meet our ride.
We travelled to Mingulay with Eriskay based tour company, Uist Sea Tours, who run daily trips to various locations (dedicated readers might remember Kate and Jonny's trip to St Kilda last summer) on their 11m rib, Karleen Belle. Cracking open the champagne and tucking into delicious crab and prawn rolls from North Uist’s Wee Cottage Kitchen as the sun gleamed on the water splashing around us, it was clear we were in for an absolute treat.
Mingulay sits right at the south of the chain of islands that makes up the Outer Hebrides, the nearby and also uninhabited Barra Head the only land between Mingulay and the North Atlantic coast of Ireland. In 1912, after 2000 years of continuous habitation, Mingulay’s last human residents were evacuated, and the once populated island became home only to sheep and wildlife. The sheep are now gone but under the protection of the National Trust for Scotland, the wildlife thrives and Mingulay is now home to some impressive and significant seabird colonies.
After scrambling ashore with enough supplies for the next couple of hours, we set ourselves up on the beach and enjoyed a quick dip in the chilly Atlantic water before some of the team set off on a trek across the island to look for the famous cliffs and their even more famous inhabitants, while others chilled on the beach, explored the ‘ghost village’, and scrambled up above the bay to sit and watch the puffins zoom out to sea and back.
Our time on Mingulay passed in a flash. After a second dip and refuelling on Wee Cottage Kitchen tray bakes, we scrambled back across the slippery rocks with a significantly lighter cool box and back aboard the Karleen Belle, all a little awestruck and sun kissed by our time on this beautiful island. Little did we know that the awe was just going to keep striking, and it was with a feeling of being the luckiest group in the world that David told us the conditions might just be right for a visit to, and if we were lucky, through, Mingulay’s famous sea caves. Luck was clearly in abundance as our trip around the island took us right past two beautiful basking sharks. Slowing the boat right down, we sat in absolute wonder as the sharks dipped below the hull and popped up again on the other side, closer than any of us had ever imagined we might get to such majestic creatures.
Speeding up once they had gone on their way, we made our way around to the west of the island, waving up to the abseilers descending over the edges of the 200m cliffs on their impossibly thin orange ropes before approaching the mouth of the sea caves, a gaping chasm in the solidity of the island. There are very few words that could describe slowly passing through those hidden spaces, watched by the thousands of guillemots perched on the ledges soaring above us. It’s an experience to savour, to remember and to wonder if it was real or a fantastic dream.
And then we were off, at quite the speed in order to make it for our 7pm dinner reservations, as AJ took requests on the accordion and Jonny cracked open what was left of the fizz.
Dinner was fantastic, with local hand dived scallops among the delicious treats feasted on at Am Politician, before heading back to our campsite for an evening of fire, songs and a beautiful sunset over the sea.
We couldn't recommend any of the Uist businesses who made our team day happen highly enough.
It’s a rare thing that all ten members of Team Downpour get to be in the same space at the same time, what with differing work locations and patterns, and it was an absolute treat to spend these 24 hours together in such a magical location with the help of such fantastic Uist businesses. Here’s to plenty more Team Downpour adventures over the years!