Iona, Scotland’s sacred isle

This tranquil isle has attracted saints, raiders, kings and pilgrims all with an eye to creating, viewing or stealing the art within.

Columba (Callum), an Irish missionary, traveled to Scotland to convert the Picts to Christianity and inhabited the island of Iona starting his mission from a cave.

He arrived in 563 AD with twelve dedicated companions and built a monastery, which stands to this day with pilgrims by the thousand visiting from every corner of the world each year.

Monking slouch

Monks were technical masters in agriculture, irrigation and building and monastic communities became trailblazers in trade, agriculture and learning, securing themselves a pivotal, authoritative and long lasting position in society. Monks of the time were no slouches.

The island gained a history of global importance and, as a result, Iona receives over half a million visitors annually. Not bad for a windswept island with no cars, barely one mile square.

Human sacrifice

When Columba was building the first chapel on Iona, and in line with other British legends of foundation sacrifice, a voice is said to have told Columba that the walls of the chapel would not stand until a living man was buried below its foundations.

Unfortunate Odan

The legend is that Odan, another missionary who had preceded Columba’s arrival at Iona, asked to be buried alive beneath the chapel and, in accordance with his wishes, was consigned to the earth believing his soul would be saved. Hence the name Odan’s Chapel (Reilig Odhrain)

Generous burial

According to different versions of the same tale, either Columba wanted to see Odan again or Odan attempted to climb out of his grave, and in both versions Columba quickly covered the pit with earth to save Odan’s soul from the world of sin.

Odan was the first of many to be buried there – it became a burial place for the Lords of the Isles and Scottish, Viking and Irish kings alike are all buried here.

Iona Abbey

Columba went on to build Iona’s great abbey. The abbey stands to this day and has become one of the most iconic centres of Christianity the world has known.

From a network of churches, starting at Iona and stretching all over Scotland, Christianity eventually spread. Much credit is due to later missionaries, but they all drew their inspiration from Calum Cille, ‘the island of Columba’s church’.

Murderous pillage

When Vikings landed at Iona in 795 AD, fuelled by the taste for previous sackings of ecclesiastical outposts such as Lindisfarne, they killed some 100 monks in a single day on what is now known as Martyr’s Bay.

The massacre made distinct from other bloody events on Britain’s coastlines only by the sheer numbers involved. The Vikings also laid waste to the abbey.

Cows and women

Columba is known for his abstinence and he banned cows and women from the island. He is believed to have said ‘where there is a cow there is a woman, and where there are women there is mischief’.

Cowboy builders

However, in 1203 AD a chieftain called Macdonald Reginald rebuilt the abbey and, doing away with traditional ways of Iona, added a nunnery.

Clearly Columba had the last word for it lies derelict today with the roof caved in and some walls falling in – perhaps the builders had omitted the burial of a living man below its foundations.

Iona today

Today visitors come in the hundreds daily. Iona is at the end of long pilgrim route, similar to Santiago de Compostela only much, much older – indeed its history precedes Columba with St Oran arriving even earlier.

Beautiful Benedictine cloisters are preserved, ancient Celtic crosses and artifacts, works of art and stained glass windows – the abbey is a most tranquil and refined place in the wildest of locations.

Mochalattéd masses

For those who can’t bear the madding crowd, visitor centres and those convinced a hiking stick is necessary for walking between coffee shops, there are some hidden gems on Iona.

The absence of cars on the island means many don’t, won’t or can’t venture beyond the ferry terminal, the coffee shop and the abbey so it’s easy to find deserted white sand beaches, wilderness coves, aqua marine waters and abandoned bothies.

I recommend the disused quarry and quarrymen’s croft, well worth a visit.

Ticks – meet the sucking little critter

Sucking little ticks. They are more than a nuisance and can make us very ill but a little savvy protects the sensible.

Meet Ixodes ricinus, the lyme disease carrying arachnid. He is a simple critter with modest requirements – an ambient temperature of 7ºC or warmer and a warm blood host upon which to feast.

Both his stipulations are met in Scottish abundance here in summer in his west coast domain. He feeds on birds, sheep, cattle, dogs, deer, horses – and, of course, us.

On the up

Much evidence reveals an increase in Scottish tick numbers, one of the causes being the country’s increased deer numbers in woods and moorlands – areas favoured by our Ixodes.

By Scottish tick I do not mean to suggest Ixodes has a sporran. Or that he paints his face with woad. Indeed he is quite cosmopolitan and, elsewhere also popularly known as the sheep tick, wood tick or castor bean tick, his kin are found widely spread in colonies throughout northern Europe.

So, it is not fact that he is particularly Scottish. But it is certain he loves to peddle his wares in the Hebrides.

Arachnid minority

Only some ticks carry disease. Indeed it is only Ixodes ricinus who carries the lyme disease (Lyme borreliosis) people should be concerned with and only between 1% and 10% of these little charmers carry the dangerous bacterial agent which transfers the disease to humans.

Back to woed

But, returning to the geo–ethnic origins of our Ixodes in Scotland, it is said his tiny frame thorax can swell from 2mm to 11mm when bloated. And, for those of us not yet gone metric that is the equivelent of the length of a grain of rice to the width of a penny piece.

He may not go to war in woed but he sucks enough blood to paint an army red.

Precautions

Worryingly records also show an increase in cases of lyme disease although it this may be relative to the greater number of ramblers now enjoying the Scottish highlands.

For those who do enjoy walking and wild camping, it’s hard to avoid ticks in the highlands. The best one can do is take precautions as follows:

  1. Always avoid wearing shorts as ticks easily attach themselves to bare skin
  2. Wear gaiters as a sensible step to prevent ticks getting in under your trousers
  3. Wear sleeves with elasticated wrists to prevent them getting up your arms
  4. The host normally has to go to the tick and not the other way around (they are part of the spider family so the have no wings and can not jump). Ticks locate themselves in tall overhanging vegetation waiting for a host to brush past
  5. Ticks often live on the underside of bracken leaves
  6. Spray permethrin and DEET (di-ethyl toluamide) repellents onto clothes
  7. Spray your dog with a repellent from your pet shop
  8. Remove outer clothing before entering a house or a tent

Removal

If one of the little critters is discovered on the body a tick remover (specialised tweezer) should be used and these have instructions on the box.

If such a tool can not be found, try to grab as much of the animal as possible including its head using standard fine tipped tweezers and pull gently without twisting to withdraw the entire animal in one.

Do not use heat, ice, creams or gels to persuade the tick to leave as he may regurgitate his stomach contents increasing the risk of lyme disease transferal.

Home making

Our little charmer seeks warm blood on which to live and sets camp on its human host in areas of the body where blood vessels are found closest to the skin.

Knowing what a tick looks for and knowing your own body means they are often easy to find.

Swing low

Genitals are the warmest enclave on a human body, an area where blood vessels run close to the skin surface. They are also the closest to the ground. Particularly so on a male.

This being so, I have found ticks often migrate to the same area – don’t panic and certainly don’t mistake his approach for over-familiarity. It is better to have this homing beacon on one’s body than to have the critters migrate to a hundred other places.

In the grand scheme the experience is only a mild inconvenience – soldiers where a condom in tropical swamps to avoid leaches doing far worse!

Always seek professional medical advice.

The craft of packing your craft

Packing a kayak for expeditions at sea is a nack worth practicing with patience to perfect — afterall, there is always the rule of wobble to consider.

Consideration of balance and trim, efficient access to equipment and kayak load can improve a paddler’s performance, efficiency and overall confidence making an expedition into the wild more fun.

Wobble

A sea kayak is an amazingly well balanced and stable craft — until it is occupied with a passenger at which point it becomes inherantly unstable.

The rule of wobble

A good analogy is that of the hot air balloon where the weighted gondola keeps the otherwise unbalanced craft upright. In the damper world of nautical parlé, commercial boats without a cargo take gravel ballast onboard to achieve the same.

An awareness of balance and trim aids a kayak’s performance and a badly trimmed boat can frustrate and limit a paddler’s expedition enjoyment.

Therefore, as a general rule, lighter items should be packed into the extremities of the boat – the bow, the stern and higher parts of the kayak whilst heavier items should be placed lower and more centrally within the boat hull.

Afterall, the rule of wobble dictates that ballast gives a craft stability.

Unnecessary kit is sure to frustrate those setting and breaking camp each morning when other more important tasks must be done.

Kit list

Unlike with a food shop, on an expedition one can’t pop back to the store if an item has been forgotten. So treat an Expedition Kit List as one might a shopping list – it improves efficiency no end. The same list should be used with each expedition thus improves with time.

First lay out all proposed travel items into three piles – essential, good to have and luxury. From these three piles it should be easy to decide what does and what does not fit into the boat.

Easy access

Items packed in extremities are of course harder to access on land and impossible to access at sea so a dry bag with essentials should be kept on the deck. This bag should be considered as your survival kit – if everything is lost this is the one bag which must be saved.

Afloat

It is prudent if the deck bag is slightly larger than the contents within so that it can be inflated and used as a flotation device. In any event it should be buoyant.

Some kayakers refer to this piece of kit as a bail out bag (if they need to bail in a hurry, leaving everything behind) and survivalists might call it a bug out bag (the item they grab come the reaping).

I have no intentions of bugging out or ever leaving everything behind so I call it what it is – a survival kit.

A good survival kit should be small enough to be transportable and accessible and large enough to contain all things useful. However, be sensible – they say size isn’t everything. The kit should not be so small it can be kept sewn into the lining of a handkerchief or in the heel of a shoe — although quite fun, this is the stuff of movies.

Important items last

Bear in mind that very little is accessible on the water and items required first when on dry land (tea making kit, shelter, warm clothing, lunch etc) should be stowed last so that they come out first.

Packing is most efficient using several smaller dry bags as opposed to one large one that will most likely not fit through a hatch.

Ensure that you have a head torch handy so that, when unpacking onshore at dusk, both hands are free to reach awkward corners of the hull.

Colour coding dry bags can be helpful. Even better, those with windows (manufactured by Ortlieb) eliminate the need for emptying dry bag contents all over the beach just to find a toothbrush.

Attention on deck

Deck items will increase windage and raise the kayak’s centre of gravity neither of which are helpful with regards to craft control. However, in remote areas at sea, it is essential to have a spare paddle on deck, water, energy snacks, VHF radio, paddle float, sunscreen, chart, binoculars and flares.

Securing stowed kit is essential so that, in choppy seas, boat-balancing items do not shift. However, for long distance expeditions to remote areas, such a quantity of kit is required that, in reality, kit is so tightly fitted that it is not able to move.

However, it’s often best to keep your craft as light as possible as a low slung boat in high seas can be problematic.

City break

If your deck is covered with items that don’t fit in your kayak too many items are probably being taken. If this is the case perhaps your Expedition Kit List requires another edit.

The Inuit saying ‘live life like you are in a kayak’ is a good starting point for planning expeditions where simplicity is key. Indeed the saying is a mantra and a reminder of how few material things are needed in life, not a reminder to pack for a city break.

If you are having difficulties fitting all items in the boat try: ironing all clothes before packing them and try using compression bags to minimise kit volume. However, the trouble with low kit volume is that it sinks like a stone.

Stress less

Remember never to carry your boat when it is fully loaded as this may stress its structure.

A week at flight school

They are wrens I think — tiny yet portly rotund with beaks and tails protruding. They bounce and hop seemingly yet unable to walk but that’s unimportant – this is flight school.

I have kayaked 60 miles and am resting my arms from the incessant Hebridean Sea for a day or so. Above my hammock and hanging loosely from the rafters of my boat hut hideout is a muddled length of rope and, entwined within its curling loops, is a delicate little nest – perfectly circular and the size of a half–sized indoor football.

The nest is carefully fabricated using fine grasses from the rough shoreline machair and mosses found in shadier places. Peeking from the tiny circular entrance, feathers reveal inside is a cosily cocooned paradise.

Fledgling show

The chicks have merely been a squawking distraction but, on my second day resting, the little fur-balls appear and, athough they have developed flight feathers, they still patchily wear nursery uniforms of feather down. They look a shabby lot — first day at school with overdized uniforms to grown into.

Green for go

My long journey has reached its end but it is apparent others are beginning theirs. I watch the chicks at the doorway to their nursery home and, queuing like an orderly troop (referred to as a stick among paratroopers) of soldiers at the jump door, they leap into the unknown with an inbred, innate and genetic show of unbending faith.

Unable yet to fly the chicks drop from the entrance one by one, fluttering their wings to slow the hazardous descent and, like helicopters with damaged rear rotor, they spiral to controlled crashes on the hard boathouse floor five feet below.

Exposed

Just like a stick of deployed and landed paratroopers, they are quickly up and standing, shaking their newly dusted wings as if gathering and collapsing parachutes in readiness.

Art of concealment

A flutter of flight–feathers held high above the dusty floor signals equipment checks are complete and, with a last shivver of expectation, they each run across the exposed concrete plain to begin the search for height and safety.

Targetted

They are innately aware they are exposed in the open and at risk of being seen by any one of their Hebridean enemies including the Scottish wild cat, rats, squirrels, crows and of course barn owls.

They run to the edges of the boathouse drop zone, looking for shade and shadow to minimise their outline. Tactically speaking these troops haven’t yet missed a trick in the art of camouflage.

Enrolment

I count 14 wrens and, without exception, the entire stick finds its way back to the height of the rafters via the aid of various helpful pieces of decaying agricultural machinery propping up the boathouse walls.

The stick is standing in an orderly line along one of the many rafters fifteen feet above me. Enrolment for flight school has begun. All present and correct.

Into the void

I watch in fascination as, one by one, sometimes in pairs and often with no apparent order at all, the plucky little novices leap from their lofty training tower to the drop zone below.

This is a perfectly located flight school – inside a barn and hidden from the eagle-eyed sparrow hawks roosting on the nearby cliff top. I dread to think of the potential damage to a stick of wrens practicing from the bow of a tree in the open.

Addled

When doing the same, humans often experience a medical phenomenon called sensory overload. The human body is not designed to compute and process the unnatural madness of jumping into thin air and, due to the excessive rush of endorphins, it is commonplace for a skydiver never to remember the first five seconds of a free-fall.

For some thrill-seekers this is five seconds lost. But many others pump substances into their veins in the hope of losing as much. The intoxicating mix of endorphins and adrenaline give the body a high so heady many become addled with addiction – parachuting is a dangerous pastime.

Merry-go-round

I wonder why these troopers do it. Are they addled too? Probably. After each jump they hasten back to the perch for another go without pause.

There are 14 of them and their energetic cycle is endless. Their portly appearance, the result of continual feeding by both parents during early spring, gives them a charming look of indestructibility most suited to the hardships of bad landings at flight school.

Escape

This carry-on is ever on-going. For a few days I am entertained by these budding little Red Barons. Soon they begin to never touch the boathouse floor and, as they become increasingly confident, the stick thins and, one by one, they summon the courage to slip out of any of the many rusty holes in the corrugated iron wall to peek into the beyond.

The stick numbers fluctuate as some leave and some return but, gradually, the numbers thin.

Awarded wings

I wish them all luck and am convinced their chances are high. Once outside the boathouse they rarely fly but prefer to hop about under the heather and confine themselves to the vast network of dark tunnels within the low growing forest offering shadowy protection from skyward eyes.

After four or five days the boathouse is mine again and, with flight school closed and all students graduated, all is strangely quiet and I continue my journey.

Expedition kit – Kelly Kettle

The Kelly Kettle remains one of my favourite bits of expedition kit for its pure simplicity of design where form beautifully follows function as wistfully as Hilton’s little lap dog.

It can be fuelled with heather and twigs, saving weight on heavy bottled gases, and takes water to boiling point quicker than any camping cooker on the market.

Designed like a chimney, the flame travels up through the centre of the polished steel water holding container to heat it from the centre using the form’s large heat-conducting surface. As a result it uses a fifth of the fuel and water is brought to the boil in a fraction of the time.

Kelly Kettle minimises the use of or requirement for heavy, bulky and carbon emitting gas canisters. However, when wild camping, especially on remote Hebridean islands, there is often no wood fuel available but this is no problem for the Kelly Kettle which is at home in such windswept and exposed environments.

So efficient is its conduction of heat that the process of making tea can be done with fine sprigs of heather and small twigs. The fire that heats the water within the kettle is sheltered from the wind by the tube shape of the kettle itself and after water has been boiled the hot embers can, if required, be used to start a campfire using beach driftwood.

Kelly Kettle comes in a few sizes  ranging from the single user to the largest of which suits expedition groups. I choose the smallest as its best suited to the confines and limited access of a sea kayak leaving more room for other camping equipment.

Dive safety

With beautifully clear turquoise waters giving up to 10m clear visibility over rocky and sandy beds there’s some amazing diving from the wilderness islands of Staffa, Treshnish, Ulva and Tiree.

However, there are always safety aspects to consider when diving at sea.

Boat traffic

Whether sedately admiring the seascape or avidly focused chasing down lobster, it can be easy to forget man-made dangers lurking above like boats and propellers.

A marker buoy or dive buoy should be used on the surface to announce a diver’s presence. The buoy is left static, its end weighted to the seabed, whilst the diver swims around the area announced to boat traffic above. Boats are heard well before they are seen as noise travels well underwater and, if a boat is heard, diving should be suspended until a view can be taken on its direction, speed and purpose. Pleasure craft such as water skiers and jet skiers can often be the greatest risk.

Debris

Discarded fishing lines and netting is high on the watch list for any diver, however, close to shore, such an object is rare. Tangles during a breathhold are an obvious danger but a dive knife should see to any need. Removing debris reduces the risk for other divers and animals and, if diving the same area frequently, the gesture improves the next dive for yourself as well as others. Anything that can prevent a diver from surfacing should be treated with respect including overhangs, caves, wrecks and piers.

Getting carried away

The power of the sea shouldn’t be underestimated and tides, currents, swell and surge are a safety concern as they can sweep the fittest of divers out to sea or onto rocks. Know the area, the currents and the tides.

– A low tide is useful whilst foraging as it brings food closer to the surface
– A high tide can be fun as it increases the dive area
– Periods between tides can create currents as fast as a river, especially if channeled between rocks or structures
Swell is created far out to sea and results in the grouping of waves in tidy lines that break in shallow areas often making shallow reef dives impossible
Surge is the under the surface up and down movement of water caused by swell and can be dangerous on a reef

Seals

Seals are inquisitive animals and sometimes extremely friendly but should not be fed. Seals have large teeth, have been known to nip and recent evidence shows grey seals regularly attack and kill porpoises in large numbers. The injuries of porpoises washed up onshore have been DNA matched to grey seals that seem to strip the bodies for their nutritious blubber. The trick is probably not be mistaken for a porpoise.

Whilst seals have not been known to attack humans there is no evidence to suggest that they will not. Some are 9 feet long and the males are strong animals I would not like to tussle with whilst on a breathhold.

Jellyfish

Jellyfish can sting and some are deadly but luckily none of these live in our shores. However, UK waters are warming and, as a result, new species are appearing all the time. Jellyfish common to UK waters are moon jellyfish (Aurelia aurita), Lion’s mane jellyfish (Cyanea capillata), Barrel jellyfish (Rhizostoma octopus), compass jellyfish (Chrysaora hysoccella, blue jellyfish (Cyanea lamarckii), mauve stinger (Pelagia noctiluca) and the by-the-wind-sailor (Velella velella).

If stung get out of the water, lie still to limit the spread of toxins, remaining tentacles should be removed with tweezers (or a clean stick) and apply an ice pack to relieve pain. Most jellyfish stings are mild but if there are signs of chest pain, breathing difficulty or if a sensitive area such as the face or genitals has been stung dial 999 or visit hospital.

Vinegar is no longer recommended as it can trigger unfired stinging cells. Ignore advice to urinate on the sting as this may make it worse. Applying shaving cream to the affected area can help prevent the spread of toxins and swiping the affected area with a credit card to remove nematocysts (small poisonous sacs) that are stuck to the skin (wipe the card clean between each swipe). Pain can be treated with paracetamol or ibuprofen. Jellyfish stings can easily be avoided by wearing a wetsuit.

 

Weaver fish

Found in shallow sandy or gravel-bottomed waters, the weaver fish has a spiny dorsal fins that punctures wetsuits to deliver a nasty bee like sting.

The pain intensifies as the poison takes effect until it can be an unbearable burning sensation. In this situation it is best to get the sting under hot water, over 40ºC, for 30-90 minutes. The heat breaks down the proteins in the venom and the pain will subside. Paracetamol can be taken. Large spines should be removed from the weaver fish sting using tweezers and then the wound should be washed. The sting should be left uncovered.

Large spines embedded near joints will require a visit to hospital for X-ray. There is a danger of allergic reactions (anaphylaxis) and this too would require A&E. Anti-tetanus prophylaxis injections should be considered if the victim is not vaccinated. Hydrocortisone cream can be applied afterwards for the itching.

Sea Urchins

Sea Urchin puncture wounds can be treated in much the same way as weaver fish stings. The affected area should be soaked in hot water for as hot as can be tolerated – 40ºC is best. Large spines should be removed using tweezers to avoid infection. The small venomous organs (pedicellariae) can be removed by applying shaving foam to the sting and using a clean credit card to swipe the area. Wash the area with soapy water and then leave the wound open to the air.

Food

Eating too much before freediving is not a good idea. Blood is diverted from the brain to the stomach to aid with digestion and this is blood vital to other functions such as absorbing oxygen and powering muscles. Caffeine and energy drinks should also be avoided as they over stimulate the heart making relaxation difficult.

Visibility

Diving in Hebridean waters is greatly affected by visibility and this can vary from a metre to about 10. When diving in low visibility it is essential to dive on a line and it is recommended that divers attach to it with a lanyard. I never dive in low visibility unless I know the area well. Always dive with a buddy.

Dehydration

Diving plays some curious tricks on the body. Due to the colder temperature of water, blood is withdrawn from our body’s extremities to the core and this triggers the kidneys to react as if the body is overhydrated and, as a result of this, we pee. Additionally to this we sweat and lose water through breath vapour so it is important to drink regularly. Dehydration increases heart rate, makes equalisation harder and can cause headaches.

Exposure

UK waters can be a challenge as they are, by comparison to other dive areas, colder than many divers are used to.

Maintenance of core body temperature is always an important safety concern as getting cold can affect breath hold efficiency, as blood is diverted to the body’s core and muscles shiver to stay warm. Using a good wetsuit is a diver’s best tool. Maintenance of the suit is important too as crawling across the bed collecting scallops or squeezing through gaps chasing lobster can tear the best of suits. Black Witch repair glue is a fantastic tool for plugging any holes allowing cold water in.

Wind

Wind whips up the water surface, creates chop and, when freediving from a rocking boat or a choppy surface, can greatly affect breathing preparation. Wind can also greatly reduce body heat when out of the water. Drink lots and wrap up warm between descents.

Rain

There are no large rivers around Ulva, Staffa, the Treshnish Islands and Tiree and the land is rocky so any risk of bad visibility created by mud washed into the sea by rainfall is greatly reduced. Nevertheless, expect cloudier water.

Scorched earth policy

Of all the things sea kayakers do in the wilderness campfires can be the most destructive.

Often it is the jokes around a fire that are most recalled during an expedition into remote areas and uninhabited islands – campfires are a wonderful moral boost and, in extreme circumstances, a lifesaver. However, a campfire kills the grass and the layer of live earth beneath and the patch, apart from looking very ugly in ‘pristine’ wilderness, takes a couple of years to recover.

Some of this grassland on Hebridean coastline is a habitat unique to Scotland called machair and quite often it has protected status due to its importance as a bird breeding ground. It should never be necessary to scorch the cliff top grasslands or machair because there are methods of making campfires that cause no damage at all.

High tide mark campfire

The highest point of the high tide mark is a drier part of the beach than most and, scorched by the sun and seldom wet by the sea, it is also an ecological desert. Building a campfire here ensures that no damage to the ecology is done and all traces of fire can be removed afterwards. Build the fire as follows:

  1. Dig a 12 inch deep trench 1 foot square
  2. Line the trench floor with fist sized pebbles
  3. Line the trench parapet with a wall of pebbles
  4. Build, light and enjoy the fire
  5. Cook on hot embers and oven hot pebbles
  6. Burn scrap foods, carry out plastics
  7. Fill in the trench with sand returning to original state
  8. Drench with water
  9. One storm during high tide will flush the area

Many wilder beaches in Scotland have no fallen dead wood within miles due to the scarcity of trees. Some sea kayakers buy a sack of logs for the trip and pack them in the boat deck, they do however take up valuable space.

Grassland campfire

If building a campfire on grassland cannot be avoided there are precautions that should be always taken.

  1. Remove a circle of turf large enough for the fire
  2. Line the edges of the exposed earth area with stones
  3. Build, light and enjoy the fire
  4. Clear the ashes afterwards (wetting them first)
  5. Replace the turf and the ground will recover in a couple of weeks with rainfall

Stone ring

If it is not possible to remove the turf easily because the ground is rocky and the earth is thin build the fire as follows:

  1. Make a ring of stones
  2. Fill the ring of stones with 6 inches of sand
  3. Build, light and enjoy the fire on the heat insulating protective bed
  4. Remove the ashes and charcoal afterwards
  5. Remove the sand and ring of stones

Sensitive machair

If the area is machair grasses you should consider whether it is appropriate to have a fire at all – portable gas cookers are more suitable to this environment.

Always dampen a fire after use as, in summer, disused fires can build up a heat and spontaneously re-ignite. Never burn fence posts even if they lie abandoned – they are treated with weather protective liquids containing arsenic.