Burg, the wild side of Mull

To visit Burg on the Ardmeanach Peninsula is to experience one of Scotland’s most wild and remote stretches of wilderness coastline.

With fossils of tree stumps on the beach, Iron Age farm ruins, a basalt column cave, deserted croft townships, waterfalls and shieling huts, Burg has much to reveal to those willing to stretch their legs on the 6 mile walk to get there.

Of course arriving by kayak is a lot easier. Octane expedition groups cross Loch Na Keal from Ulva to explore the area via island rock hopping stop offs at Little Colonsay and Inch Kenneth.

Horizon battleships

Views out to sea from the cliffs at Burg and from the top of Bearraich are phenomenal. The islands of Iona, Ulva, the Dutchman’s Cap, Staffa, the Treshnish Isles and Coll and Tiree can all be seen like a fleet of battleships gathering on the horizon.

The headland of the Ardmeanach Peninsula really is the edge of wilderness – the road stops 6 miles back at Tiroran and, traveling on foot, the route follows a long path running parallel to the shore. The route passes an Iron Age fort Dun Scobuill, the ruined townships of Salachry and Culliemore facing Loch Scridian and the pilgrim route to Iona a cross the Ross of Mull, Bronze Age burial cairns and abandoned shieling huts, used in summer months by crofters grazing their flocks on higher ground.

Fossilised tree

However, perhaps most remarkable, is the fossilised tree standing in its whole entirety vertical on the facade to a cliff face. Standing forty foot high, the conifer tree was engulfed in molten lava some 50 million years ago with its shape preserved to be first recorded by Scotland’s pioneering cartographer, John MacCulloch.

Cream tea vacuum

The path passes Dun Bhuirg, the remains of an Iron Age farming community, and after this point there are few signs of man, prehistoric or otherwise. The area, wonderfully free of ‘access’, ‘amenities’, ‘souvenirs’ and ‘visitor centres’, is reserved for those prepared to invest the time to get there. For those who do, the rewards are high.

Eagles high

The huge white tailed eagle or sea eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla) lives here and soars from great heights over the grassy headland looking for small mammals, seabirds and carrion. Sometimes it keeps low over the water and takes fish from the surface whilst in flight.

In silhouette it is hard to distinguish from a golden eagle (Aquila chrysaetos) except for the shorter tail, longer neck and shallower wing beats. The golden eagle, also seen around Burg, seems more graceful and delicate in flight with deeper and slower wing beats but surprisingly the white tailed eagle has a wider wingspan (240cm) than the golden eagle (220cm).

If the bird is soaring and the wings are flat it is likely to be a white tailed eagle, if the wings are raised when soaring it is probably a goldie. Likewise if it’s screeching it is probably a white tail as golden eagles are quieter. In better light adults are easier to tell apart as the white tail of the sea eagle is apparent when close. However, a juvenile golden eagle has a tail of the same so it is all rather complicated.

The golden eagle can in turn be mistaken for the buzzard (Buteo buteo), although the latter is almost a metre shorter between wingtips, it is difficult to gauge scale without knowing distance.

Reintroduction

The white tailed eagle was recently re-introduced to the British Isles with stock from Scandinavia, previously being a visitor to the British coast from Iceland and Scandinavia with our naturalised population having been wiped out by gamekeepers and farmers. The process has been a success and there are now 36 breeding pairs (compared with 442 pairs of golden eagles).

Despite Mull being also known as eagle island, the white tail has some catching up to do.

Campfire cooking – blueberry orange muffins

After a day catching lobster for the pot this simple campfire pudding almost cooks itself and, for entertainment value, these babies are bulletproof.

Don’t beat yourself up over the instant nature of this pudding — after all it’s not often one gets to bake cakes around the campfire.

Ingredients

Muffin mix
– Blueberries
– Four empty half orange skins

Method

  1. Squeeze four oranges, keep peeled halves and put juice aside for breakfast
  2. Fill one emptied orange half with blueberry muffin mix
  3. Cover the filled orange half with the empty half and wrap in three layers of foil
  4. Place on hot embers
  5. Turn aluminum balls every minute, baking may take 10 minutes
  6. Check one after 8 minutes, return to heat until firm at the centre

When these blueberry orange muffins are ready they will emerge from the campfire like victorious steamed puddings that have just been Tangoed.

Unwrap and eat with a spoon.

 

Alone at sea

Aleksander Doba, trailblazing wilderness expeditioner and 67-year-old Polish adventurer, proved age is just a number by kayaking solo 6,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean.

Doba set off in October 2014 from Lisbon, shored in Florida six months later and, on his arrival, was greeted offshore by a flotilla of sea kayakers who joined him for his last leg in. It was the longest open-water kayaking expedition ever across the Atlantic and was voted by National Geographic as the 2015 People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year.

Kayaking world first

The Polish explorer departed from Lisbon in 5 October 2013 with the plan to paddle 5,400 miles across the Atlantic‘s widest point to arrive in Florida mid-February 2014. By the time he had finished he had traveled a 7,716-mile transatlantic journey, in his 23-foot kayak called Olo. Unexpected weather and equipment failure forced Doba to add an extra 1,300 miles and two extra months onto his journey. No one had ever kayaked across open sea for this length of time or distance.

Fighting the elements

Doba averaged about 30 miles per day and, when the temperatures were too high, he paddled at night. Indeed, once he was out of sight of shore, he found paddling more comfortable naked.

Loopy lupe

Doba fought with 30-foot waves and wrestled winds and currents that pushed him in loops around Bermuda adding 40 days to the crossing. Three times, Doba paddled hundreds of miles, only to get pushed back by winds and currents, he beat off a shark with his paddle and he ate flying fish landing in his boat.

Maverick expeditioner

Not bad for a man who considers himself a tourist on the water and who didn’t start kayaking until the age of 34 – he did no training for the crossing.

Campfire cooking – cinnamon breakfast buns

Sitting on wilderness white sands with a hot cup of coffee in the morning as the sun rises over Ben More, these piping hot sweet buns, filled with exotic aroma, remind me how wonderful the Scottish Hebridean coastline is.

The following recipe feeds 6 people.

Dough Ingredients

– 4½ cups flour
– 2 tbsp baking powder
– 1 tsp salt
– ¼ cup sugar
– ½ cup butter
– ½ cup milk powder
– 1½ cups of water

Filling Ingredients

– 2 tbsp butter
– ½ cup brown sugar
– 2 tsp cinnamon
– ¾ cup nuts
– ¾ cup raisins

Method

If you are out in the wild you will need to build a campfire large enough to create large embers for your Dutch Oven.

Making the dough

  1. Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar
  2. Use a fork to work the butter into the mixture until the consistency is crumb like
  3. Add milk powder, water and egg powder, stir and combine. Consistency should be pliable but firm, not sticky. Add more water or flour if necessary.
  4. Place mixture on a floured surface (use the bottom of a kayak hull if necessary) and knead gently until smooth.

Assembly

  1. Use a wine, beer or water bottle to roll the dough into a ½ inch (1 cm) thick rectangle
  2. Spread butter across the dough, leaving 1 inch (2cm) bare at one end
  3. Sprinkle remaining ingredients evenly across the dough, leaving 1 inch (2cm) bare at one end
  4. Roll dough into a sausage toward the bare end and pinch the end into the side of the roll to seal
  5. Cut the roll into 1 inch thick pieces. Lay slices in a greased baking pan in Dutch Oven
  6. Bake for 15 to 20 mins, or until golden. Insert skewer, if clean when removed buns are cooked

Grilled codling with pistachio pesto

It’s always handy to have a pot of sauce in readiness for any fish caught and I choose to keep pistachio pesto – an expeditioner’s green–sauced flavour wonder punch.

Others include horseradish and aioli but this is perhaps my favourite.

Ingredients

Pesto
– 1c pistachios, shelled
– 1c fresh basil
– 1/4c cilantro
– 2 garlic cloves
– zest of 1 lemon
– 3T grated parmesan cheese
– 1/4-1/2c olive oil
salt to taste

Halibut
codling steaks
olive oil
salt and pepper
lemon wedges

Method for pesto

– Finely chop all the ingredients and add to a pestle, using just 1/4c olive oil to start
– Mortar to blend and drizzle olive oil until desired consistency is achieved
– Store in an airtight container in cool place until ready to serve

Method for codling

– Rub codling steaks with olive oil, and season both sides with salt and pepper
– Grill on one side, about 5 minutes, then flip and repeat*
– Top with Pistachio Pesto and serve over mashed potatoes or rice with lemon wedges

*Cook until there is nice color on the steaks and the fish is just about cooked through (opaque), being careful not to overcook and dry out. The fish should flake easily with a fork. The time it takes for your fish to cook will depend on the thickness of your steaks and the temperature of your grill


Octane offers gastro wilderness expeditions – employing Octane’s Eight* methods of sourcing wild food for the pot, we eat the world’s best food, ocean fresh**. 

*Octane’s Eight is our philosophy – we believe our travelling guests, being closest to the world’s wildest fresh foods, might quite like to eat the world’s wildest fresh foods. 1) We line fish, 2) we lobster pot, 3) we spear fish, 4) we sea forage, 5) we land forage, 6) we deer stalk, 7) we seed the sea, 8) we seed the land. 

**Ocean fresh – the term fresh fish is of course relative. On the high-street, at supermarkets and in city restaurants fresh fish really means days old so, when patiently waiting for your number to be called at the fish-counter, be ready to ask where your fish is from and how many days ago it was likely caught. Supermarkets invent terms to suit their needs and, as a discerning consumer, it really is your right to challenge nonsense. At Octane we have therefore made a new, differentiated and entirely transparent definition – Ocean fresh. Simply put, it means caught and eaten same-day.

See OCEAN FRESH in practice – with the post ‘Drive-by calamari’ – ocean fresh calamari caught, cooked and served in under an hour.

Flaming banana banock

Sautéd sizzling banana in butter, maple syrup and cinnamon stacked over a pile of banock. Served with whiskey aflame

And, if that’s not enough dramatics, stand on the cliff-top with a set of bagpipes and play Mull of Kintyre waving your sporren to America.

A banana too far

Extra ripe bananas in a sea kayak’s stowage compartment are unwelcome. However, this recipe is one of my favourite ways to utilise them whilst making breakfasts noteworthy.

Banana state

There are two methods in producing this recipe and both are dependant upon the state of your banana as follows: If the banana is mushy it can be added to the pancake mix for whiskey flaming maple syrup over banana pancakes and, if the banana is in a respectable state, it can be dice-cubed for flaming whiskey sauté bananas in syrup over pancakes. 

For the pancakes

– 1 cup flour
– 1 teaspoon baking soda
– 1/2 teaspoon salt
– 2 eggs
– 1 1/4 cup buttermilk
– 2 tablespoons melted butter
– 1 ripe banana, mashed / diced

For the syrup

– 1/2 cup pure maple syrup
– 3 tablespoons butter
– 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
– 3 tablespoons Whisky

To make banana pancakes

– Heat a non-stick* griddle or skillet over medium heat
– In a mixing bowl, stir together the flour, baking soda and salt. Add the eggs, buttermilk, melted butter (and mashed banana). Whisk until the batter is combined
– Using a cup for consistently sized cakes, scoop batter into preheated pan
– Flip the pancake when the bottom is golden and bubbles form on top, about 2 minutes per side or until cooked through. If your cakes brown before being cooked through, turn your heat down a notch. Repeat with remaining pancakes
– Serve the pancakes with whisky syrup (instructions below)

To make syrup

To a small saucepan over medium heat, add the syrup, butter, and cinnamon. When the butter is melted and the syrup begins to bubble, add the whisky. Simmer steadily for 60 seconds to allow the alcohol to cook off. Remove from heat and serve the hot, dark, buttery, boozy sauce poured over a giant stack of banana pancakes – a little piece of banach banana breakfast heaven.

*Note: I use a non-stick skillet for pancakes and I do not grease the pan with butter or oil, because I have found that I get prettier, more evenly-coloured pancakes when I do not grease the pan. However, if you are using a griddle or skillet that is not non-stick, I recommend greasing the pan for easier flipping

All in a roe – 5 campfire supper ingredients when the fish aren’t biting

Spaghetti with bottarga, pistachio and lemon zest is perhaps the biggest flavoured of all quick-cook suppers using dry packed ingredients.

Bottarga is an Italian cooking staple never cooked, being used instead very simply, as a topping. Think of it as being not unlike parmesan in character: strong, savoury and also fishy and can be used as a final touch to enhance many simple foods, such as scrambled eggs or risottos. Often mixed to a paste with olive oil it is used on bruschetta as a paste.

You say bottarga

There are many variations of the name – botargo, buttariga, boutargue, poutargue – but all are recognisable as stemming from the same Arabic root, bitarikh which is an ancient, sunbaked ingredient belonging to the Mediterranean coastline.

I say botargo

With Phoenician roots 3,000 years ago, it is now found in north African, Greek and Provençal food, but is most often associated with Italian cooking, particularly that of Sardinia.

Bottarga

However you choose to call it, this rich amber-coloured mouthwateringly savoury ingredient is also wonderful served in thin carpaccio–like slices drizzled with olive oil as an appetiser or grated over a simple pasta with a tomato based sauce. Personally I prefer bottarga of mullet as it has a more delicate taste, but that of tuna is fuller–flavoured and both are ‘Sardinian gold’.

Either way this recipe can be completed in 8–12 mins, the time it takes to boil the pasta. Recipe serves two.

Ingredients

– 200g of spaghetti (and salt to cook)
– 100g of good quality bottarga
– 50g of crushed pistachios
– extra virgin olive oil
– 1/2 a lemon, juiced and peeled in thin strips (no pith)

Method

– Cook spaghetti in salted water 8–12 mins
– Grate the bottarga in a bowl and season with olive oil, pistachios, lemon peel and lemon juice (mix with sufficient quantity of oil to dress pasta)
– Drain spaghetti al dente
– Sauté spaghetti in the pan with the mixture of pistachios and bottarga
– Serve and garnish with another sprinkling of pistachio

To serve

Sit back, soak up a shoreline sunset and relax in the knowledge you are joining a Phoenician fisherman’s tradition of 3,000 years — the bottarga brings deep umami flavour, the pistachio and pasta are packed with energy and all pack dry in a rucksack — a perfect food to eat whilst contemplating when the fish may bite.