Edinburgh festival 2016 round-up / #edfests

img_7219 img_7220August 2016 has come and gone, in a blur of shows, events, work, friends and good times. Here’s the detritus of three and a half weeks of stuff, with a list of what stuff it was. I managed to catch 25 shows/events during the month, which averaged at one a day. Can’t complain about that really. Some great variety too…

Music: Kathryn Joseph was excellent, right at the start. Usher Hall performances included Barry Humphries’ Weimar Cabaret and Wagner’s Das Rheingold. Both excellent. Deep Time kicked off the International Festival and was really well done – I had an unexpectedly excellent view.

Comedy: I really liked Robert Newman, just because. Mark Thomas’s show was on the last day of my festival and it was truly wonderful.

Theatre: Richard III stood out – it was refreshing, dark, funny, debauched and audacious. Tim Crouch’s piece was really well done and shocking at times.

Books: Through a work link I saw quite a few EIBF events. Lemn Sissay was exceptional and we are privileged to have his insights into our world. Jim Haynes likewise, and it was good to wallow a little in the history of the festivals.

That’ll do for now I reckon. More next year, please.

Critical Event Studies Symposium: a Friday in Manchester for #CritEvents

There’s a growing momentum around the idea of ‘critical event studies’, which has led to the publication of this edited book (including a chapter from me!). Themes include research methods, history, ideologies and encounters.

img_7199 img_7200My chapter is titled ‘The Strength of Festival Ties: Social Network Analysis and the 2014 Edinburgh International Science Festival’. It takes a broadly research methods focus, applying whole network analysis to the employees of the EISF on the eve of the 2014 festival. There are plans and hopes that this ‘critical’ agenda can lead to panels at conferences, further publications, and more symposia and gatherings.

 

Last Friday (9 September, 2016) saw the first Critical Event Studies Symposium, held at Mad Lab, Manchester. What follows are my bullet point notes from the day. Further material from the day is being posted to the main site, and the Twitter hashtag is #CritEvents. The format of the day encouraged discussion and conversation, critique and questioning. And some excellent note taking!

 

Making Events Critical 09-09-2016

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Critical Event Studies Symposium

Friday 9 September, Mad Lab, Manchester

Opening panel

Maurice Roche: background in mega events, particularly sporting and world’s fairs.

    • Outlines growth in events work, including HE.
    • Critical Event Studies: a response to burgeoning interest in events, and their meaning. Going beyond practise, operation and economic dimensions of events.
    • Events need to be understood in terms of conflict and contest: should be aware of this when we look at events, going beyond mainstream interpretations.
    • Contexts are vital: political and cultural, in addition to economic.
    • So what’s new? Roche sees this as a re-animation and re-discovery of existing themes. (See Roche: ‘Mega-Events & Modernity’.) Example of 1936 Nazi Olympics: what was happening in Germany, what was the IOC doing at the time? But a need to justify and explain this to other academic fields.
    • Roche in Sheffield: strange time in the city as economy crashes (steel, coal), while also planning for 1991 World Student Games. What was driving it, what was the legacy? Result being 25 years of debt, thus opportunity costs as a negative legacy. Therefore… conflict and contest.
    • Recognition of the complexity of events; the rise of the global east; contexts are changing; changing contexts influences changes in events; what of ‘the future’ and where are we going; Roche predicts a strong future for events, coming out of the recent growth.
    • Threats to events: see issues relating to FIFA, IAAF, IOC and other global institutions. Existential threat?

 

Beatriz Garcia:

    • Notes value and good timing for this focus on ‘critical events’.
    • This is the right time, following 30 years of theorising around events. Time to bring this together with the managerial angle, to build bridges and look at common terms, and themes can be looked at afresh.
    • Anthropological angle: myth and ritual and their place in events. Contemporary myth making. City branding on one level, but also how we see ourselves and how are we presenting this to ourselves and to the world. How do you tell the story? How do we judge whether an event is a success or a failure?
    • Notes Brazil: a sense of pride around opening ceremony, perhaps unexpectedly, a sense that the Olympics weren’t going to be a failure after all.
    • Events and festivals: differences between them. Events as to be experienced, mediated, global, building a new reality for the Olympics since the 1980s. The Olympics sells access, sells exclusivity, sells sponsorship opportunities… but this brings pressure from the needs of the media, so that the real experience is the televised one, rather than the live experience. Limited resources need to be spent where the greatest pay off can be found. Festivals are more about the lived experience, hopefully paying attention to the needs of the local audience. How to recover the festival from within the event city?
    • Garcia: personally inspired by 1992 Barcelona Olympics, where the city was overtly integrated into the narrative, ‘the city as a protagonist’. However, always a struggle to get the city into the picture. Saw 9/11 as a spur to retreat back into arenas, where they can be controlled. Since then security is a key priority.
    • ECOC: different from sporting mega events on the basis of scale, length, motivations, focus. See cultural events as being a harder context in which to justify position. Are they really a mega event? Do they get the media coverage that help to define sporting mega events? Is it possible to link the ‘business’ angle of cultural events (which is vital) with broader objectives relating to society and culture?
    • Notes that Olympics are broadening their scope, to take on board cultural elements. See ‘national houses’ dimension, presenting a mini World Expo.
    • New: the way we deal with the public realm, in that cities can’t really be shut off, so how to deal with protest and debate? Particularly in the context of social media. How to create a festival around a mega event in this context?
    • New: a discussion around how to tell the story. Does the 1980s vision of exclusive media access, the experts on screen, etc. still hold true? Where is the multiplicity of voices that is expected today? What place experts today? Stories are being told simultaneously through multiple media, that no one can control.
    • Challenge: making use of the expertise available. The ‘caravan of experts’ that exists around each mega event, who will provide a festival model for you (at a cost): importing ideas into your city, because they worked elsewhere. How is this providing an answer for the needs of your city? They can’t, without creating ‘non-places’, where anything that doesn’t fit the model gets covered up and ignored. How to make the most of knowledge transfer, while responding to what’s difficult and challenging and specific to each destination?
    • Agrees that we need to value place making, and how do you combine the necessity to learn and provide legacy, with the need for wonderment, and for each host to question the situation it finds itself in.

 

James McVeigh: Festivals Edinburgh

    • Edinburgh Festivals context: 1947 to 2017. Festivals rooted in the destination, with both historical and contemporary links to the festivals. Lends ‘authenticity’ to the festivals.
    • Impact assessment report (2016).
    • 2007 ‘Publicly-funded culture and the creative industries’ text started debate over the role of the public funding and later commercial successes.
    • Fault line between ‘important work’ and ‘popular work’. Led to ‘Desire Lines’, to pick out the influence between the festivals and the year round cultural provision.
    • Resident versus tourist: who are the festivals for?
    • Social impacts: who are the festivals for? Scope: festivals are more than fireworks… they last longer that just the moment of experience. Where is the voice of the resident? How to find the voice of different communities? How to bring audiences and communities into the conversation?
    • Festivals in the broader cultural economy: how to establish the link between festivals and broader cultural work, when this is poorly understood? Note that Edinburgh festivals are seen as a place to see new work, and recognised as such by the artists themselves.
    • Festivals’ role in audience development: why do people do things differently at festival time? See new work, engage differently.
    • Festivals Innovation Lab: how can festivals adapt and change, act as a laboratory of new thinking. Festivals should be at the vanguard of cultural thinking.
    • Societal importance of festivals: from Holi to Tomatina, Day of the Dead, etc. Festivals interrupt the day to day. They introduce work into new spaces. They can help you reimagine your city.
    • 1947: context of post-war austerity and European conflict, yet Edinburgh held a party, for the ‘flowering of the human spirit’.

 

Ellie Turner: Walk the Plank

    • Critical events: community participation and relevance. Giving people and communities a sense of place, and pride. Working at all scales, on land, sea and air. Telling a story through their work, their artists, makers, musicians, etc. Bringing international artists together with local artists, to build the capacity of NW to deliver such projects. ‘Impact’ is delivered from the start.
    • Key to connect with the community that you’re working with.

 

Q&A:

    • Have we been held back by a focus on mega events?
      • The biddable nature of sporting events means that they get a lot of attention, have to be able to justify themselves and get support. How do we define mega events: does it include ECOC? In Edinburgh festivals are seen as a concentration of space, time and activity… so a year long festival doesn’t make sense, it’s a branding exercise.
      • The distinction between attracting events and supporting those you already have and are created yourself. Where should funding come from: different pots of money for these different types of events?
      • Distinction between local and global: how to reflect both. How to retain knowledge, experience and expertise within the destination.
      • James notes timing of festivals’ founding, often in a time of change and/or crisis: post-WWII, 1968, post-Berlin Wall.
  • Where’s the critical? Are we being constrained by orthodoxies and how do we overcome them? How do we think radically?
    • BG: bring new people to the table.
    • JMcV: Edinburgh’s engagement with tech sector, viewing the festivals as a laboratory.
    • Should events and festivals have a limited life time? That they exist to fulfil a particular need, but that they should be allowed to die once that need has passed.
    • KW: notes opposition to Paralympics and whether this ‘circus’ is meeting the needs of its various communities.
  • Institute of Event Management and professional recognition:
    • How will outputs be disseminated from today? LP highlights today as a starting point, but that outputs will be disseminated centrally and by different participants.
  • What of local/global and other dichotomies:
    • Looking to roots of festivals: to what extent are there common factors in different places?
    • What happens when you take an event from one context to another, with a different cultural context?
    • How to address the complexities of societies and cultures and destinations: disconnected communities, etc.?
    • How to reflect the diversity of a community or destination? How to avoid the standard white, middle class audience? The diversity of a city can be its strength, but is this reflected in the producers, consumers, participants and audiences of a festival?
    • How ‘local’ are local festivals, which are produced by external organisations? E.g. Walk the Plank getting a contract to deliver events in your city.
  • Distinctions between festivals and events and processions:
    • JMcV: points to FE criteria for being a member, which includes lasting for at least three days.
    • Cultural context important, because what works for one location might not be applicable elsewhere.
    • Different conceptualisations of ‘public space’, and how some places seem to ‘discover’ phenomena that are common elsewhere.

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Open space

Questioning the role of ‘experts’

  • What is an expert?
  • Where is the expertise: local authorities?
  • What are graduates coming out of university equipped to do?
  • It sounds as though we need experts within the events industry, to avoid problems and potential catastrophes.
  • Research as an element of developing expertise.
  • How can Event Management courses be developed to meet the needs of industry: bringing the academic and/or the practical knowledge? How to address the variety of types of events, facets of the industry and so on?
  • Industry experience: situations where industry has to rescue event plans that go off track.
  • Experts having a clearer idea of realistic scale and scope for festivals and events, based on available budgets.
  • What of having experts from one city delivering events elsewhere: a means to the end of sustainability for the company? How to avoid the risk of damaging the original brand?
  • Expertise: tied to credibility? Each source being judged on its authority and justification. So, in the events context who carries that authority and validation?
  • Does the expert have to have the qualifications? What place experience? Perhaps the expert is the one to say ‘stop’.
  • Development of the events management education: skewed towards the operational, instrumental and evangelical? What have we done to this generation of graduates? Highlight the value of work placements and experience to build on the academic.
  • Different models of placements and internships within degree courses: concentrated, spread out, etc. A need to develop work based learning that suits the student and the employer – trying to avoid negative experiences that will put partners off in the future.

 

Is event management superficial and self-congratulatory?

  • Following on from Rojek’s critique of events (‘Event Power’).
  • DMcG: following up on this by identifying the critical work that has been done around events.
  • How does critical event studies avoid superficiality?
  • A sense that event practitioners are also blinkered in their approach to the industry… and yet look at Walk to Plank’s recognition that they are contributing to sense of place and pride.
  • How to take a critical approach, that draws on a range of ideas (authenticity, commercialisation, etc.), to deliver events that reflect those ideas. Easy to overlook these things in the need to be successful and sustainable.
  • Funding regimes: a need to satisfy funding requirements in order to get support.
  • How to educate students so that they can deliver events that are successful, can get funding, and can draw from the need to meet a range of objectives.
  • Rojek’s argument carries weight (though there are criticisms of how he delivers his argument).
  • Events education: moving away from hospitality and tourism. And yet… how does what we do match up with what employers are looking for. (Some might prefer the previous model!)
  • Legal matters: how to integrate legal content into an events management course? A dedicated module that covers ‘what you need to know’? Events students need to be aware of the broader legal context in which you operate, which includes some of the reasons why people might be protesting against your event.
  • Events struggling to have an epistemology and philosophy that defines it as being different. Without it, there will be questions over credibility, coming from other academic areas.
  • How are these courses then judged: on their level of academic criticality? NSS ‘intellectual challenge’?
  • The foundations of a programme might be crucial in its development: growing out of hospitality and tourism, or appearing independently of them?
  • Events literature: how to reflect and support the more critical work? See how Tourism has diversified, yet Events is still primarily publishing management/operational work in such journals? Critical work is being done, but it’s often published in non-events journals.
  • A possible parting of the waves? Management courses, and studies courses?
  • Do we see many students taking events courses purely for the academic side? Not really… the better academic students may well be generally switched on in all areas, or others are less keen to get involved in the volunteering side of things.

 

Events and festivals as liminal, radical spaces

  • Not quite every day life, but there are still rules.
  • Phases of ritual: liminal is central, the phase where someone goes from one state to another and is open to new ideas. A transformative phase.
  • What happens when the person goes back into the normal world?
  • A space of potential: other things are possible.
  • Venice Carnival: the wearing of masks to deliver equality, or at least anonymity.
  • Festivals that turn things on their heads: performances in different spaces; juxtaposing audiences and performers; altering the geography and flow of a place.
  • Transformative: do we see people being changed?
  • Ritual, carnival and liminality: Bakhtin, etc. …the potential for people to come back from a festival experience a different person. Does this work only at the individual level, but not for broader social change? Yet the individuals are what makes up society, and they have agency.
  • Thresholds: what does it take for an individual to let themselves go?
  • Examples: Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh; LIFT in London. Starting projects in order to produce and provide spaces in which new ideas can be discussed, phenomena created.
  • Does liminality apply in a sports context? Crossing a touchline into a space where different rules apply? Yet liminality suggests there are no rules.

For posterity, the tweets I sent as the #EUref decision became apparent

27798372881_36bfcd08ef_mThe sunny Edinburgh lunchtime outside my window looks sublime, and I’ll be finishing up here soon so I can get out there and enjoy it. It’s Sunday, so about 48 hours after the UK’s 52% / 48% vote to leave the EU. The country will be going through some weird times in the days and months ahead, but for now here are some of the tweets I’ve sent since Thursday night relating to the EUref. This is mostly for posterity, so I have somewhere to refer back to should I ever wish to relive that sinking feeling in the stomach. (Top image courtesy of the Scottish Government, from Flickr.)

https://twitter.com/dsrjarman/status/746260763703115776

 

The evening had started so well!

 

As the reality began to take shape about the referendum result…

 

Some connections being drawn between the #EUref and Scotland’s #IndyRef from 2014:

 

Back to the misery…

https://twitter.com/dsrjarman/status/746132373796954114

 

This was weird:

 

Details started to emerge, about the vote and its consequences. Who voted which way? Who’s ‘to blame’?

 

Scotland’s future got more and more attention as it became apparent that Scottish voters had diverged so dramatically from vast parts of England and Wales:

 

Time for Scotland to prepare for an influx of refugees from the rest of the UK?

 

What of referenda as a means of government?

 

Analysis of the fallout started to pick up, from many directions:

 

A little humour. Just a little.

 

And so to the future:

 

It seems that most enthusiastic pre-Brexit camps may now those in Brussels, Berlin, Paris, Frankfurt and across the rest of the EU. Tired and bored of the UK’s messing around many will just want us gone, as soon as possible. Will that be time enough for the Scottish Government to put into place special arrangements for Scotland? This is becoming a humanitarian rescue mission.

Network creativity in Dundee: Mass Assembly 2016 #Mass16

Mass Assembly 2016Last Thursday, 26 May 2016, I headed up from Edinburgh to Dundee to Mass Assembly 2016. It was an early start, but the wonderful Scottish climate offers about 20 hours of daylight at the moment. That’s plenty enough to check on the new Forth crossing: looking good just now.

The whole event was devised and built around collaborations, networks, hubs and partnerships in the creative and cultural sector. I went along because of my interests in networks, as well as general support for Creative Edinburgh (one of the delivery partners). They worked alongside Creative Dundee to bring it all together. In the audience were those representing lots of other networks and organisations. A network of networks, a hub of hubs. All very meta.

The following notes lack much narrative. Rather than try to piece together the whole day, I have opted to copy and paste my bullet point notes. For further coverage of the day, please see the Storify constructed by Creative Dundee.

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Mass Assembly

26 May 2016, Dundee

Opening: Gillian E and Janine M

  • Setting out basis for the day, ref to ‘creative cities’ project that linked cities across Scotland.
  • Thanks to British Council and their support.
  • Notes boundaries that prevent people working together, including visas (in today’s case).

 

Session one

Canan Marasligil: Translation as a bridge

  • Discusses language (her personal journey) and translation.
  • Translation relying on networks, and translation can help build communities.
  • Project 1: #cityintranslation
  • Project 2: Spectacular Translation Machine. An activity based environment in which people translate materials (pictures) into their own words.
  • Highlights importance of networks for freelancers.

Josyane Franc: Creating the opportunities to engage the wider population (Saint-Etienne)

  • Links between Dundee and Saint-Etienne: both the first UNESCO City of Design in their countries.
  • Key stakeholders in network:
    • Buildings: concert hall, administrative institutions
    • S-E School of Art and Design
    • Cite du Design 2009: festival held in former arms factory, in the heart of the city
  • Process: took time to engage local people and administration
  • Local government: established ‘Design Manager’ position, to introduce design into planning of each new development in the city
  • La Manufacture: a creative district for the city, bringing designers, researchers, fab lab, companies, etc. – emphasis is on collaboration, within a focused built environment
  • Large scale project: involving residential, leisure and business environments
  • Future: national theatre due to open a space soon
  • Deliberate effort to publicise the network and the work it is doing
  • Important role of S-E biennale, which engaged local communities and other cities (international)
  • ’S-E changes design, and changes the idea of design’

Discussion: led by Clive Gillman

  • To create a community and a hub we need to think about: language, space, place, interactions…
  • Q: How do we describe a place?
    • A: The people. The people describe that place.
    • A: Ambassadors, at different levels, who play a part in the development of the city. From local politicians/authorities to activists.
  • Discussion led to urban/rural debate, including limits to what can be achieved in rural environments.
  • Digital: what can digital tools provide?
  • Real estate prices in urban centres can be astronomic, but still desired, yet workers are often remotely connected.
  • Libraries: what place libraries as a platform for social capital, knowledge, engagement, meetings, all parts of community brought together: making people feel comfortable in a space.

 

Session two

Steven Drost: Start ups and creatives – some thoughts / The live audit

  • The role of start ups, and start up culture, in the creative sector.
  • Start up culture is generally optimistic, but needs to be tempered by talking to communities and the people who will actually engage with them.
  • Lessons from start ups: iterate and improve; build a business around your ideas; work with pirates (not the navy).

 

Session three

Steve Hamm: The future belongs to crowds

  • Steve works for Swarm.
  • A trend towards a more crowd based approach.
  • Technology is taking us in this direction, allowing us to connect.
  • Economics too: the ‘firm’ operates to reduce transaction costs.
  • What of the connected world, where transaction costs are reducing, allowing for collaboration without the need for a firm.
  • Collaboration: necessary to collaborate with a diverse mix of characters.
  • The importance of meeting face to face.
  • Recording: important to track and capture the process and outcomes of a collaboration. Helps to produce something that can be shared.
  • Makes reference to SNA research into Broadway musicals: what’s the right balance between all new teams and those who are tired and stale with no means of introducing new ideas.
  • Uber: highlighted as a service that supports one group of users very well, but neglects others (e.g. the drivers). A need to develop a broader approach, of ‘user-centred’ or ‘community-centred’ design.

Alex Zacharias

  • From ‘August’ consultancy (New York).
  • ‘Responsive working’: encouraging companies to help businesses prepare for a new way of working. Large, old companies aren’t able to compete with newer ones, where they’ve been hamstrung by hierarchies and bureaucracies.
  • How to work with companies and individuals that don’t always see the need for change?
  • Key principles: open, learning, networked, iteration.

Discussion: led again by Clive Gillman

  • On ‘exploitation of intellectual property’: written into law that Creative Scotland works to support those who work with intellectual property. Yet also seen that many in the creative industries actually work with traditional means of activity: producing goods, etc.
  • A need for those who are being affected by collaborative work to be part of the process.
  • Super connectors: important in the development of communities, and can be found formally or informally; but can be important to look beyond these people in order to develop a broader understanding of the ways people might react to a particular project.
  • Embedding of artists and creatives within other sectors of the economy: what benefits can this bring?
  • Notes the importance of businesses working with creatives in order to reach creative solutions to problems: new ways of thinking can achieve breakthroughs, but it takes for the business to be open to new ideas and believing that they don’t have the solutions themselves.
  • Designers bring skills and superpowers to the table. Get yourself through the door!
  • Janine: notes use of ‘hot desk hangouts’ to get creative folk into organisations for a day, helping to show that creatives can have a place to work in that environment.
  • Nice section where different people stood up to talk about their projects and networks.

Scotland tour part four: the route we took, the places we stayed. #NC500 North Coast 500

Uig campingTo round off my travel journal of nine days in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, this post lists what Bob and I did each day, plus some costs. The opening post has links to Google Maps of the route, along with photos of the eastern and northern stretches. Part two covers Lewis and Harris, part three the return leg of Ballachulish and the West Highland Way. Planning the route started in earnest months before, in a London pizza restaurant, while we waited to attend at gig at The Roundhouse. After that we tinkered at the edges and there’s little we would add to the route, except more time perhaps to do more walks and visit more distilleries. Let me know if you’ve any questions about the trip (dsrjarman@gmail.com), and please do what you can to promote the North Coast 500! #NC500

(As it happens The Guardian is doing just that today, 23 August 2015.)

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Day 1: Saturday 8 August 2015. From Edinburgh to Contin. Distance: 201 miles (cumulative 201).

Activities: visited Glen Ord Distillery. Dinner: Coul House Hotel (excellent service and food). Overnight: Riverside Chalets campsite (basic facilities; lovely setting).

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Day 2: Sunday 9 August 2015. From Contin to Golspie; Golspie to Wick. Distance: 104 miles (305).

Activities: took the bus from Golspie to Brora and walked back, seeing seals and a stone age dwelling (6 miles); visited Dunrobin Castle for falconry display, croquet and aristocratic artefacts.  Breakfast: improvised yoghurt and fruit. Dinner: No 1 Bistro (slow service, excellent food). Overnight: Wick Caravan and Camping Site (good facilities; lovely setting, a short walk from town).

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Day 3: Monday 10 August 2015. From Wick to Durness, via John o’ Groats, Dunnet Head and Strathey Point. Distance: 157 miles (462).

Activities: visited John o’ Groats (furthest NE) and Dunnet Head (furthest N); back to Wick to visit Old Pulteney Distillery; walked to Strathey Point light house and around; drove across the top of Scotland. Breakfast: The Storehouse (friendly and tasty, great setting at John o’ Groats). Dinner: Sango Sands Oasis Restaurant and Bar (busy pub, good food). Overnight: Sango Sands Oasis Campsite (good facilities and easy to pitch; local beach).

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Day 4: Tuesday 11 August 2015. From Durness to meet the boat to Cape Wrath, and back. Distance: 5 miles (467).

Activities: took the boat and minibus to Cape Wrath Lighthouse (furthest mainland NW), walked south from there to Sandwood Bay and on to Blairmore (21 miles, including four burn crossings); minibus/taxi back to find the car. Breakfast: Mackay’s (excellent service and great food). Dinner: Sango Sands Oasis Restaurant and Bar (busy pub, good food). Overnight: Sango Sands Oasis Campsite (good facilities and easy to pitch; local beach).

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Day 5: Wednesday 12 August 2015. From Durness to Uig (on Lewis), via Drumbeg, Stoer lighthouse, Ullapool, Stornoway. Distance: 144 miles (611).

Activities: visited Durness craft village, including Cocoa Mountain chocolatiers; Drumbeg for cake, including a 25% gradient descent; bog walking around the lighthouse; ferry from Ullapool to Stornoway (Calmac), including a visit from the Stornoway Coastguard helicopter; dusk arrival at Uig Sands. Breakfast: Mackay’s (excellent service and great food). Dinner: on the ferry (tasty and filling). Overnight: Uig Sands Campsite (isolated and stunning setting; excellent facilities).

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Day 6: Thursday 13 August 2015. From Uig to Stornoway (on Lewis), via Callanish and Hushinish. Distance: 120 miles (731).

Activities: stunning morning on Uig Sands beach; visited Callanish Standing Stones and accompanying gallery; coastal walk at Hushinish (5 miles; furthest W), including the same helicopter; in Stornoway in time for dinner. Breakfast: improvised yoghurt and fruit. Dinner: The Park Guest House (quiet restaurant that stops serving at 19:00; excellent food). Overnight: The Park Guest House (quiet hotel; excellent en suite facilities).

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Day 7: Friday 14 August 2015. From Stornoway to Armadale (on Skye), via Ullapool and Applecross. Distance: 186 miles (917).

Activities: ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool (Calmac; no helicopters); fish and chips in Ullapool; coast road to Applecross Inn; Applecross Pass from east to west; Skye Bridge; night time arrival at bed and breakfast. Breakfast: The Park Guest House (very good). Lunch: The Chippy, Ullapool (excellent). Dinner: Kishorn Seafood Bar (excellent, informal, professional). Overnight: Morar Bed and Breakfast (very friendly, excellent facilities).

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Day 8: Saturday 15 August 2015. From Armadale to Ballachulish, via Mallaig (on the mainland), Glen Coe and Rannoch Moor. Distance: 83 miles (1,000).

Activities: quick dash across the bottom of Skye to see the Cuillin range; ferry from Armadale to Mallaig (Calmac); drove the A830 and A82 ‘Road to the Isles’ through Glen Coe, Glenfinnan, Rannoch Moor and down to Ballachulish; sea kayaking, arranged through hotel; drank whisky in hotel library. Breakfast: Morar B&B (excellent). Dinner: Ballachulish Hotel (excellent and filling, stunning view over loch). Overnight: Ballachulish Hotel.

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Day 9: Sunday 16 August 2015. From Ballachullish to Bridge of Orchy; Bridge of Orchy to Edinburgh. Distance: 138 miles (1,138).

Activities: drove to Bridge of Orchy Hotel; Citylink coach to Inverarnon Village; walked back to Bridge of Orchy via West Highland Way path (19 miles); home to Edinburgh via Stirling. Breakfast: Ballachulish Hotel (very good, buffet style). Lunch: The Real Food Cafe, Tyndrum (slow service, good food). Overnight: home.

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Total cost was about £1,600, split between two. If we hadn’t eaten so well just about every night that would have been lower. Camping for five nights was very cheap, then three nights not camping was less so. Sea kayaking cost £40 per person. The car was very reasonable: £207 to hire for nine days, plus £138 in diesel – granted they upgraded us from a Ford Focus to a BMW 330d! Calmac ferries for two people and one car were: £136 for Ullapool to Stornoway return; £34 for Armadale to Mallaig one way. Citylink was about £7.50 each.

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Finally, here are some tweets I sent while travelling.

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Links to the three main journal entries:

Scotland tour part three: Ullapool, Applecross, Skye, West Highland Way, home. #NC500

West Highland WayOne of the inspirations for this whole trip was for Bob and I to plug a gap in the West Highland Way. We walked most of it in July 2010, accompanied by friends for some of the southern stretches and tired limbs by the time we got to Fort William. Time was against us back then though so we skipped a bit (by bus), and it has taken us five years to join the dots between Inverarnan and Bridge of Orchy. More on that below, though as you can see from the first photo we had more fine weather along the way.

Part one of this journal covers Edinburgh to Ullapool, via the very top of Scotland. Part two is from a short but memorable trip to Lewis and Harris. Part four has daily route listings. In this final stretch we headed back to Scotland, taking the ferry from Stornoway to Ullapool and then driving south. The winding coastal road led us to the Skye Bridge for a single night and quick look at the Cuillin range from a distance: we’ll be back for them one day. Then a glorious ferry and car ride, down through Glen Coe and on to Ballachulish. The West Highland Way trek came on the final day, before a final push for home.

Just to show that it wasn’t always sunny on our trip, these photos show the harsh conditions through which we had to make some kind of headway. Note the ethereal wispy clouds, the atmospheric islands in the mist. Witness Bob’s harsh weather gear as he manfully sinks a pint at The Applecross Inn (and the guy in shorts at the next table). Speaking of the Inn, we know it to be an iconic landmark for those making their way around this part of the west coast. Our short stop coincided with (as I recall) a joint 60th birthday party that was bringing people from far and wide. Space inside was at a premium and it was quite the culture shock from the previous week on the road. The bar had the dimensions and carrying capacity of a London tube train at rush hour.

No matter, for this was merely the entrée for the ‘Applecross Pass’: a road up and over the hills and one of a few on our route that has its own Wikipedia page. There you will find it under its Gaelic name, Bealach na Bà, taken from the pass it crosses at the top. The Wiki page notes that this is Scotland’s third highest road with alpine style hairpin bends to wind its way up (and down) the hillside. With my eyes firmly focused on the road ahead, I couldn’t help noticing the ‘miles to empty’ fuel gauge dropping rapidly as we ascended: climbing 1 in 5 gradients is not particularly fuel efficient! We reached the top, in fairly thick cloud, then dropped down the far side towards Tornapress. My advice to anyone heading this way is to choose a BMW, with a three litre engine and an automatic gear box. Failing that, don’t try to rush it and you’ll be fine. The barriers along the side of the single track road are a helpful reminder not to go over the edge, some mental cushioning to guide your way. It also helps to have spent several days on single track roads. Context is all and (whisper it) Bob and I didn’t reach the levels of anxiety we were half expecting, giving the prior warnings we’d received. We’ll have to return when the skies are clear, there’s a dusting of snow on the ground and we don’t have air conditioned luxury to cocoon us.

Having come down from the stratosphere time was ticking to get to our bed and breakfast on Skye, but when you’re feeling a little hungry and a delightful seafood restaurant appears out of the mist, what can you do? Excellent mussels, squat lobsters and other treats were consumed at the Kishorn Seafood Bar (with a member of the House of Lords at the only other occupied table), before we crossed the Skye Bridge and found our way to the Morar B&B.

The next morning gave us just enough time to cross the bottom of Skye to catch a glimpse of the Cuillin range, though the tops were shrouded in cloud. We had spectacular weather for the ferry crossing from Skye to Mallaig on the mainland – some of these photos show just how clear the water is on the west coast. Then one of the finest drives of the whole trip, down the A830 and A82 from Mallaig to Ballachulish, through Glen Coe, past the Glenfinnan Viaduct, across Rannoch Moor and onwards. This is another road on here and here. You really should make the trip one day, in both directions.

The village of Ballachulish sits near a narrowing of Loch Leven, where it meets Loch Linnhe. The Ballachulish Hotel was our final overnight stay, so we felt duty bound to make the most of our stay. Kayaking on the loch (taking in a mussel farm and a salmon farm), fine food, and drop or two of whisky. The photos will do a better job than my words of persuading you to pay it a visit.

And so came our final day on the road. The small matter of a 19 mile walk from Inverarnan to Bridge of Orchy, along that missing stretch of the West Highland Way, was a fitting climax to an excellent week. Sad times though, as it became apparent that 12 years of service by my walking boots was at an end: Cape Wrath had been their final journey and no amount of emergency glue was going to fix that. We also established that we really hadn’t done enough to play about with the panoramic feature on my phone: here’s Bob, twice, on another sunny day.

There’s something good and wholesome about seeing a country at ground level, particularly if it’s under your own steam. Plugging this gap means we have now walked from Glasgow to Inverness, in stages. The walk itself was all rather glorious, polishing off the 19 miles in a little over six hours (plus food stops). Every hundred yards brought another photo opportunity – Scotland is a stunning place. The mix of ancient landscapes, carved by glaciers, with old stone bridges, modern farming techniques, a variety of forests, winding roads and pathways that have followed the same trails for generations… it was a privilege to see and to be a part of.

Thank you for reading!

Scotland tour part two: Ullapool to Lewis and back again. #NC500

Ferry rides… they come and go, one crossing much like the next I should think, apart from Stornoway Coastguadchanges in weather conditions. But that’s without counting on the Stornoway Coastguard to drop by. Purely a training exercise they said, nothing much to see here. Well, being easily entertained Bob and I loved it. We were also impressed: well done the Coastguard. As the boat charged along the helicopter arrived from downwind, kept pace for about 15 minutes as its crew discussed where they might drop someone, then went ahead and did just that. He swung around above the waves for a while, then was gently set down on the boat’s stern, followed by a stretcher. Both were then picked up (the stretcher still empty: nothing to see here, remember), and off they went. Amazing stuff and hopefully a fixture now on all Ullapool to Stornoway crossings. The ferry itself was pretty new, introduced this summer. Good food, a great viewing room in the bows, friendly staff and some impressive car loading. (Plus a helicopter. You got that, right?)

This is the second post covering an August 2015 tour of Scotland, with part one here and part three here. The fourth post provides daily route information. We only had two nights on Lewis and Harris (they’re one island) as a side mission from our drive around the North Coast 500. We loved the island though, so it gets a post of its own, with plenty of photos. First up, a dusk drive across to the Atlantic west coast, with views like this:

Isle of Lewis

 

We were heading to Uig sands, which was beginning to sound mythical and mystical thanks to the lack of information on it: little on the internet, few clues from the road signs. We got there though, as confirmed by a four year girl (and her father) who had pitched the only other tent. The wind was getting up, the light was fading, but the situation looked agreeable and the whisky tasted good. The next morning brought more good news – click on the photos if you’d like to see larger images.

Simply stunning.

The facilities were also excellent. If you’re anywhere nearby, and you can find yourself a pitch out of the wind, get yourself here. (Constant wind meant nae midges for us.)

Onwards, to Callanish and its standing stones. The visitor experience here is nicely balanced, with the stones themselves left to commune in relative isolation, as their guests wander between them and gather their thoughts. Close by are Harris Tweed hats (courtesy of the shop), excellent sausage rolls (via the cafe), and local art from Ivor MacKay’s studio. We made purchases from all three.

We kept being told about the terrible weather they have been having this summer. Not for the first time we felt lucky for the glorious sunshine we were getting. Driving south, into Harris, was a beautiful experience for this. Single track roads much of the way of course, but plenty of waved thanks as one car pauses for another to pass.

Onwards, then, to a place called Hushinish. The settlement was very small, but over the crest of a summer meadow we followed a walk that took us up high over the coast of a sea loch where we could look across to the island of Scarp. Around the corner and there were sandy beaches, crystal clear waters, that (rather repetitive) helicopter again, boggy stretches and more stunning views.

Lewis and Harris deserve repeat visits! Thank you also to the Park Guest House for some excellent food, and a first night’s sleep under a solid roof that didn’t rustle in the wind.

The third episode in our tour diary will cover the final two nights, from Ullapool to Skye to Ballachulish and a glorious final day walking part of the West Highland Way. Meanwhile, a few more photos of a noisy helicopter and some quiet tents.