Travel Concept #1 – The Islands of Western Scotland

Right, so this blog has a lot of travel stuff on it, and I’m back in that procrastinatorial mindset.  The result is that I’ve created a new category of posts – ooooo, exciting!  Basically I’ll just write down ideas I have for journeys I’d like to do at some point.  So, what’s the first one I hear you ask?  Well, read on and find out.

I’ve long had a love of islands.  I’m not sure why, but they always fascinate me.  Their close relationship to the sea, and the communities that live on them.  I guess it’s not a particular surprise, given that I’ve lived on an (admittedly fairly large) island my whole life, and the UK is by definition, and island nation.  A few years ago, Martin Clunes did a series of three documentaries about the smaller islands around the UK (watch them on YouTube here, they are excellent).

Anyway, I’ve been told that the islands off the west coast of Scotland are beautiful (and I’ve visited Skye and Arran already.  They were simply stunning, so it’s safe to assume that the others are equally great, and it’d be marvellous to go back to those two islands anyway). But all the best trips need a purpose.  Fortunately, whilst in the depths of procrastination, it struck me.  What’s Scotland famous for? Whisky.  Obviously.  So, why not merge a trip to the Scottish islands with a tour of all their respective distilleries?  A quick search online later, and I had the complete list of distilleries.  13 in total, spread over six islands (Arran, Islay, Jura, Lewis/Harris, Mull, and Skye).  A few minutes after that, and the route was planned, with the ferries all worked out.

A trip to Harris and Lewis would give me the chance to visit the Callanish Standing Stones, which is something I’ve wanted to do for quite a long time.  They’re essentially similar to Stonehenge, but far less touristy and in a much more picturesque location!  The geology of this part of the world is amazing too.  I had a trip to Arran in Part IA, Skye in Part II, and have also studied Mull extensively in Part IB. Lewis is home to the oldest rocks in the UK – the Lewisian Gneiss (at a whopping 2.7 billion years old).  A sample of the Lewisian Gneiss also happens to be my favourite one in my rock collection (admittedly I collected it from Skye, but the rock type is the same)!

Now all I need are nine days free and a car with a decent sized boot!

So, without further ado, here’s the concept:

Island Distillery Itinerary (click to enlarge)

Island Distillery Itinerary (click to enlarge) – ferry prices include two people and a car

Back in the Library

Ah yes, the new term’s begun in earnest, and as such, I’ve been living in the UL for the past week.  I have a nicely simple revision plan, namely, write up all the lecture notes as revision notes, go through all the scientific papers on the reading lists and write down interesting facts from them, and then do about a million past paper essay questions.  I’m currently on the scientific papers bit, which is extremely time consuming, as each lecture has maybe 10 references or so, and there are 48 lectures to go through.  Still, I’ve got a lovely spot in the library.  My usual place on the fifth floor on the south front is sadly no longer very usable, so I’ve retreated to my backup position of being by the tower on the fourth floor.  The view’s quite good, and I can see my other haunt from here (the one I go to once the stacks are shut).  Life at the moment is boring and repetitive, but it’s a means to an end!  A couple of days ago I thought of something quite interesting to write about, but I’ve forgotten what it is, so you’ll have to wait for my memory to de-hopelessify itself!

A Cheeky Ramble

I’ve been thinking about doing this for a long time, and after graduation seemed like the perfect time to start ticking off fun travel things.  I mentioned it to AW, and he seemed very keen, so we’ll be going together.  What is it I hear you ask?  Well, it’s a walk to the most remote pub on the island of Great Britain.  Called the Old Forge, it is situated on the remote Knoydart Peninsula in the highlands (just opposite the Isle of Skye).  It’ll take three days to walk there from the nearest town (Glenfinnan), camping for two nights along the way (one wild camping in a tent, the other, if it’s not full, in a bothy). You’ll definitely recognise Glenfinnan, or rather, its railway viaduct. It’s this bridge from the Harry Potter film series, and is where scenes like this were filmed.  As me and AW will be getting the train to the start of the walk, we’ll get to travel over it, which will be great!

One of the benefits of walking in the Scottish Highlands in the summer is the long days.  Owing to its high latitude, in the summer, sunrise is around 04:30, with sunset taking place well past 22:00, so there’s a lot of time for walking!  The maps are faultless in the UK, courtesy of the Ordnance Survey, founded in 1791 to make detailed maps of the whole country.  The remoteness of the Highlands means that you’re almost always alone in beautiful mountains.  The only downside is that it usually rains, and there is a rather significant population of midges, ticks, and other delightful insects that enjoy eating you.

Once me and AW make it to the town of Inverie, and have enjoyed a celebratory pint and pub supper, the next morning, we’ll have to head back.  We won’t be walking out though, but instead getting a boat across the sea loch to Mallaig, before getting the train back to the Home Counties.

All that remains now is to finalise the details and book everything up!

(If you’re interested in the route we’re planning to follow, the route described on this excellent blog here is what we’ll be aiming to emulate).

PS:  The geology is pretty interesting around here too, so that’s an added bonus!

A Sigh of Relief

Yesterday I had the face to face interview and written test for the company that gave me a phone interview (see my earlier post “The End of Term“), and was told that they’d let me know by the end of next week.  I’m extremely lucky, as they called me this morning to offer me a position as a geophysicist, starting at the end of July.  It’s a huge weight off my mind, as I’ve been rather worried that I’d be one of those many unemployed graduates, desperately finding some work, any work, but now it’s no longer a problem!

I’m really looking forward to starting in three and a bit months’ time, especially as it looks like such an interesting job.  Before then though, it’s only the small matter of the degree, the final bout of the Tripos, as well as all the fun that’ll be coming afterwards to deal with!

The 160th Boat Race

Each year, more or less, since 1829, Oxford and Cambridge have had a race on the Thames.  It’s a huge sporting fixture in the UK, (one estimate is that in 2011, 17.2 million people watched it on TV, which is around 25% of the population of Britain).  Rowing upstream from Putney Bridge to Chiswick Bridge for just over 4 miles, it’s a great event to go to.

The rivalry between the two universities is deeply entrenched, ever since scholars from Oxford broke away from the university to form a new one of their own – Cambridge – in 1209.

I met up with AW at a local pub near to the start line at Putney Bridge, the Eight Bells, where we enjoyed a pint or two while waiting for the others to arrive, as we were a few minutes early.  LS, another friend from Cambridge turned up.  He graduated last year and has been living in his native Cyprus ever since, but was back in London for a job interview (which he just got offered), so we were all delighted that he’ll be returning to the UK from September.  An hour later, AC and his girlfriend GD showed up (AC got confused with how the tube works, despite living in London his whole life).  I’d not met GD before, but she was very charming, and we had a good chat.  Finally FJ, GS, FL and EB turned up, along with one of GS’ friends.  We all had some beers and chatted about this and that, until it was time for the race.  The race itself was quite late this year (18:00), owing to the tides.  (For those of you who don’t know, the Thames is a tidal river, and so the race has to be timed correctly with respect to the tides).

We watched the start of the race, and promptly hurried back to the pub to watch the rest of it on TV.  Unfortunately, Cambridge got a beating, and we lost by 11 lengths, which was a disappointment to say the least!

The two teams wait at the start line (Cambridge are the nearer team)

The two teams wait at the start line (Cambridge are the nearer team)

After regrouping, GS headed off to visit her sister, while the rest of us went to a pub by Leicester Square called The Cambridge (seemed the best named pub for us), before going out to grab a rather good Chinese (as we were right by Chinatown).  We went to a restaurant that I’d frequented a couple of times before called Mr. Kong, and we had a lot of food!

Afterwards, it was time to go our separate ways.  I said goodbye to everyone bar FJ (who was walking to GS’ place by Waterloo).  I left him at Trafalgar Square, as my train was from Charing Cross (named after the replica Eleanor Cross outside the entrance – the original 13th century one was destroyed during the English Civil War unfortunately). Or rather, it would have been from Charing Cross.  Unfortunately, Network Rail maintenance meant that there weren’t any trains from it. Instead, I walked to Victoria, through Admiralty Arch, up the Mall, past the Palace, and through St. James’s Park, which was rather a nice and peaceful end to a fun day!

The Final Field Trip

Last week marked the end of my final field trip with my university.  Like all field trips, it was as usual, enormous fun, with a lot of hard work thrown in.  Typically, we were working between 09:00-18:00 every day, with a one hour talk at 19:30, but in true student fashion, we partied at night too.


We were staying in a small town called Carboneras about an hour or two south of Murcia, to the east of Almería, right on the coast of the Mediterranean.  The weather all week was in the mid 20s and sunny, which was a huge change to the normal conditions in Britain! Unfortunately my very pale complexion took a bit of a beating from the sun, but I tried to cover myself completely everyday, so only the side of my face and my hands got burned.  Yes that’s right, you can have sunburned hands…


Anyway, the geology was great, and there was a huge variety, with everything from metamorphic petrology (which was my favourite), to palæontology.

Oooo!  Pretty!  Metamorphic petrology in action.  This is a crystal of kyanite.

Oooo! Pretty! Metamorphic petrology in action. This is a crystal of kyanite.

On the met pet front, in addition to the kyanite we found (see photo above), on the last day, we went to visit an unusual volcano.  Due to some peculiarities about its formation, it erupted a large number of garnet crystals, which were now just lying around on the inside of the crater.  (I’m a massive garnet fan, especially as my master’s research project was all about garnet).

Garnets just lying around

Garnets just lying around

Something cool that was pointed out to us was that a lot of the third Indiana Jones film was filmed around where we were, such as this beach scene to name but one.

On the final night, our lecturers took us out to a local restaurant for a traditional paella.  It was amazing!!  Pretty much every type of seafood you could possibly imagine was thrown in, along with various meats like chicken/rabbit/etc.



Overall, it was a lovely way to finish my university geological field career.  It’s been pretty good for field trips (this was the ninth one), and they’ll be sorely missed after I graduate.