Author Archives: carolyn

What you need to know

Driving on unfamiliar roads with an alien car and jaw dropping scenery to the left and right may cause you to worry, however there is no need to be concerned.  Here we talk you through the do’s, the don’ts and how to get the most out of travelling in Scotland …. Plus, we’ll show you how to find us in our beautiful location on the West Coast of Scotland.

The Basics

If coming from abroad, particularly from countries where the steering wheel is on the wrong side (the left hand side !) be sure to note that in Scotland, we drive on the left hand side of the road – which is the correct side of the road ! We’d recommend not driving long distances until you have become accustomed to your new perspective whilst driving a car.

Driving on the correct side !
Driving on the correct side !

 

 

 

 

 

 

Road safety

Common sense rules supreme in Scotland, there is a legal alcohol limit but you’ll be best to go without drinking anything before driving. Keep your mobile phone in your pocket, it’s not worth it, we assure you that (pull over at a safe place for that Instagram worthy snap!). It’s also best to get enough sleep before journeys… Scotland is a big country and the drives can be long, a great excuse for a lie in! Set out in plenty of time, heaps of snacks, turn the radio up to 11 and have a good sing-song. Journeys always seem to take longer than anticipated so prepare and leave yourself plenty of time.

The choice of vehicle

Not sure what car to hire? Unsure whether the campervan you’ve bought will fit on some single track roads? Well the first thing to realise is that we are based at the end of quite a lengthy single track road and we receive coaches daily coming to visit our ticket office and see the area. If a coach can do it, so can your Winnebago. If you’re hiring, pick the car that best suits you and makes you feel comfortable. More accustomed to automatics? The ‘stick-shift’ or manual is more common in Scotland so make sure to check if you’d like an automatic.

Other points of note

The weather is unbelievably changeable throughout Scotland, four seasons in one day is not uncommon, so get extra layers in the car ready and sun cream at hand. Ferries go to many outer islands and take vehicles, something to bear in mind for visitors looking to really get away from it all.

When driving along single track roads make sure to keep an eye out for passing places for oncoming vehicles, but also local drivers who are very accustomed to the roads coming up behind you – please use the passing places but don’t expect an effusive wave of gratitude ….. be proud if you receive a pointed finger from the other driver’s steering wheel, that is the local way of saying "thanks for letting me pass". Best to let them through so you can enjoy the roads at your leisure.

Passing places are used to allow cars to pass each other safely on single track roads - here the approaching car has pulled over to allow us to pass.
Passing places are used to allow cars to pass each other safely on single track roads - here the approaching car has pulled over to allow us to pass.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Passing places can be used to allow cars to pass you so you can enjoy your journey at your own pace.
Passing places can be used to allow cars to pass you so you can enjoy your journey at your own pace.
To sum up
  • Plan your trip around what your vehicle can do, and make sure you’re in one you feel comfortable in.
  • Keep your mobile phone away and don't drink and drive.
  • Be prepared for all weather.
  • Be a courteous driver.
  • Remember to drive on the left!
  • Pull over often, when safe to do so, to enjoy the views rather than whilst driving.

How to find us

What you need to know

Bearing in mind all the above points you are now ready to jump behind the wheel and join us in Easdale for a fantastic Wildlife Tour on board one of our RIBs. Most of our customers begin their journey to us from Oban – it is a 16 mile drive through some gorgeous landscapes.  To set you on your way here are some photos of what to expect :

From Argyll Square follow signs for the A816 towards Lochgilphead.

Argyll Square in Oban showing signs on the A816 to Lochgilphead
Argyll Square in Oban showing signs on the A816 to Lochgilphead

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Heading out of Oban this roundabout signals where the scenic drive begins.

Leaving the urban landscape of Oban.
Leaving the urban landscape of Oban.

 

 

 

 

 

 

About 8 miles down the road you will see this sign for Easdale and Seafari (that’s us !) – turn right here (Tom, our crew, isn't always standing there to guide you !).

Turn right for Seafari Adventures !
Turn right for Seafari Adventures !

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh, by the way, if you are coming from the south – maybe Loch Melfort, then you will need to turn left after Kilninver School – you should see this sign :

If arriving from the south - follow the signs for Easdale !
If arriving from the south - follow the signs for Easdale !

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But if you miss that turning you will get another bite of the cherry a wee bit further down the road :

Arriving from the south - turn left !
Arriving from the south - turn left !

 

 

 

 

 

 

You will now be on a single track road so lots of passing places to look out for.

Next landmark on your wee road trip is the famous Bridge over the Atlantic – don’t worry, coaches and campervans or Winnebagos can all get over. Take a moment to glance to the other side of the bridge to check for any oncoming vehicles :

Enjoy the moment when you drive over the Bridge over the Atlantic !
Enjoy the moment when you drive over the Bridge over the Atlantic !

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pass through the village of Balvicar :

Pass through the village of Balvicar.
Pass through the village of Balvicar.

 

 

 

 

 

 

… and the road turns sharply to the right – do not go straight on towards the Isle of Luing but bear right on the same road !

Don't go to Luing - bear right !
Don't go to Luing - bear right !

 

 

 

 

 

 

Make sure you have time to enjoy the stunning view of Easdale Island as you approach the village of Ellenabeich :

Enjoy the view of Easdale !
Enjoy the view of Easdale !

 

 

 

 

 

 

… then into the conservation village of Ellenabeich and you are very nearly with us ..

Entering Ellenabeich.
Entering Ellenabeich.

 

 

 

 

 

 

This row of white houses signifies your arrival – drive down the road and you will see signs for the free car park to the right, our ticket office is to your left on the harbour square.

Front Street, Ellenabeich.
Front Street, Ellenabeich.

 

 

 

 

 

 

You have safely arrived with us, now relax and let one of our skippers do the driving (of a boat) as we head out for a Wildlife Tour.

Let someone else take the wheel on one of our Wildlife Tours !
Let someone else take the wheel on one of our Wildlife Tours !

 

 

 

Me, on a normal day !
Me, on a normal day !

Hello, my name is Nick and I am one of the new crew here at Seafari Adventures. I love my job, the nature and environment that we work in. But what many people often overlook is the sheer amount of history that exists here. I should point out at this point that I am really enthusiastic about history so working in Easdale is a really interesting experience for me. I hope to, in this brief blog, give you an idea or taste of the history of Easdale and the surrounding area as I have experienced it.

The story of Easdale starts with the arrival of the first people as the ice age starts to end, somewhere around 10,000 years ago this is an era known as the Mesolithic or middle Stone Age. As the ice melted the coast of Scotland became accessible unlike the frozen inter-area of the highlands, so there may have been people on/around Easdale 10,000 years ago.

Fast forward to 5000YA (years ago) or 3000BC and we come across one of Argyll's first historic sites, the standing stones in the Kilmartin Glen just south on the mainland. These standing stones were mostly likely for burial and ceremonial uses; these are among some of the oldest standing stones in the British Isles, older than Stonehenge.

Me at the Kilmartin Standing Stones.
Me at the Kilmartin Standing Stones.
Me at the Kilmartin Standing Stones.
Me at the Kilmartin Standing Stones.

Now you may wonder why I not talking about any prehistoric sites on Easdale, well there are a few reasons for this. For a start Easdale, for most of its modern history, has been a quarrying and industrial site and in more modern terms it is now an area of historic conservation. So in layman's terms the area has been scoured and then legally protected so there have been few archaeological digs.

Easdale Island - view from Seil.
Easdale Island - view from Seil.

As we speed through history however, we get ever closer to Easdale as we arrive on the neighbouring island of Seil where you can find several old mounts - most likely old forts. However, there has been very little archaeological surveying on these sites which is rather frustrating. At a guess they are likely to be somewhere between Iron and medieval. I appreciate that is far from accurate, a gap of roughly 1700 years. Having said that, the dinosaurs died out 65 million years 50 years ago and the years have not been changed to 65,000,050! A quick note to those who are enthusiastic about medieval history, there are several ruined chapels and an old ruined castle to be found on Seil.

The remains of Ardfad castle on Seil.
The remains of Ardfad castle on Seil.

Finally we arrive on Easdale, an island which is about half a mile long with one craggy hill, deep gouges of quarries and small lime washed worker cottages. Easdale, looking at it from a defensive point of view,  looks perfect for a small rural settlement as it has great access to the sea; it has a freshwater supply, some fertile land and a great vantage/defensive hill. A hill which was actually used by the local militia volunteers during the nineteenth century as a mounting point for cannon as part of a nationwide volunteer force as a local defence against the threat from France.

There are accounts of Easdale being quarried going back to the 12/13th centuries for local buildings of stature. Easdale used to be part of the Ardmaddy Estate and at certain times the Earl would gather the farm labours, who would be supervised by an engineer, and cut slate for a contract/project.

The two main catalysts of the quarry industry on Easdale were the Jacobite rebellion and the industrial revolution. In response to the first Jacobite rebellion the Earl invested in infrastructure in order to help exploit the local natural resources of the area to improve the local people’s lives. Also during the Jacobite rebellion local men left the quarries to fight for the British army as part of the Argyll militia and, being on the winning side, meant the quarries/locals were left unharmed, unlike the clans which aided Bonnie Prince Charlie.  In 1745 Easdale came under new ownership, and with this came a permanent mining workforce and other innovations such as improved pumping engines.

During the nineteenth century technology improved, such as the introduction of narrow gauge railways as well as improved opportunities to export to the British Empire. A proportion of the profits were now also invested into the workforce to improve their lives. The workers now had access to health insurance and improved education and a doctor who helped improve the sanctuary conditions of the housing.

The Pier at Ellenabeich.
The Pier at Ellenabeich.

In the winter of 1881 there was a severe storm and a tidal wave flooded the major quarries of Ellenabeich and Easdale. This was the beginning of the end for the local mining industry because, although attempts were made to restart the industry, there was the allure of gold in the colonies and South America and with their mining skills and local industry failing many left to seek their fortune abroad.

One of the finial blows was the loss of the number of young men in the Boer War because Easdale maintained its local defence force and when war came they were called up and were sent to South Africa, many of which did not return. The other issue was the competition from other local and Welsh slate quarries.

The last ship to steam out of the Easdale sound with slate was in 1911. The low point came during the 1960s when the population of Easdale dropped to 4 people. However, in the last few decades a combination of tourism, people retiring to rural areas and commuters to Oban, the local population has seen the community regenerated to a more permanent population of around 60.

Easdale Island back square.
Easdale Island back square.

So, in conclusion, Easdale has a fascinating history and I personally believe there is a lot more to the island that has been lost or is still to be discovered. Just as an example, while digging a ditch last month I found a nineteenth century pocket watch which is now in the local heritage centre, so it goes to show that you never know what you might find.

If you would like to find out a little bit more about Easdale then I would highly recommend a visit to the Heritage Centre and Museum in Ellenabeich (click here for more information) and the Easdale Island museum (click here for more information). I would also like to thank the staff at the Heritage Centre for answering my many questions and the many fantastic books on the area which helped me greatly.

 

After a long drive from West Sussex I round a corner and am greeted with my first view of Easdale Island. My new home for the next 8.5 months. I’m Calum and I’m a wildlife biologist joining Seafari Adventures as a guide for the 2018 season.

Crew member, Calum.
This is me wearing my full trip kit before a wildlife tour

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arriving in the village of Ellenabeich I’m met by Tony, Jess and Carolyn who run Seafari and welcome me with big smiles, telling me to make the most of the sun that is shining brightly overhead. As I unload my bags from my car another new member of crew arrives, Nick from Orkney. Together we load our bags onto the ferry and head across to Easdale. After a 2 minute journey we arrive and begin unloading our bags into wheelbarrows (the primary method for moving anything around the island as there are no cars). Tucked away amongst the white cottages we find the crew house, and begin unpacking our bags. We soon meet Roy and Claire, guides from 2017 who are returning for the new season as they enjoyed it so much last year (definitely a good sign). Our first day finishes with a tour of the island, meeting many of its inhabitants on the way - all of whom already know us by name before heading to the Puffer (the island pub) for a welcome drink.

Our first few weeks fly by in a blur as we try and absorb as much information as possible. We learn the local history and wildlife information for the tours, how to safely tie up, cast off and refuel the boats, driving the land rovers, vans and towing trailers, how to run the ticket office and shop and the organisation of the waterproofs trailer.

Learning to drive the dinghy in the safety of Easdale harbour
Learning to drive the dinghy in the safety of Easdale harbour

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It all seems a little daunting at first but it soon becomes second nature and Easdale Island begins to feel like home. It’s amazing how quickly the commute begins to feel normal - there aren’t many places where you get to drive a small dinghy across an open stretch of water in order to get to work…and it certainly beats getting a bus, although it can get a bit interesting in high winds and rain.

Our work varies from day to day but always starts with opening up the shop/ticket office. When we have trips running the next jobs are to sort the waterproofs and binoculars, fuel the boats and write the tickets before our customers arrive. Once they have arrived and have been kitted up in waterproofs and life jackets then the tours begin and we head off in search of wildlife. Some of my highlights from my first few weeks as crew include porpoises, common seals, white tailed sea eagles and wild boar. When there are no tours running there are always plenty of jobs to keep us busy and no two days without tours are ever the same!

Atlantic grey seal in the foreground and a common or harbour seal in the background, taken on one of my first Corryvreckan Wildlife Tours
Atlantic grey seal in the foreground and a common or harbour seal in the background, taken on one of my first Corryvreckan Wildlife Tours
White-tailed sea eagle feeding just up from the shore, taken on the first day that I crewed two back to back trips
White-tailed sea eagle feeding just up from the shore, taken on the first day that I crewed two back to back trips

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I have been lucky enough to see harbour porpoise on a number of the trips that I have crewed so far
I have been lucky enough to see harbour porpoise on a number of the trips that I have crewed so far

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once our customers have all returned from their trips and started to head home there is still plenty of work for us to do before we can head back to Easdale and relax. The shop and the trailer need to be closed down, wet waterproofs need to be hung up and dried and all of the photographs from the day’s trips need to be gone through.

My evenings so far have been really varied, sometimes I’ll spend them watching the sunset from the top of the hill on the island, in the Puffer or Oyster bar with the other islanders, running on the mainland or if I’m feeling particularly brave I may even be found swimming in the quarries.

Watching the sun set into the Atlantic from the hill in the centre of Easdale Island
Watching the sun set into the Atlantic from the hill in the centre of Easdale Island

 

 

 

 

 

 

So far my first few weeks as a wildlife guide have been completely packed and I’ve loved every second…and to think it’s only April.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

... everyone loves a good bit of alliteration !

Skipper Steve.
Skipper Steve.

 

So, summer is over for another year but we've still got lots of wildlife out there and our popular Corryvreckan Wildlife Tours are still running every day.

Steve on board Celtic Explorer with excited passengers.
Steve on board Celtic Explorer with excited passengers.

Seafari Skipper Steve has been sharing some of his favourite wildlife sightings of the season so far and it's been a busy one !

Steve has been driving Celtic Explorer for most of this season and his camera is never far away so when he gets the chance he simply points and clicks - acknowledging that he is far from being a professional photographer but out of the many thousands he has taken over the season - here are the highlights !

Red deer stags by Skipper Steve.
Red deer stags by Skipper Steve.

The Red deer stags are looking particularly majestic at the moment getting ready for the rut in a couple of weeks time.

 

Grey seal by Skipper Steve.
Grey seal by Skipper Steve.

The female grey seals will soon be heading out to Oronsay to give birth to their pups.

Lion's mane jellyfish by Skipper Steve.
Lion's mane jellyfish by Skipper Steve.

Steve had an interesting encounter with a Lion's mane jellyfish earlier in the season whilst mooring the boat .... he assures us he didn't cry ..... much !

Bottlenose dolphin by Skipper Steve.
Bottlenose dolphin by Skipper Steve.

Seeing dolphins is always a pleasure - we probably see them a few times a month but the experience is always unique and adds to the enjoyment of the trip.

He has been doing this job for more than 16 years, asked if he ever gets tired of it ... his immediate response was "never, no two trips are ever the same so I can't get tired of it - even in bad weather and rain this is still a great job."

Common Seal by Skipper Steve.
Common Seal by Skipper Steve.

Towards the end of the season we start to wonder who is watching who ?!

Fallow deer by Skipper Steve.
Fallow deer by Skipper Steve.

Steve says that fallow deer produce the best tasting venison .... but we try to stop him from saying that when there are children on board and after we've just explained that these are "Bambi" deer !

Grey Heron by Skipper Steve.
Grey Heron by Skipper Steve.

Incredibly patient birds .... some may say "unlike Steve" !

White-Tailed Sea Eagle by Skipper Steve.
White-Tailed Sea Eagle by Skipper Steve.

This was taken just after the chick had fledged - Steve thinks this is the mother finally getting a break from responsibility !

Curlew in flight by Skipper Steve.
Curlew in flight by Skipper Steve.

This photo is one of Steve's favourites - it's not very often that we see Curlew these days and can be difficult to catch in flight. His exact words were, "I'm chuffed with this one" !

Feral goat eating kelp by Skipper Steve.
Feral goat eating kelp by Skipper Steve.

..... and we always talk about goats eating seaweed and kelp on our tour and we finally got photographic evidence thanks to Steve !

 

Today's blog by Jess.

Gardening is one of my passions. Leaving my Perthshire garden of 25 years with its rich soil was a wrench. It supplied our growing family with fresh fruit and vegetables for much of the year. How was I going to restart again on an island battered by wind and sea spray and virtually devoid of soil?

"Celtic Gardener" - Jess.
"Celtic Gardener" - Jess.

I was told that during the quarrying days that Irish Puffers arriving at Easdale to collect slates carried peat or soil as ballast to temper the motion of the unladen vessel. The peat being removed from the Puffer into the tramway trucks prior to loading. The peat was then deposited in various locations around the island adjacent to the tramway system. Where to site my new allotment? Armed with my shovel and knowing the basic route of the old tramway tracks I carried out a series of test digs before deciding. There were, and remain, very few people working a vegetable garden or allotment on Easdale yet during the quarrying days most families worked the land, and the walled areas can be clearly seen.

17 years ago, I naively thought the three foot high slate wall on the northern aspect of my chosen area would be sufficient protection for my vegetable plants.  I grossly underestimated the strength of the wind particularly when you least expect it, mid July. Before the wind my carefully nurtured runner beans were in full flower.  After the wind the soil was red, covered with the flowers had been stripped off during the night. The canes were at a jaunty angel too.

A hedge was the only answer. I was kindly offered cuttings from an established escolonia hedge in Ellenabeich.  The cuttings rooted obligingly, along with some New Zealand holly, and were planted in the autumn around three sides of the plot. I also laid carpet on an area of grass alongside one side of the fledgling cuttings, to create an onion bed.  The field mice moved in under the carpet over the winter and grazed on the new hedge cuttings just beside their abode. Potential hedge on one side was devastated but regrew. The storm of January 2005 literally blew my quietly establishing hedge away. Only a few sticks and stalks remained. I was very despondent.  Over time the hedge has re- established itself. The condition of the soil continues to improve with copious amounts of seaweed and rock dust. Organic animal manure is in short supply so I compost everything and encourage our crew to do likewise.

Jess' allotment in fine fettle in 2005.
Jess' allotment in fine fettle in 2005.

I tend to grow the vegetables we like but it is always a bit of a lottery as to what does well. It definitely differs from year to year for whatever reason but my guess is wind, rain and temperature. One year I bought a book and tried to plant everything according to the correct phase of the moon. It made little difference.  ‘Over wintering’ anything is hit and miss, the elements, particularly wind, can have a devastating effect.  Leeks are often “ helicoptered” to stumps. Purple sprouting broccoli and sprouts flattened to horizontal despite being carefully staked.  Whatever we do get to eat tastes so much better than anything you can buy in the shops. It is worth the effort, and I feel I am doing my bit in a small way, to reduce my carbon foot-print on this planet.

Spring 2017 - after a cold winter, ready for the off !
Spring 2017 - after a cold winter, ready for the off !

You would be hard pressed to have an allotment with a more stunning view. There is a tendency to lean on the spade a fair bit and contemplate the day.  I have become quite philosophical about gardening on Easdale Island and over time the phrase ‘there is always next year’ is at the forefront of my thoughts.

An allotment with a view !
An allotment with a view !

Today's blog by Sarah.

Last week here at Easdale we had a rare and wonderful moment when bottlenose dolphins came to play in the sound, much to the excitement of the new crew. As if by prior arrangement they were there in time for Roy’s morning Corryvreckan Wildlife Tour, Carolyn was also on board, whose reputation as a cetacean repellent can no longer be held against her, whilst Sarah and Claire were in the shop. The call came over the radio and permission was given to shut up shop and view the action from the harbour, so after a frantic scramble to find the keys, which turned out to be in Carolyn’s trouser pocket, Team Seafari were either on the jetty or on the boat to enjoy these fantastic animals doing their thing.

The Easdale ferrymen were also getting first class seats to the performance as they sailed to and fro with delighted passengers on board, and kayakers from Sea Kayak Scotland had the enviable experience of being within touching distance. If the crew had been on a day off they would have been throwing themselves into the water, wetsuit or not.

Dolphins playing with Easdale ferry.
Dolphins playing with Easdale ferry.

There were 5 or 6 dolphins, apparently in the sound for the mere enjoyment of playing amongst the boats, ‘bow riding’ in the slipstream and following the ferry right in to Easdale Harbour at one point. They must have seemed trained to our Seafari customers, as they were there again for Sarah’s afternoon trip, and made another boatload of people very happy. Claire, on the other hand, was still in the office feeling rather put out, particularly as everyone was very vocal about how wonderful it had all been. Luckily for Claire, the pod stuck around for a few days and were seen off the west coast of Lunga whilst Claire was crewing the tours !

Crew member Sarah with dolphin.
Crew member Sarah with dolphin.

Bottlenose dolphins are widely distributed around the world; they can be found in cold temperate waters to tropical seas, but Scottish ones are the largest and fattest of them all which will come as no surprise to those of you who have swum in our brisk waters. The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust have identified roughly 28 individuals in this group, but as they are nomadic and can be found travelling from Islay to the North of Mull, it is difficult to judge the pod size exactly. Individuals can be identified by scars and notches, particularly on the dorsal fin. One dolphin in this pod was seen last June with severe propeller damage to the tail, and last week it was seen again by Claire and Steve, fully healed but with slightly hindered mobility – we reported the sighting to HWDT who are trying to get more information on this animal.

Example of dolphin fin unique scratches and nicks.
Example of dolphin fin unique scratches and nicks.