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Visiting the Shiants

Shiants Visitors 2014

Those who are booked in to stay on the Shiants in 2014 are as follows:

April  
14 - 21 Filming
   
May  
1 - 23 Lambing (no visitors)
31 - 7 June William Nicolson
   
June  
7 - 14 Adam Nicolson
14 - 21 Ben Nicolson
21 - 29 Adam Nicolson & Sarah Raven
29 – 13 July Jim Lennon
   
July  
14 - 21 Filming
26 - 2 August Tom Nicolson & Friends
   
August  
2 - 9 Stephen Romer
9 - 16 Steven Price
16 - 19 Rachel

Visiting the Shiants

You are extremely welcome to stay on the Shiant Islands, a small group of islands in the Minch between Skye and Lewis in the Outer Hebrides, north-west Scotland. They are one of the great bird-stations of the northern hemisphere, with some 250,000 seabirds, including puffins, guillemots, razorbills, shags and great skuas, arriving there in the summer to breed. They are a wild, beautiful and demanding place, as anyone who has ever visited them will tell you.

There is open access to the islands for individuals and groups throughout the year in accordance with the Scottish Outdoor Access Code. But they are sensitive places, particularly at certain times of year, and if you want to minimise disturbance to the sheep and birds, please get in touch with Tom Nicolson on this email address. If you would like to stay in the small house on Eilean an Tighe, please email Tom Nicolson to discuss the dates you want to go and to ensure the house is not already occupied.

Season

The best time to visit is probably in the summer as the birds are there then (until mid August) and the weather is better.

From April 10 to May 31 each year, however, when the sheep are lambing, the islands must not be visited, because if they are the ewes tend to desert their lambs. Shepherds also visit for several days in mid-late July and early September for essential work with the sheep. The house will be occupied at those times.

If you have discussed your plans to stay in the house with Tom, please contact Derick Morrison, the grazing tenant, by email, to inform him of when you are intending to stay on the islands, to check if your plans fit in with his timetable and so that you can adjust them accordingly.

Getting to Lewis

Flights: British Airways to Stornoway via Glasgow
Ferries: Calmac from Uig to Tarbert; Ullapool to Stornoway

Boat to the Shiants

Boats currently licensed to take you there from Stornoway are run by Woody on 01851 703908 or Charles Engebretsen on 01851 702304 or 01851 702303. Also Seumas Morrison, Tel: 01859 502007.

Cost negotiable, expect something in the region of 500 return.

Key to the house

To be got from Tom Nicolson. There is no charge to stay there.

On the islands

The house is extremely basic and is at times ratridden. It has chairs, tables and a fireplace. It is best to bring some bags of coal and some kindling. There is no electricity, running water, telephone or loo.

Mobile phones work but you obviously can't recharge them.
There is a gas cooker with 4 rings, a grill and an oven which is fuelled with (red) gas cylinders, a small one of which you should bring with you. There are plenty of pots, pans, cutlery, cups, plates etc. It feels overcrowded with more than 6-8 people.

There is fresh spring water in a well, marked with a yellow buoy, about 100 yards south of the house. Take the water using a shallow dish, allowing only the top 1/16th of an inch of water to run into the dish and then pour it into a bucket. If you put the bucket in the well you will end up with a peaty soup. Replace the well cover to prevent sheep falling in it.

I ask people to go to the loo in the intertidal zone and to remove all unburnable rubbish in bin liners which can be put in skips on Stornoway quay. Burnable rubbish should be burned very carefully either on rocks below the high tide mark or, cleanly and tidily, in the house fire. Please don’t bury any rubbish or leave it lying around.

It is best, I have found, to sleep in tents and to use the house as a kitchen-cum-sitting room. You obviously need wet weather clothes, gumboots, towels, drying up cloths, torches, radios etc etc

Food

You must bring all your food and other supplies with you although nothing of course can be refrigerated. There is a cupboard in which food can be stored.

You can order it from the Stornoway Co-Op on 01851 705005. And fax the order on 01851 706749.

Ask them to box provisions up for you and put the boxes inside black plastic bags. When things go to the Shiants in boxes, the boxes have a way of falling apart when they get damp on the boat. It is easier manhandling things on and off the boats if the boxes aren't too big.

This, as an example, is for three hungry men for four days:

1 large Bag of Alpen
1 large Box of Shreddies
2 large loaves of white Bread (not sliced)
1 box of teabags
1 jar of coffee
4 cartons of UHT long life milk
2 lbs salted butter
1 jar marmalade
2 packs dry cure bacon
1 dozen free range organic eggs
1 bottle sunflower oil
2 boxes oatcakes
2 lbs cheddar cheese
12 slices ham
12 oranges
2 large bars chocolate
1 leg of lamb for 4
1 piece of roasting beef for 4
1 large packet of shells pasta
1 lb mushrooms
2 tins tomatoes
5 lbs potatoes
1 cabbage
12 sausages
2 tins mushroom soup
1 large bottle Ribena
1 bottle whisky
12 cans lager

3 large boxes of matches
4 boxes firelighters
3 large bags of coal
1 box of 24 candles
1 pckt J-cloths
1 bottle Fairy Liquid
2 rolls loopaper
1 roll of binliners

No food can be left out of the cupboard, particularly at night, nor outside the house. This is an attempt to discourage the rats. Try not to leave the door of the house open after dark for the same reason.

Safety

The Shiants are dangerous on land and sea.
Do not climb cliffs. A boy died behind the house in 1986 doing that.
The sea is tricky and needs great care. Many people in the past have drowned there. Before you go, you will need to absolve Tom Nicolson in writing from any responsibility for anything that happens to any of your party.
Take lifejackets and a handheld VHF radio, on which you can contact Stornoway Coastguard on Channel 16 if anything goes wrong.

Dinghy

A dinghy is needed to get over to Mary Island. House and Rough island are joined by a shingle beach and can be visited without a dinghy. If you have a dinghy, ask the boatman if he can tow it behind the boat from Stornoway or even bring it on deck.
There is no all-weather anchorage or mooring. Tie the dinghy up well. Unexpectedly high tides can wash boats off the beach.

Philosophy

Please try and leave the place better than you found it; disturb the birds as little as you can; please do not move any stones on any archaeological site; take away all your rubbish (don't bury it); and please do whatever the tenant, Derick Morrison, whose livelihood is from the grazing on the islands, asks you to do.

Background

Adam Nicolson's Sea Room: An Island Life (HarperCollins Oct. 2001) is a full description of the islands' history and natural history.

See http://www.charles-tait.co.uk/library/westernisles/outliers/shiants for recent photos of the islands.

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