Tag Archives: Isle of May

Recently: Wellcome Collection and new columns

I’ve had my head down working on long term projects recently, but I was pleased to see my six-part series on the history of the National Health Service to mark its 70th anniversary go live over on the Wellcome Collection’s website; for it, I spoke to patients, NHS workers and historians about the service’s germination and evolution. The NHS is not perfect, but surveys repeatedly find that our health service is our biggest source of national pride, ahead of the BBC and the royal family.

(It’s a subject close to my heart. I’ve already written about my own experiences of disability, and of my extensive leg-lengthening treatments under the NHS for The Sunday Times Magazine – find that essay here.)

I was also pleased to begin writing two monthly columns; one for Prospect magazine, on ‘backcountry philosophy’ – that is, life lessons from the wilderness; and a regular wildlife slot for Scottish Field.

My first Prospect column will be out shortly, while my second Scottish Field outing is already on newsstands. So far I’ve covered the basking sharks of the Inner Hebrides and the seabird colonies of the Isle of May.

Every species takes up a place in the strata of life, a multi-storey settlement that rises vertically from the waves….the razorbills with their snubnosed beaks – gnomish and oddly proportioned, squat like penguins but with the delicate wings of terns…Then the sleek guillemots in their evening wear: silken black-brown heads set apart from starched-white breasts by their sweetheart necklines…

Columns on raven culls and mountain hares are coming soon.

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Puffin spotting on the Isle of May

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I spent a lovely day on the Isle of May, a beautiful nature reserve off the coast of Fife, spotting puffins and other nesting seabirds for this Country Diary entry for The Guardian. It was a gorgeous, cloudless day, and the birds there are thick upon the ground – literally! I almost stepped on several eider ducks who nest in the grass and regularly in the middle of paths, and will not shift for anything!

I travelled on the Osprey rib from Anstruther, which was fast, exciting and vastly superior to the’pleasure cruise’ that chugs the same route, which we zipped past and looped the loop around. From the rib we also had fantastic views of low rocky shelves where seals were basking in the sun, and were raced by flashy boy-racer eider ducks (who abandon their women to their nesting duties). While stopped at the foot of a sea stack, several puffins flew down to dive right by us. Fabulous.

Text of the Country Diary piece can be found on the Guardian website here, or after the fold.  Continue reading

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