Thursday, May 26, 2011

New book on Rathlin Island by Stone Country

‘Rathlin: Nature and Folklore’ is on sale now for £9.99 at bookshops, on Amazon or direct from the publisher at 


A FIFTY year love affair may feature in many tales, but a well known Northern Irish ecologist and writer is putting the island of Rathlin at the heart of his affections in a newly published book charting five decades of visits to its shores.

Philip Watson is a naturalist who has worked on several continents, but it is the lure of life on Rathlin island, just off the north Antrim shoreline, that has called him to explore the island’s mythical history, sealife, birds and wondrous natural terrain in ‘Rathlin: Nature and Folklore’.

Since his first glimpse in 1960 of her white chalk cliffs and dark basalts glinting in the sun, the 16 year old birdwatcher studying golden eagles on the mainland, has since spent many visits to the island for work and for pleasure, charting its changes - and sometimes beautiful lack of changes - in this new book, published by Stone Country Press Scotland.

Rathlin is Northern Ireland’s only permanently inhabited offshore island, sitting like a stepping stone in the narrow and turbulent Sea of Moyle between Ireland and Scotland, straddling cultures, habitats and peoples.

It is a busy, vibrant and beautiful place with a resident population of around 100 islanders who look to the future with confidence but can also hark back to a past of massacres, famine and emigration.

The tale, which can be as useful an island guide as a prosaic read, starts with Philip’s first work stint as he joins a small group of enthusiasts to set up a Bird Observatory to study migration, followed by other bird surveys on the island throughout the 1960s.

In the period 1970-75, his job as a fisheries biologist took him back to the island regularly for extended periods studying lobsters and crabs with the island fishermen, which accounts for several chapters in the book on Rathlin’s bountiful sea life.

In 1975 while working for the RSPB, Philip returned to Rathlin to negotiate purchase of large stretches of the northern and western cliffs for the RSPB, to become bird reserve areas.

It is over these two decades he built up friendships with fishermen and islanders that have lasted the course, and many have helped him piece together the island’s mythical and natural history in several chapters of the book.

In the 1980s Philip recounts how he became involved for a couple of years with Richard Branson’s UK 2000 environmental project; helping set up NI 2000, which took him again to Rathlin for community projects such as the restoration of the 18C Manor House.

Branson made a rare celebrity appearance on the island, when in 1988 he presented the islanders with a new fast lifeboat, in thanks for help when he crashed his trans-Atlantic record-breaking balloon just off its shores on 3 July 1987.

Working as North Coast warden and then countryside manager with the National Trust between 1984-88 and 1990-1999 took Philip much more frequently to Rathlin, as the Trust purchased some buildings and land for  conservation and became involved with island life.

In the course of all these years on and around Rathlin, Philip gradually became aware of much more than its land, sea and birdlife - the island’s rich heritage of folklore. Tales were told to him of seals and mermaids that took human form, of the old woman who changed into a hare and back again, of legendary magical horses, ghosts and hairy fairies, of a whiskey-laden shipwreck and much more.

The footloose ecologist has returned frequently to the island in the 2000s doing seabird surveys – bouncing about in small island boats and scrambling about the cliffs and in the latter half of the decade he decided to make the golden anniversary of his first trip the subject of a book.

“I never need an excuse to go to Rathlin, it calls me. Now I visit regularly for the sheer pleasure of being on this magical island, to see old friends, to renew acquaintances with tens of thousands of seabirds, a hundred or so seals, the island’s rare golden hares (only 2 known there) and to revel in that unique feeling of being on an island – one that retains its integrity and beauty while coping with a fast changing world,” said the author.

Sunday, May 22, 2011


Erraid traigh ghael 3Erraid bouldering undercutterErraid sentinel buttressErraid Fools Gold wallErraid sentinel wallsErraid upper tier left
Erraid high tier Erraid upper walls covenant areaErraid upper tier skerryvore wallsErraid undercut problemSeals on ErraidErraid seal
Quarriers house on ErraidErraid observatory (2)View from Erraid observatoryGranite stonework on ErraidErraid traigh ghaelErraid  Balfour Walls 1
Erraid traigh ghael high wallErraid beach 1Erraid sea wallsErraid beachErraid DWS wallsErraid balfour bay

Erraid, a set on Flickr.

Some fine bouldering on the island of Erraid. Idyllic pink perfection: seawashed granite, scooped walls, overhangs, roofs, cracks, name it, Erraid is possibly the finest bouldering/cragging island in certainly looks the best!

Corncrake in a bird bath, I know, I know, it's serious

Stone Country Birds: female corncrake enjoying a bird bath in a patio garden on Iona May 2011Stone Country Birds: Close up of corncrake on garden patioStone Country Birds: male corncrake doing mating display on Iona garden patio May 2011 copyright Stone CountryFemale corncrake in bird bath on IonaCorncrakes disappearing into long grassCorncrake washing
Corncrake washing in bird bath on Iona May 2011Corncrake pair IonaCorncrake on hotel patioCorncrake leaving a bird bathCorncrake in bird bathCorncrake in bird bath on Iona
Corncrake in bird bath 3Corncrake in bird bath 2Corncrake in bird bath 1Corncrake doing mating display on Iona garden patio May 2011Corncrake display on garden patioCorncrake display 1
Corncrake 7Corncrake 6Corncrake 5Corncrake 4Corncrake 3Corncrake 2
Apologies to The Smiths fans but I was surprised as anyone... I was wandering through an Iona patio garden to discover the rather intimate mating display of two adult corncrakes. The female was busy bathing in a BandQ water feature, happily ignoring me and the male corncrake below who was busy doing his 'copperwing shuffle'. His efforts became more and more insistent as he strutted manfully around his arena of white pebbles while she watched disdainfully. Finally, after a few rinses, she deigned to come down to watch him close up as he showed off his rather fetching ochre tuxedo.

I was invisible in the shadows, or just deemed unimportant, and I watched for five minutes before they retired to the privacy of the long grass of a nearby field. The corncrake may be one of the rarest and most secretive birds in the UK, and I had an internal whispered monologue going round in my head from David Attenborough about how lucky we were to see this, but it felt like I really should have bought a ticket...

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Arran Bouldering

Granite is not the best rock to climb on in blazing heat, but at least they're not encircled in flames like Torridon at present. Checking the boulders on Arran for the new edition of Bouldering in Scotland, I'd appreciate any descriptions of problems done on the Corrie boulders or comments on problems and grades on these or the higher boulders on the island such as The Mushroom.

Corrie Boulders problems

 Druim Wall on Clach Mhor Druim a Charn

The Fairy Dell tidal boulder