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We’ve just returned from an amazing week’s holiday in Cornwall. Jen and I stayed at a place we’ve returned to again and again. Trelowarren is an old estate on the Lizard that rents out lovely cottages deep in a forest. Besides brilliant woodlands to walk away the stresses of work, they also have an excellent restaurant, pool, spa and tennis court. We always go out of season. Then we have the run of the place for walks and snuggling in front of the wood-burning stove while watching endless episodes of The West Wing or The Sopranos.
At this time of year my thoughts turn towards the sea. I grew up in Greenock, a hardnosed shipbuilding port in Scotland. It was rowing that first channelled my energies away from the street. Then sailing and canoeing on the river Clyde meant that when I moved to the Outer Hebrides in my twenties, there was only one place to be, the sea. Whether it was sailing trips to St Kilda; canoeing around Orkney or screaming across Broadbay in a Sabbath-storm windsurf, being on the sea seemed fundamentally important to being me. I seriously harboured thoughts of becoming a professional sailor when I crewed a schooner around the Med for a summer. But I finally decided against it; instead I moved to London and immersed myself in film and TV again. Staying in London means I don’t often go down to the sea. I miss it, but nowhere as much as I thought, London rocks in ways I never expected.
Easter in Brighton…When I left the Hebrides and sailed south to live, my first port of call was Brighton. It’s where the serious southerly seduction began. Brighton has the sea, the situation and the attitude to seduce anyone hungry for contemporary culture, space and fun. Nine years later and the love affair is full blown. We have relatives and friends there now.
So despite having to work over the Easter holidays, we made an impromptu dash to Brighton. It’s ten years since we met, so we picked up some very gooey but beautiful his and her’s jewelry from Jeremy Hoye’s, visited friends, walked the beach, drank wine and played vintage computer games. Easter bliss.
And if you want sexy shoes which also happen to be vegan (and ethically sourced), then the award-winning Neon Collective is for you. Jen has a new pair of these red shoes and gets all sorts of compliments when she wears them.
In June 2007 we landed in Jayapura, West Papua at the start of a four month expedition. I was heading up an expedition to make a series of films (called Living with the Mek: The adventures of Mark and Olly) for Travel and Discovery Channel. I’d been planning this trip for months. Our goal was to seek out then live with mysterious Mek mountain tribe (if they’d let us).
There was a lot to do before we headed inland. We had to organise plane loads of supplies and make all the final preparations to allow our group of fifteen or so to be virtually self sufficient in the mountains for four months.
There is no doubt we were all nervous. No matter how many precautions we’d taken, the mountains of West Papua are fraught with dangers. We planned on managing just one mile a day as we searched for the tribe.
To acclimatise and rest up before the expedition got fully underway, we organised a day out on local canoes to a remote island west of Santani. On the way back at dusk, we hit a boiling shoal of tuna. The boatman hooked one and that evening we ate a last supper of fresh raw tuna marinated in lemon juice. It was a perfect end to the day and exactly what we needed before we headed into the uncharted mountains.
Of all the projects I’ve developed, An Sgoth probably gives me more satisfaction than any.
In the early 90s I asked Hebridean boat builder, John Murdo Macleod if he’d build a Sgoth Mor (Big Boat) for a documentary I wanted to make for the BBC. John Murdo was the last in a long line of builders of these amazing traditional sailing crafts.
Fishing boats grow in size depending on how plentiful the fishing stocks are. The ling fishery off the north of the Hebrides had reached its zenith around the turn of the last century and was in decline when John Murdo’s grandfather built the last ‘Sgoth Mor’ in 1918. It seemed such a tragedy to let all the cumulative knowledge held in John Murdo’s hands and head go unrecorded on film. So after years of fundraising we finally got all the pieces together.
John Murdo spent a year with apprentice Angus Smith building ‘An Sulaire‘. I filmed the pair as they cut down the trees in January and launched this amazing thirty three foot craft the following December.
The community in the Hebrides really came together around the project. After the launch, An Sulaire became the focus of a revival in traditional sailing in the Hebrides.
A year ago last Christmas I sailed out into the cold December waters of the North Minch in An Sulaire. At the helm was writer and poet, Ian Stephen, an old friend and co-collaborator. I hadn’t been on the boat for more than 10 years. We had young and enthusiastic crew and despite being a liability when it came to dipping the massive lug sail, I felt immense satisfaction at having helped to make something come alive that has had such a positive effect.
I spent four months living in Mumbai in 2001 making a TV series called Bombay Blush for the BBC. On days off, some of us would head up to Juhu to the Sun and Sea hotel and chill by the beach doing yoga as the sun set. I’d had a pretty rough time over the previous few years and my time in Mumbai helped me heal and move forward again. I have a special affection for Mumbai and was really upset when the news broke of the terrorist attacks in the city. It’s weird to think that a bar we regularly used to drink in at the Taj hotel was the scene of so much suffering.
This pod of 10 pilot whales stranded themselves on Dal Mor, a beach on the west coast of Lewis in 1994. Some were saved, but the majority died, and their carcasses were taken to the dump by the council.
Caledonian MacBrayne, the Island’s ferry operators run a reliable service, despite the bad winter storms. The Company are heavily subsidised by the the Government but there is constant grumbling from passengers and business over the high cost of making this essential trip.
This photograph was taken in 1988 aboard PS Waverley – the oldest seagoing paddle steamer in the world – when it visited the Hebrides.
The Shiant islands lie between the mainland of Scotland and the Outer Hebrides.
For many who travel by ferry to Lewis, the most northern and populated island in the chain, this is their first glimpse of the Hebrides.
Steve Dilworth‘s St Kilda Mailboat leaves Village Bay.