We made a short day trip to the “ May “ on the 15th July 2011, little did we know then, that within a week we would be ensconced in the Low light for a few days.
In those few hours on the 15th we fell in love with this charming Island. I found out we could stay in the Islands Bird Observatory and that the following week it was vacant. One phone call on the following Tuesday to Jonathan Osbourne and it was all arranged.
I have to say it was with immense trepidation we set sail on The Isle of May Ferry on Friday the 22nd. I had never even been camping and have reached the time of life that I had become a lady who doesn’t do basic. But, I was prepared for the lack of hot water and electric , sleeping in a bunk and dinner by candlelight, even the outside chemical toilet called “ Elsie “ had been taken into account. I am by nature a lady who jumps in feet first without much thought…if it feel right , do it is my motto. Well it felt right but what I hadn’t prepared myself for was the extreme beauty and tranquillity of the “ May “.
We were greeted by Jeremy who kindly told us he would bring up our many bags on the quad bike. Off we set to the Low Light. Now this may sound really stupid but on our previous visit to the island we had gone no further than Holymans Road, we never got as far as the tunnel or even saw the Low Light and it was all down to the puffins we had seen…..we were captivated.
As we walked up the path and into the kitchen I instinctively knew I had made the right decision on coming. We unpacked had a coffee and sat out side basking in our temporary surroundings. How lucky we felt when we went to wave the boat off that we were staying. During the rest of that day we explored the North side of the Island marvelling in the variety of Seabirds all around. You cannot imagine the delight I had to see Puffins in “ our garden “ . After all it had been less than a month since I had seen my first Puffin at the ripe old age of 54 on Skomer Island. Now there they were all around me. We had dinner by candle light and went for a walk down the Low Road to Burnett’s Leap. The noise was deafening , the air filled with a variety of Gulls and Puffins. I wanted to ring someone, anyone just so they could share in this great experience. Even the frequent attacks by “ Psycho “ Gull, a lesser black back, who patrols the path leading from the Low Light couldn’t dampen our enthusiasm.
Bed beckoned and after a few trips to see “ Elsie “ in the dark I finally fell asleep.
23rd July 2011
I awoke at 5.30am and was too excited to stay in bed any longer. I put my Jeans and jumper on and went outside to see if “my“ Puffins were still there. Sure enough they were. I sat watching the waves pounding the rocks pinching myself that this was still real. Then I set off to explore further. What a delightful morning it was just me and a few thousand seabirds. I walked down the Low Road , fending off “ Psycho “ Gull who swooped down on me many times trying to land a good kick, and up the High Road until it crossed the path to Three Tarn Nick and Bishops Cove, the wind was quite strong but the path was very sheltered and it seemed every Puffin on the Island had come out to see me. How lovely the Cove is, so peaceful. A great variety of birds can be found here on the cliffs. There is the Oyster Catcher chattering in the air as it flees back and forth and the Kittiwakes with their spectacular aerobatics over the sea cliffs. The Puffins sitting in splendour until they all take flight and gradually come back to their original positions. There are Rock pigeons, Guillemots and Razorbills on the ledges and Gulls circling above. Rock Pipits and Wagtails fly hither and dither.
I went back to wake Dave, have coffee and breakfast. We both thought that with the strong Northerly wind that it would be doubtful that the boat would land today. When we arrived down at the Harbour it was clear that the swell was so strong that no boat would make it in today. Yes we were delighted…selfish but nevertheless, we had the Island to ourselves. We watched the waves and a single seal until it was washed off the rocks then made our way back for a spot of lunch. The island seemed to heave with the weight of the many thousands of Puffins all around. It was as if no visitors had given them the all clear to come out to play. They darted back and forth over our heads, coming so close we could feel the movement in the air as they flew past. More exploring and one different sighting, a single Kestrel. It hovered in the distance then plunged to the ground and presumably some prey. Dinner was a slightly more substantial affair tonight, slightly spoilt by the fact than on lighting the wood burner the room had filled with smoke so we had to sit outside until it cleared and we could return to our room. The sunset again was lovely but we were both worn out by our days activities so no late night walk. An earlyish night ready for more explorations tomorrow.
24th July 2011
I awoke at 4am to visit “Elsie” and it was quite noticeable how quiet it was. No Puffins, maybe they do sleep in their burrows, but it was how quiet the Gulls were, that was more surprising. Even though not fully light they had been quite active the evening and morning before. I finally gave up my bed at 7am dressed and went out to my rock to see “ My “ Puffins. There were very few , unlike yesterday. A gull swooped down and all by a single one took off. Some returned but then another disturbance and they all went, this time they didn’t return.
I took my usual route up to Bishops Cove but unlike yesterday passed very few Puffins on the path, it was so very quiet. What few Puffins on the cliff edge were soon disturbed by the Gulls swooping down and they all flew out to sea not to return. On the way home Dave met me on the Path with breakfast in his backpack. We walked down Iron Stairs to Altarstanes landing and he unpacked coffee, orange juice, biscuits and chocolate. Just my kind of breakfast. The little landing area is very sheltered and it was so idyllic just the two of us, watching the seals teasing us and the echo of the Kittiwakes dashing into the coves to feed forever hungry young. Shags fending off hungry Juveniles hopped to and from their rocks.
We went down to Fluke Street to download our memory cards and to the harbour delighting once more in the waves crashing over the rocks, no boat again today. This was becoming a real dream, another day with the island to ourselves. Back for lunch on the outside benches and a mild indulgence, The Germany Formula One race on the radio. As it’s my Photographic profession ( Motor Racing) it seemed rather quaint listening to a race on the radio on a deserted Island in the North Sea. I wonder what my friends in the F1 teams would think if they could see me listening to them in this wonderful setting.
We then decided to investigate the only paths we had not ventured to on the South side . Here we stopped to watch many seals basking in the warm afternoon air, the weather had been magnificent today. Reaching 29 degrees in the shelter of our home of yesteryear. The only Eider duck we had viewed was preening amongst the Shags below and the Kittiwakes feeding very small fluffy chicks on the cliff edges. The only noticeable change was NO puffins, where had they all gone? Yesterday they were everywhere, today they had all but disappeared. Eventually we made our way back to the stables to download our many memory cards and recharge camera batteries. The sun was setting and the sky a beautiful pale yellow and pink.
Dave went back to start tea as I continued to survey our days photographs. When I came out I couldn’t believe the sky, it was now deep red and Violet. I raced to the top of Holymans Road so I could get a clear view for my camera. When I reached the Low Light we just stood outside marvelling in the spectacular sky, it is rare to see such vibrant colours for so long. Dinner by candle light and an hour of a serial, care of BBC iplayer.
It was with sadness I went to bed that night knowing unless fortune were to shine on us for another day the boat would arrive and we would have to leave our island haven and back to reality.
25th July 2011
My body is tired today…sign of old age me thinks. I took a while to dress this morning and with a heavy heart went outside to my rock for my morning catch up with nature. Imagine my delight as I rounded the corner “ My “ Puffins had returned. I had expected them to be all gone like yesterday but no there they were. It was like seeing an old friend when you least expected it.
My morning walk was slow as my legs were feeling the efforts of the last few days, my eyes were tired and the cameras felt heavy. I was feeling sad at the thought of going back to the mainland but felt very privileged to have had these last few days. “ Psycho “ Gull had upped his game this morning, he’s been joined by a Herring Gull, a brother in arms. Both now in the garden making my escape somewhat more perilous.
Dave joined me for breakfast and with a degree of melancholy we packed away our belongings and cleaned our little temporary home. We walked together one last time to Bishops Cove and waited to see if we could see the boat coming from Anstruther. Sure enough there it was in the distance, diving through the waves with a new set of visitors. As the boat neared the Island the Seals below in the crystal clear water mesmerised us with their playful games. We counted a excess of 6 diving and chasing each other about the rocks. Were they putting on a show for us or for the daily guests.
I cannot begin to tell you what these last few days have meant to us both. I have been lucky enough to have travelled to many lovely places in the world but there is something about this beautiful Isle of May that will live in my memory forever. I cannot thank Jonathan Osbourne of the Isle of May Bird Observatory enough for allowing us these few magical days and many thanks to Jeremy Squire for all his kindness and assistance whilst we were there. Rinchen for the information about accommodation and Kevin the boatman for his knowledge and kind assistance.
I hope I will be back to visit “ The May “ once more.
I can only recommend anyone who loves the outside and to be at one with nature to visit The May…though you may find a few hours is never enough and you will want to come back time and time again. The variety of birds even at this time of year is a wonder and of course there are the forever lovable Puffins and Seals. It is a place of tranquillity and immense beauty. Every day there is a different scene to survey , every cloud and wave a wonder. There are the most marvellous photo opportunities all around , something for every level of expertise. Thanks for all concerned who keep this Island just as it should be kept, a jewel in the harsh North Sea.
Motor Sport Photographer
Mr Dave McGlynn
Tamworth , Staffordshire
July 22nd-July 25th 2011