25th March: Travel to the NW coast: As I joined the Edinburgh ring road with thousands of other travellers queuing to leave Edinburgh on Good Friday the overhead digital roadway sign lit up with
TAKE YOUR LITTER HOME
The irony made me smile as I slowly edged across the Firth of Forth to begin the first leg of journey to North West Highlands GeoPark where I will base myself over the next few weeks to collect plastic rocks ‘Plastiglomerates’ from beaches I have surveyed over the last 3 years.
The plastic rocks I am hunting have been formed primarily over the last few decades and are still being ‘made’ today by people burning plastic litter that regularly builds up into vast mounds particularly on exposed westward facing beaches along our coastline. A sample of the burnt melted version of such litter ‘plastic rocks’ sits on my dashboard along with other rocks from our beaches .
My aim is to catalogue, map and collect these ‘rocks’ with which I will create an art installation to visualize the increasing volume of plastic pollution on our beaches and its projected longevity.
I took my time over a few days to slowly make my way north, to enjoy the increasing height and mass of the landscape that the A9 cuts through and to consider the depth of time that the geological sequences have taken place over. So many laybys along the way provide wonderful viewpoints and opportunities to re-acquaint myself with the changing rocks at each location. Sadly, at every stop there is always plastic litter
I put such thoughts to the back of my mind as I arrive in beautiful Ullapool. A small town and port which now I feel at home in, after living here many times over the last 3 years and having got to know and make friends with many people having worked with local schools and lead workshops at An Talla Solais (Ullapool Arts Centre) and Ullapool Museum. This project and I rely on so much support from a wide group of friends and organisations in the area. For this trip in particular I have to thank Isle Martin Community Trust for letting me stay on Isle Martin and John MacIntyre (JM) for loaning me his dinghy and providing a ferry for my heavy kit.
28th March: Rowed to Isle Martin from Ardmair slipway. Re-tracing many trips I made in 2014 when I was in residence here, arrived just as the light was fading over the harbour houses
29th March: bright sunny morning
Set up my base in the Old Mill House above the harbour connected up a small solar panel to charge the 12V battery to enable me to recharge laptop, phone and all important cameras.
Beach –pleased to see the beach is so much cleaner than 2014 when two teams of volunteers from Ullapool High School and Ullapool residents rowed out to help tow hundreds of plastic items off the island on World Environment Day. In total ???? Kg s of litter was removed then since then volunteers of IMT have kept up removing new litter and the beach looks much cleaner!
Looking a long the beach I wondered whether I would in fact find many Plastiglomerates may be I had collected most of them on my previous research residency here. After reacquainting myself with spotting the well camouflaged ‘rocks’ often pale grey in colour and lodged between the grey cobbles I organised my search by dividing the length of the beach into 4 sections approximately 25m in length and into zones 5 m wide.
Within a few hours had filled containers with over a hundred plastic rocks of various sizes from along the first 25m section of strand line
30th March: bright, sunny/cloudy westerly cold breeze, heavy showers mid day, clear evening
Equipment: set up solar panel & battery
Beach: collected and recorded ‘rocks’ in the lower zones of section 1 & 2, began recording rocks that still had some identifiable element of the object in them, their previous manufactured forms.
Equipment : Problem with charging laptop and phone from 12V battery – after much angst and colourful language decided I had to go back to the mainland for replacement inverter & tech support. Consolation – fabulous sunset over the Summer Isles and clear views of constellation from Ullapool campsite. Frost down to the beach
31st March: hitched a lift back to the island with two friends John & Jan plus her dog Drift
Beach : Headed straight to the beach and began collecting ‘rocks’ in the sun and showers.
Happy to share this beautiful beach and changing light with two Isle Martin Trust members who share my concerns for the environment.
Jan a great naturalist lent a hand hunting for ‘Plastigomerates’ while we discussed the dramatic light changes over the loch and identifying birds flying into the bay.
Making our way along the steep section of the beach discussing the geology of the North West Jan lends me her hammer and we begin to investigate what’s beneath the top layer of pebbles, depressingly in this section plastic cementing large areas of cobbles together. I decide to record the obvious locations of burning .
1st April Clear: grey but even light
Mill House: catch up on making notes
Equipment: unfortunately now have problems with accessing Word Press. So this Expedition log will have to be posted retrospectively when I’m back on the mainland next week, as I need to make the most of the my time on the island to finish collecting rocks and most importantly begin filming the back drop images of the loch for my animation.
Beach: set up and carried out a series of test shots at different locations along the beach, began to realise how difficult filming on a cobble beach is especially near the tide line. My aim is to get a series of point of views looking west throughout the day with patient companion waiting above the strandline. Now know why feature films take so much equipment, people and time! Returned to Mill house to down load rushes and compose and send questions to JJ Jamieson (animation/film partner)
Mill House: tried again to access website, NO Success! Deep breathing and realisation of how much preparation testing is needed for even simple expedition trips to run smoothly.
Beach: Continued to collect ‘rocks’ and record particular specimens to illustrate the forms they take then return to the workshop set up in the Macleod House to sit and make close observations. Specifically on the haunting nature of these rocks. Repetitive words run through my note taking, disguised, camouflaged, predominantly grey, solid, fragile, veined.
2nd April: sunny, bright, westerly winds
Equipment: set up solar panel to make the most of the sunlight
Beach: shoot more background footage trying to keep remember to avoid filming boats, birds and ironically some one’s bin liner with plastic litter in. Annoyingly close but just out of reach.
Mill House: made the most the sun, sat sorting and counting the first trays of plastic rocks from the beach. Decided to categorise and count the rocks by size to allow comparisons later.
In total I had collected 160 plastic rocks in the Section 1 of the beach located at the south end of the beach, the majority of which where the smallest size ie less than 5cm.
3rd April: Dreich and still after strong easterly winds and rain over night
Beach: continued to collect ‘rocks’ on the 4th northly section and began to carry the full containers of ‘rocks back to the Macleod House/workshop. Spent a couple of hours sorting, sizing and counting. Many more rocks in this section. A total of 276. Again most were the very small size rocks. Looked up from counting to see my friends arriving with Sunday lunch provisions and enthusiasm for a few hours ‘rock’ hunting! Working together we searched the grass line of this last section, which receives the most direct impact of any southerly winds, so we picked tens of small ‘rocks’ from the grass and another toy commando to observe while making my animation model!
Waved Sara & John off in the afternoon and headed back to counting the buckets of ‘rocks’, totaling 204 in Section 3
4th April: forecast set fair for the morning
Beach: set up on the camera and tripod on the tide line to try again for elusive shots of the loch I had in mind. Struggling again on the rocks finally took shots with the camera/iphone held on to a boulder with the Tack I nornally use for sticking notes to the wall. Amazingly it held steady and allowed me to get the angle I wanted below the plastic rocks I had positioned.
Oyster catchers and grey legged geese calling and Cal (my faithful companion) sat patiently waiting at the back of the beach while I film up until the rain arrives at 13.09 precisely. Tried working under an umbrella before retreating for food, shelter, and final counting session.
Mill House: spent my final night on this expedition to Isle Martin, reflecting on my experience.
- Appreciation of the natural beauty of this small Summer Isle, the potential that it holds ecologically and socially in the area
- Shock at total number of rocks I found 1,147 and the indications that there is much more under the successive layers of cobbles on the beach
- Understanding the importance of rigorous technical checking of equipment before working remotely off Grid
- Realisation of how each day’s work is crucially dependent on the weather
- Gratitude to all my friends in the area who have lent a hand collecting and ferrying replacement kit to me
5th April: grey, low clouds with light rain
Isle Martin: morning spent packing Mill House base up, and boxing up all 1,147 Plastiglomerate ready for transporting back to the mainland for me to use to make artwork. Heavy work shifting kit down to the pontoon and onto JM’s boat. Thankfully JM assisting and only having a short row with the kit from the mooring to slipway at Ardmair.
Now back on the mainland and happy at last to post my Expedition Log and to begin to process my findings as I move north to continue to film more views of the Summer Isles, pausing briefly at Cul na Craig to see a new perspective of Isle Martin, the islands northern cliffs.