Katie Tunn is a Marine Mammal Medic, artist, and Ordnance Survey #GetOutside champion. Most recently, she has set herself the huge challenge of visiting all 82 of Great Britain’s largest islands – a journey that will take her through to the end of the year. As a passionate conservationist, she’s hoping all other keen explorers and holidaymakers can take a leaf from her book.
What inspired you to take on this challenge?
Wherever we are in the UK we’re never more than 70 miles away from saltwater. Many of us feel a deep connection to the oceans and I’ve always been drawn to the coast. I left London for the Isle of Skye in search of a life closer to the natural environment. As an artist and amateur marine conservationist, it was a natural transition. Since then I’ve been exploring the smaller, wilder islands of Scotland and learned how to enjoy spending time away from the trappings of modern life.
I’m an OS #GetOutside Champion and most of my outdoor adventures are fuelled by my fascination with islands. Based on a recent poster created by OS and Sheffield University, I’ve recently begun a challenge to visit all 82 of Great Britain’s largest islands.
The challenge begun at the end of 2019 and my home island of Skye is the starting and finishing point. So far I’ve visited 10 islands including Mull, Lewis and Harris, Berneray and Ulva. Only 2 of the 82 islands are in Wales, 9 are in England and the rest are in Scotland -for once my house is in a convenient location.
What’s the aim of the challenge?
The main aim of the challenge is partly inspired by my experiences of living on the Isle of Skye. Visitor numbers to the area have increased dramatically and so has the impact on the natural landscape. Many famous spots have become places to quickly tick off a list rather than a location to savour and explore.
With #82islands I want to encourage fellow travellers to slow down and be curious with the idea that if you get to know somewhere, you’re more likely to treat it with respect. Although natural areas are vulnerable to damage from tourism it’s still possible to visit them and leave no trace. What if we could even leave an island better than we found it?
What will you get up to on each of the islands?
I’m trying to learn about each island’s individual character and what makes it special. It’s incredible how each one can be completely different… From the local flora and fauna to the history, right down to the geology of each place, each one is totally unique.
I’ll be staying for at least one night on each island and on each one I’ll be doing four things:
1) I’ll be bivvying outside for at least one night. (Bivvying = sleeping out under the stars without the barrier of a tent). You’re at the mercy of the weather but seeing somewhere during both sunrise and sunset is a pretty special way to experience it.
2) Wild swimming is the second thing and is similarly immersive. There are plenty of swimming spots when you’re on a piece of land surrounded by the sea and through the shock of cold water, it’s amazing to look back onto the island itself.
3) As an artist I couldn’t visit each one without making a piece of artwork. Islands are often deeply inspiring. In creating something, particularly with drawing, you’re observing somewhere more deeply than you would if you were simply passing through.
4) The fourth thing that I’ll be doing is a beach clean. They are one of the top ways to get people to help our marine environment and leave a place slightly better than we found it.
Doing these four things will mean that some kit and organisation is involved, what will you be taking to each island?
Definitely, especially since I’ll be continuing through the Scottish winter. Sub-zero temperatures can be dangerous, especially if you’re far from civilisation. It’s vital for me to have the proper sleeping gear for cold nights and good kit for warming up after icy swims. I rely on my Alpkit stove for hot water and my Buffalo jacket for keeping my core warm against the Scottish winter weather. It is crucial to have reliable equipment of all kinds.
That’s where the Land Rover Explore phone comes in…
USING THE EXPLORE
The fourth island I visited was a tiny uninhabited one in the Outer Hebrides. I was given a lift over in a small boat and it was a generally sunny day dotted with cold, showers. I took my fully charged previous phone out to take a couple of photos and in the sea wind I noticed the battery drop from 100% to 86%. That’s fine, it happens. I stuffed it inside my jacket to keep it warm. I was dropped on the beach and waved back at the boat. It made for a nice picture, so I took another snap. It dropped to 3%… and then died.
On an island alone where I might need to look something important up or call for help, this kind of thing can be dangerous, even life-threatening. I need something that can at least function during my outdoor adventures. My lifestyle involves freezing temperatures, damp weather and the need for reliability.
I’m looking forward to not wondering where the next power source is, or being precious about chucking my rucksack onto rocks or things getting soaked in the rain. Being outside and exploring new places isn’t about being glued to a screen but having that peace of mind means that you can relax more.
A big part of this project is about slowing down, it’s not about rushing to tick things off. At my current pace I’m looking at finishing around Christmas-time 2020.
Although I use the words ‘completing’ and ‘finishing’ the wonderful thing about exploring the islands around the UK is that their stories are ongoing. #82islands is only ever going to be a taster of each place. I’ll be using my Explore phone to record and write about what I see as I go along. You can follow my story over on my Instagram and on my blog!