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Surviving Winter in the Inner Hebrides

Our first winter on the Isle of Eigg has been a quiet one.  We had a lot of grand plans for exploring other islands and the mainland,but what with all the storms a lot of the boats have been cancelled, and leaving the island became a bit of a gamble, with a fairly high risk of being stranded on the mainland.  The joys of living on an island!

To survive a winter on a Scottish island, here's my top ten of essential items;

1) Thermal underwear! It's an average day when I'm wearing at least three layers.  I think my record was thermal tights, leggings and waterproofs on my bottom half, and on the top half I wore a thermal vest, base layer, hoodie, down jacket and down gilet.  It's cold up here.

2) Waterproof socks; I live in my hiking boots and they are permanently damp and covered in mud.  Putting them on in the morning is a real test of endurance and waterproof socks make it far more palatable! I've developed chilblains over the winter due to poor circulation in my feet and I've found that wearing Merino Liner Socks underneath my waterproof socks has been a big help in making my feet more comfortable on particularly cold days.

3) Good waterproofs! This is a no brainer really, but the quantity of waterproofs you need grows exponentially, the more time you spend out in the rain.  I arrived on Eigg with a pair of Sprayway trousers and a Mountain Equipment jacket. I thought this was sufficient... I was wrong.  The trousers are now my work trousers. They are for wearing every day when working on the bikes.  I also have a beautiful pair of Adidas Terrex hardshell trousers in a gorgeous bright blue for 'going out'.  Yes, I do wear waterproofs for socialising these days. I also have two water resistant soft shell jackets, one thicker than the other, as well as a waterproof sweater for the warmer drizzly days.  

4) Gloves; lots and lots of gloves.  I've always been a fan of the Sealskinz Fairfield Gloves and these are still my go-to every day gloves.  I also have the Dragon Eye Gloves for hiking and cycling during the winter, moving up to the Highland XP Gloves for the truly shocking days.  Lastly, if I'm in the workshop working on a bike, then I wear the Outdoor Sports Mittens, which are brilliant because they keep my hands warm whilst I can still use my fingers.

5) Slow cooker; we have one shop on the island and whilst it's got an incredible range of food, it is, of course, reliant on the boat being able to get here to deliver the food.  There have been a couple of times this winter where shop stock has been in short supply and we've had a slightly empty fridge.  In this case, having a slow cooker means you can lob any variety of meat and whatever you can find in the fridge and at the back of the cupboard in there, along with a stock cube, and come out with a reasonable dinner.  

6) Binoculars; every islander worth their salt will have at least one pair of binoculars sat on the kitchen windowsill.  When the TV signal goes out during bad weather, wildlife watching becomes the entertainment of choice.  Luckily, we have seals, otters, golden eagles, sea eagles and at this time of year, baby cows to watch!

7) Haynes manual; island life is tough on cars.  Salt spray will take the shine off your paint work, rust will appear and things start to break.  With no garage over here, you have to become mechanically minded or risk walking everywhere in the rain!

8) Hats; the residents of the Isle of Eigg have the biggest collection of Sealskinz hats I've ever seen – outside of my own, of course!  Favourites include the Thermal Waterproof Cap, the Winter Hat, and my personal favourite, the Cable Knit Beanie.  The Jacquard Beanie in Hardwick has also made an appearance.  Don't rely on me telling you a waterproof hat is essential; listen to the Eigg folk instead!

9) Slippers. It's pretty muddy round here so the majority of houses have tiled floors, including ours.  Tiled floors get cold.  I'm currently wearing merino liner socks, thermal socks and then a pair of pink fluffy slippers with bows on.  Luckily, our bathroom has underfloor heating.  Sometimes when it's really cold, I go in there and lie down on the floor.  

10) A buff. So versatile, so essential.  There's the obvious use to keep your neck warm; there's the times it's hailing sideways at 60mph and in order to keep a layer of skin on your face, you can pull the buff up and over your face; there's my current favourite – using it as a bandanna round the base of your hat to  hold it tight on your head and stop it blowing off, and there's the other current favourite – using it to dry the end of your ponytail after being out in the rain.

So, if you're planning a trip to the Hebrides, or indeed any part of Scotland, this winter – and you really should because it's just beautiful at this time of year – then here's a list of what you'll need.  You may be able to give the Haynes manual and slow cooker a miss, unless you're planning to stay for a while!


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