Jim Richardson@jimrichardsonng

NatGeo photographer: Scotland, environment, agriculture, wee places. Nonconformist, island zealot, backroad wanderer. Writer, lecturer, gadfly.


On a quiet evening in the Flint Hills of Kansas the Milky Way was rising in the South, revealing the heart of our galaxy. Living (as we do) about two thirds of the way out on one of the spiral arms, when we look south we see the bright center, lush with stars. (Our black hole lurks somewhere around that horse figure you can just make out.) Looking north the Milky Way is always dimmer, as we look out into space. A bit like riding a carousel, eh? #milkyway #darkskyweek @idadarksky #natgeo #natgeocreative http://www.darksky.org/dark-sky-week-2018-2/


The Saguaro cactus near Peridot, Arizona were all pointing in the right direction, straight up at the Milky Way. Phoenix, nearly 120 miles away, was but a faint glow on the horizon. International Dark Sky Week has me remembering the incredible opportunity I had to explore these visual wonders, and to lament that so many people will be denied these vistas because of encroaching light pollution all around the world. Worth supporting what IDA does the fight this terrible loss. #milkyway #darkskyweek http://www.darksky.org/dark-sky-week-2018-2/ @idadarksky #natgeo #natgeocreative


International Dark Sky Week is here. Time to celebrate the spectacular view we have because we live inside of a galaxy (Milky Way, seen here at Natural Bridges National Monument in Utah) and to thank the folks at IDA who are working to save it. #milkyway #darkskyweek http://www.darksky.org/dark-sky-week-2018-2/ @idadarksky #natgeo #natgeocreative


Mangersta Beach on the west coast of the Isle of Lewis, with clouds and sunlight sweeping in as regularly as the waves. Just a little track leads down from the road, easy to miss if you’re not a local. #scotland #hebrides #traveling_scotland #hiddenscotland @natgeo @natgeotravel @natgeocreative #lovetheouterhebrides


Traveling Scotland for the last 20 years I find myself drawn further out into the wild islands. The Callanish Stones are one of the great rewards of the journey out to the Isles of Lewis and Harris, a reminder that people have lived here for more than 5,000 years. Most visitors to Scotland make the Isle of Skye their main island destination but many treasures lie beyond out in the Outer Hebrides. From Skye you can take the ferry to Stornoway on Lewis, wander down to Harris, catch the ferry from there to North Uist, South Uist and then Barra before heading back to Oban. #scotland @natgeo @natgeocreative @natgeotravel #hiddenscotland #lovetheouterhebrides


Rubha na Teampaill, the little chapel near Northton on the Isle of Harris has endured the lashings of Atlantic storms and outlived the Vikings that raided here 1200 years ago. It’s built atop an Iron Age broch (meaning 2,000 years old) which was, in turn, built on earlier Pictish ruins. I like to think about how the stones in its walls have probably been used many times over, piled this way and that as island folk made use of them. The sheep shelter here now, when they must. (Worth the walk along the shore on a summer evening.) #scotland #traveling_scotland #hiddenscotland @natgeo @natgeotravel @natgeocreative #lovetheouterhebrides


Should you be lucky in your island travels through the Outer Hebrides you’ll get yourself invited to a ceilidh. (Say “kay-lee” quick with the accent on the “kay” and you’ll be close.) If so the community hall will be the scene of Gaelic music and dancing, some singing, maybe a poem, food, much talk, probably some drink. (This one on Catholic Barra tended towards tea.) It’s a social gathering, not a performance, so do your bit and take part. All ages mingled and swept up together. Memorize a Robert Burns poem before you go and you’ll have something to contribute. #scotland #traveling_scotland #hiddenscotland @natgeo @natgeotravel @natgeocreative #lovetheouterhebrides


Rioting wildflowers take over the Outer Hebrides in summer, down near the beaches where the machair lies. In Gaelic it means “fertile plain” but in summer island life it means carpets of flowers like Irish Lady’s tresses and the Hebridean Spotted Orchid, a place for corncrakes, ringed plovers, and great yellow bumblebees, all wanton and promiscuous. Shell sand blowing up from the beach makes the soil alkaline. It’s poor pasture for cattle but rich fodder for botanists, who pretend at scientific rigor when in fact they are just intoxicated like the rest of us. The machair will do that to you. #scotland #traveling_scotland #hiddenscotland @natgeo @natgeotravel @natgeocreative #lovetheouterhebrides


The Outer Hebrides are a place of splendid isolation and therefore much beloved of seabirds — and hence beloved by the people who love seabirds. Anchored here in the bay of the Shiant Isles the air was alive with Puffins, Razorbills, Fulmars, Kittiwakes and the rest that come in multitudes to nest and breed in early summer. In Gaelic the Shiants are called Na h-Eileanan Seunta, the Enchanted Isles. Author Adam Nicoloson has owned them and done much to make the seabirds welcome (the invasive black rats had to be eradicated.) His new book, The Seabird’s Cry, invokes love and care and duty for these wonders. #scotland #traveling_scotland #hiddenscotland @natgeo @natgeotravel @natgeocreative #lovetheouterhebrides


When it comes to weather in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland the best thing you can take with you (besides wellies and serious rain gear) is the right attitude. If you think weather is a free bonus feature of your trip you will be happy. (If not then you should probably go to the Caribbean.) The old saw that there is no bad weather, just bad clothing is accurate in Scotland. I’m one who relishes meteorological moods (like this morning fog rolling across Lewis) And should it pour relentlessly then sitting by a peat fire is in order, where you can discuss the value of Scots words like dreich. (Look it up.) #scotland #traveling_scotland #hiddenscotland @natgeo @natgeotravel @natgeocreative #lovetheouterhebrides


The Isle of Barra’s main (and only) town Castlebay has a castle in the bay, naturally. Kisimul Castle gets its name from the Gaelic cìosamul, which means “castle island.” (Naming things here follows a certain pattern.) The castle is still the ancestral home of Clan MacNeil, but they gave it to Historic Scotland under a thousand year lease. (It’s wise to make plans well in advance.) The island’s nine hole golf course is built on common grazing land so along with sand traps the hazards include grazing cattle and sheep. Flights into Barra land on the beach at low tide so the schedule follows the waxing and waning of the moon. There’s more but you get the drift. #scotland #traveling_scotland #hiddenscotland @natgeo @natgeotravel @natgeocreative #lovetheouterhebrides


The wild pony stood in the rain next to me, drenched and sodden, on the road to Skipport on North Uist, that low narrow island that tapers down into South Uist and thence to Barra. Blessedly, the pony was patient, standing there long enough for me to finally see what was in right in front of me, the linking pattern in its mane, swirling Celtic connections in a brooding landscape. Travelers to the Outer Hebrides should find as much contentment in rain as in sunny beaches, because you will get both, and much time can be wasted waiting for the weather (and life) to get better. #scotland #traveling_scotland #hiddenscotland @natgeo @natgeotravel @natgeocreative #lovetheouterhebrides


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