In the first week of January I journeyed to the wilds of Scotland to visit my lovely friend Rachel on the Isle of Iona. She has lived there for many years since meeting her dear John who has a croft and a hostel at the north end of the island.
For years I have seen Rachel's photos of white sands, glowing rocks, clear sea and huge skies and I have enjoyed her #todayschangingroom series on Instagram where she photographs her clothes and her yellow wellies on the rocks before she goes for her daily dip, but I hadn't yet made a visit.
I used to travel a lot on my own to visit friends in far flung places but somehow, since covid times and after my world got so much smaller post hysterectomy I found I had lost my bottle. When Rachel sent the invitation my initial reaction was 'I can't...it's too far, it's January, what about the winter weather, have I got the energy?' but when I heard her voice down the phone and remembered how much fun we have together and how we always come away super inspired the 'I can't' became a big YES. Two trains, a coach, an overnight stop in Oban, a ferry, a bus across Mull and another ferry later, there were Rachel, John and Snuffy dog waving at me from the pier as the boat got in and I was SO HAPPY to be there.
John built The Green Shed about 23 years ago. It used to be a hostel that slept 24 but during Covid there was an urgency to change their business model, so they divided it up and now there are three wonderfully beautiful and cosy self catering places under this roof all within a few minutes of two stunning beaches. I shared The Sea Room with their wonderful young 'work away' called Meg who inspired me with everything she has learned since living on Iona; bee keeping (their honey is delicious), fishing, weaving, tree planting, keeping sheep and so much more. She was radiant with the whole experience.
And Rachel and John live here, in a cosy cottage full of curiosities;
antiques, craft, art, books, bits of boat, driftwood and a great great great grandfather clock that keeps the time.
The name of the cottage translates as 'the hollow of the otters' so I was full of hope at seeing some.
That hope got me out of the door at sunrise
under a beautiful crescent moon and a clear sky.
It's wonderful to wake up in a place SO different from home. All my senses were wide awake and I wanted to take it all in and not miss a moment.
I watched the hooded crows on the beach, listened to the crashing of the waves, embraced the cold breeze on my face, got fascinated by a bird I didn't know hovering above the marram grass (found it later to be a stonechat)
and I watched the sky turn all shades of candy.
I didn't see any otters but I did see prints! It was nice at least to know they were close by.
It was wonderful to be on Iona with these two islanders. They knew the way through the heath and moss,
they knew which lands could be seen across the water,
they wrapped their sarnies like THIS
and they knew the best rock to sit on to eat them, although they failed to mention it was over 200 million years old until we got home (that's the rock, not the sandwich)!
Everywhere we went we bumped into their friends and neighbours and listening to all the chat was a lovely insight into island life. I got to visit Rowena Brown's ceramic studio which was a treat and I was introduced to Rona who makes gorgeous papier mache birds. There are so many creatives here!
There was a lot of beauty to hold in my short visit and I wanted to be everywhere all at once;
on the 'bench to watch the stars by',
under the sparkling night sky,
in Rachel's beautiful 'Whalebone studio' (imagine the journey it made to get here),
and among the glowing rocks
searching for shadows and treasure.
It was just a joy to be together,
under the big skies
and on those sandy beaches that I had only seen in photos.
People travel to Iona from all over the world. When I told people I was going, everybody had a tale to tell about the magical feeling they got from being there. Now I have my own.
I had a teary moment one day, when I realised how elevated and inspired I felt by being there with my friend, when I so nearly didn't come. Yes it was far away, but every bit of the journey was stunning. It was January but that made for winter skies, frost in the dunes and gorgeous sunrises. And as far as whether I would have enough energy, it GAVE me that in bounds.
The only otters I saw were on the back of a Scottish ten pound note! But I guess that means I just might have to go again...