with Paul Heppleston and Lyn Barritt
We reached the end of the long sandy beach and struck through the dunes onto the rugged patchwork landscape of rock and grass. In doing so we left behind the shore and the skerries where 20+ Harbour Seals basked in the warm southerly wind on this bright sun-filled day. The ebbing tide had left behind drifts of shells - limpets and long lines of brown and yellow winkle shlells - a patterning of the shore. White wagtails, Oystercatchers, Ringed plover, Dunlin and Shelduck had accompanied us along the wild west-facing strand; but there was a surprise in store yet to come.
Our path moved over the heather/rock terrain and pastr bsmall beaches where the temptation was to stop and kneel - not before our Creator on this occasion, but to search for tiny cowrie shells; and yes we found just one. From these bays we moved onto the rough pastureland to the south of the empty farmhouse of Ardskenish. And there, as we walked over the brow of a hill was a marshy patch of ground and the surprise - breeding waders : redshank, lapwing, oystercatchers and snipe -a true wader paradise. Their cries rose above the fresh SW wind and sang in our ears as we eventually made our way over the flat grass sward, across the wide sandy bay called Traigh nam Barc and then a short walk through a few fields to our house, the most southerly on Colonsay.
This day had started with a gentle stopping-to-stare-and-simply-be walk around the western rocky/sandy bays by then island golf course and airstrip (scheduled flights to Oban). Here, in the sheleter from the breeze, we could lie on the grass, hear the waves beaking and raise our arms to embrace the blue sky. All was well and God was in his heaven. So where is this heaven? We were to find out later.
It's quite a long walk to Balnahard, right at the north tip of Colonsay. Starting from Kiloran Bay the track climbs over a small col where one can look back and see the bay just as it is in a thousand tourist brochures - it really is stupendous, not to large, not too small; broken in two by an arm of black volcanic rock down to the low water mark. At each end it is framed in small hills and backed by lovely sand-dune grass slopes where the choughs cry.
Not far along this track is Columba's Well, down on the left; a spring feeds from a hole in the hill into a purpose-built deep well and flowing down to the rocks below the cliffs. Further on is Colonsay's whale, standed for all time, created by extension from the stones
of a raised beach, its tail added by a visting artist with an open invitation to anyone to 'add another stone to the body'.
At Balnahard Bay is the most astounding beach, backed by sand dunes and sward. Three dozen brown cattle walked slowly across the beach as we sat and had our lunch, but beyond was a backdrop to savour - Ben More on Mull, the mountains of Lorn and the Ross of Mull stretching away to our left. Here Bernard and I proved that swimming at Balnahard was indeed a cold experience, but one we wouldn't have missed for anything; the privilege of immersing oneself in the ocean (of God's love) with such magnificent scenery all around more than compensated for numbed toes.
You've got to get the timing right; there's not much room for error when you want to walk across the Strand sand to reach tidal Oransay. Thre best way is to to start a little too early in order to get the most time on the isle. Others did this too, some walking calf-high or on rust-proofed bikes, crossing the narrow ebbing-tide channels that remained. Three of our group were carried across these channels St Christopher-style, as they only had walking boots as opposed to wellies. Others did it bare-foot in pilgrim style. That was very appropriate, for our destination was the ancient ruins of the Augustinian Priory dedicated
to St Oran, a companion of Columba; Oransay and its Priory were considered second only to Iona in the 7th and 8th centuries AD. We sat on rhe grassy banks in the Priory grounds on a glorious day of sun, Hebridean black sheep grazed over the wall as the calling of Corncrakes came from the protected RSPB farmland beyond the track. We gathered in the priory church with its empty Gothic-style east window and reflected and prayed, a continuing of our Eddie Askew meditation led by Pauline after lunch; she had quoted Eddie's writings about sharing a meal with Jesus and so later in the church some of us knelt before the altar and experienced a 'felt eucharist' - a deeper feeding of our souls.
We made it back to the main land of Colonsay safely, tide following us quietly and unhurriedly. On a previous PA occasion we'd had to interrupt our eucharist between the Confession and Sanctus to escape being stuck on the isle till the following day; who
is to say that it never happened to the monks of Oran's time...
Those were just three reflections of our time together, but there's so much more we could reflect upon. Our stay had led us to the edge, to the meal-table, to Vici's wonderful cooking, to Lyn's quiet indispendable and efficient co-ordination, to Hugh's humour
and rooted spirituality, to Bernard's worship from the heart, the time at Colonsay House where we wandered in the woods and sipped tea by the lawn (!). We shared fellowship of all kinds together at the shore, on the hill and around the meal-table. We were simply being 'us' - Lyn, Hazel, Susan, Bernard, Anthea, Hugh, Vici, Pauline and Paul.
Mary's Meals, Dalmally
Oban RC cathedral
arriving at Colonsay Colonsay shop
west-side rocks alone on Kiloran Bay TOP
the track home (our house middle distance) message in the sand
Srt Oran's Priory, Oransay. a drift of winkles
a bathroom with a view the colour of creation
creative nest-site (Oystercatcher) splash... 'welcome home' from ViciTOP