with Paul and Hazel Heppleston
Getting to Islay
A drive or a flight or a train, maybe a bus as well; carrying a case or a rucsac - or both,
sandwiches, a walking pole and a hot water bottle, perhaps The Guardian or Mail.
Laughter, tiredness, strange countryside, strange people, three ferries, a minibus over Cowal to a remote bay with a wooden cabin, tea and cake and reflection on water as well as in heart. Companionship emerging, humour and anticipation - calm seas and a prosperous voyage. Arrival after 9pm to explore in the still-daylight of the Hebrides a new home and rooms and views and huge lounge and kitchen.
Being on Islay
Finlaggan (centre of the Lordship of the Isles centuries ago), Islay woollen Mill which made the tartan for Braveheart (get your own tartan designed there too).....walking in the early morning light and seeing, far away across Loch Indaal, the white houses of Port Charlotte....walking to the Oa (said 'O')..seeing choughs but no eagles, getting blown about at the American Monument ---- marvelling at the Kildalton Cross (the best preserved Celtic cross in Scotland) and gathering a minibus-back-full of dry wood for the fire. Shopping in Bowmore becomes routine, but touring a distillery isn't (Ardbeg one of seven on the island).
Then to Machir Bay, Kilchoman and the cemetery of the HMS Otranta, a marvellous two hours on a small uninhabited island off the southern tip of the Rinns of Islay by Portnahaven.... thrift and Oystercatcher and gull nests all around. Claddach bay a dream and a lovely lady who looks after the car park and the beach...day ended with a visit to the Port Charlotte coffee shop (last visited by Andrew decades ago with his family). A Sunday walk by four of us in heavy rain and strong winds along the shores of Loch Gruinard, battling with exhilaration and joy to a ruined bothy called Lynhouse. Octomore Hill - "aye there was a distillery there too when I was a boy" said Ileach Gilbert who wanted to talk about old times, Port Charlotte Museum of Islay Life, Saligo Bay - Oh Saligo Bay....what a wonder, possibly the best bay in all Scotland....then the RSPB reserve centre at Loch Gruinard.
Ardnave a challenge as heavy rain chased us back to the bus in rhe afternoon, but not before a wonderful sand-dune walk in the morning and a swim for four - and lunch by a holy shore-fire. Being at the Ardnave cross ended a time of exploration which was rounded off by a meal out in Bowmore.
At home on islay
Worshipping in the Round Church in Bowmore and feeling the passion of the relatively new minister as he seeks to energise and renew his congregation's commitment to living the gospel in ways appropriate to our day and age. Eating meals together around a huge kitchen table....laid with such creativity...... reflecting and worshipping around a Michael-lit fire.....late night conversations around its dying embers.....space a-plenty, physically and spiritually.
The West Highlanders and island-dwellers always had a 'yearning' for their home. This was expressed in a song written by one of us on this trip, reflecting attachment to the place and to our group - and a longing to return; it was sung to the tune Dundas Loch, a slow air
by Phil Cunningham -----
O Islay my love, I am grieving
for isle of my dreams I'll be leaving.
But when I return I'll be whole once again
Oh Islay, my island home.
And when I depart there'll be pain in my heart;
for in me you've grown such a part.
Oh Islay my dear, I have known all along
that you are my Spirit's song.
Another of our group had space after our time together to write
some reflections in a sensitive and poetic style. Here are some
extracts from her writings that reflect very much how things were for our group :
.....time worn crosses
lion carved and lichened dressed.
Companions to ancient churches
announcing long ago.
What power these empty ruins hold
with their echoes of holiness.
with its intricate shapely insides
outpouring liquid gold
We tasted and wondered
crazy, wavy rocks
high pounding waves.
At their feet
hard to find
each finding their treasures,
sea waved grass
blue sheened shags
a stone river.
a biblical beach fire
eye burning body warming
created with much tender nursing
and the prize?
and what of those who journeyed?
a God-loving people
who came to Islay
in the year of Our Lord 2012
different as the shore of beached stones.
warm loving humorous, generous, considerate knowing, accepting happy brave,
patient, caring giving,
who went the extra mile, were still and knew
the brilliance of the low lying rainbow........
PHOTOGRAPHS TO FOLLOW