Summer Break Part 2: Eilean Shona and the Road to the Isles
Usually we are careful to choose a location for our summer escape; this year we felt like distancing ourselves from the hustle and bustle of a hectic world … ‘a week on an island or in a cottage next to a Scottish loch’ was the brief given to me when I asked what would be an ideal family holiday earlier in the year.
A little Googling and before I knew it, I had booked a holiday, it all happened within 30 minutes, this had to be a record as I would usually spend days enjoying deliberating over the choices. The decision had a sense of inevitability about it, Eilean Shona is a private island with no roads, with a large house (unoccupied when we were there) and a handful of holiday cottages for rent. The accommodation is not lavish but it is well conceived, purposely sparse, spotlessly clean and perfectly comfortable. Our stay was booked through Unique Cottages after just one phone call, we didn’t consider any other options, as this company ticked all the boxes straight away.
So why choose Eilean Shona? Well, imagination plays a major part, the island is most famous for housing J. M. Barrie whilst he developed the ideas for Peter Pan. Like most things in life we didn’t originally plan to be there, it wasn’t our first choice from the website but when the pleasant lady at the travel company suggested we might consider taking a break in ‘Timber Cottage’ and went on to expound a little about the place, our imaginations were sparked immediately … it would be our own secret island, a place with potential for adventure, perfect to relax in basic but comfortable self-imposed isolation whilst exploring a wild world. To be honest though, our cottage was the only 4 birth accommodation on the island, so choosing where to stay was simple and that sealed the deal. There are four or five other rented cottages, mainly suitable for couples; some young and not so young adventurerous partners were staying in the nearby accommodation and two young families with children were staying just below us in Tioram Cottage (that sleeps 8 people), giving a squad that had a good mix of ages and a few friends for our kids to visit. At this point I realise that it might sound almost crowded but the reality is that you had to work hard to bump into people when out and about but when you did it was a pleasure as it transpired our clan for the week were were all kindred spirits, fresh and enthusiast islanders … well, perhaps not quite true, as a few of our party had visited a few times before … but it’s fair to say we had an immediate sense of community and everyone got along fine, people greeted each other with a holiday glint in their eye whenever they met on the paths and swapped tips and tales, where to walk and what to see, whilst having a little gossip about who the neighbours were and where they came from.
What really bound the visitors together was enjoying the simple things in life with family and friends, taking time to look at the world around us. The retired couple living down at Sawmill Cottage for the week were well into the spirit of things, young at heart, we came across them enjoying themselves bounding around with their two Labradors and after a brief chat on the path, we wandered down to see their accommodation and spent an hour or so chatting outside their cottage right next to the water’s edge, as the kids and dogs made the most of the waterside setting. The island is a great place for young and old to cut loose, we were all free to act like explorative kids. The newly married couple staying in the most remote cottage, which relies on gas light (having no electricity) are worthy of a mention as perhaps representing the other extreme, we bumped into them twice on our travels, both times they came along the path grinning from ear to ear. The first meeting was as we began our ‘ascent’ to the top of the 265 metre peak … the second get together was on the last full day, unfortunately, dark grey skies and squally rain showers were buffeting us as we worked our way to the remotest part of the island. The white sandy beach of Shoe Bay was something we hadn’t tackled earlier in the week but as our four-year old had managed a hike to the peak we thought we’d push it and tackle the long walk to the end of the island. It had been a fair old slog to get to and we trundled out of the heather and bracken onto the pristine sand like wild heathens, gate crashing a fairly intimate setting; it was the happy couple’s 1 week wedding anniversary but we didn’t know this and as we’d walked for two hours to get there, we weren’t about to turn back now. They seamed pleased to see us, this might have been a side effect of drinking Champagne and eating a fresh Pot Noodle, with water boiled in a tin can over a little twig fire but they were the generous type who were happy to great all comers . Despite the grey clouds and drizzle, we were having a ball and I had to admire their sense of fun; in fact as the male was wearing the kilt he got married in and the female was more sensibly dressed in full waterproofs including leggings, I had to comment that it gave me confidence that they were set for a long and happy married life; swapping the trousers on occasions and taking the rough with the smooth was a fairly healthy metaphor for how to get along, I felt it was only fitting to accept a glass of the fizzy stuff and enjoyed waxing lyrical whilst sipping from my thermos beaker in the rain, a decent flute might have been better but it didn’t really matter.
So to summarise, a free wheeling holiday was had by all; days were filled with idle wanderings, poking in rock pools, playing sticks, fishing a little (not too seriously), walking a bit (sometimes seriously to get to the high peak and visit Shoe Bay) but most of all, we were all content to be hiding away from the world and taking it easy in such an astounding place; whilst most of Britain was busy rioting, we were kept busy watching Red Squirrels, catching Mackerel, Pollock and Wrasse, smoking wild Mussels with garlic and white wine in tin foil fresh off the beach on log fires, spotting the Deer in the early morning and watching Pine Martins visit the kitchen window sill for scraps as dusk fell. The Inner Hebrides proved to be a very welcome tonic, it was great to gulp in the air, soak up the views and get near to nature, listening to the shriek of Sea Eagles echoing off the hills with the back beat of bubbling waterfalls.
I had planned a day fly fishing on the river Moirdart; I had been given the heads up that this was a possible opportunity and did a recce on the return home when we took a day trip off the Island. We visited the local town of Mallaig where you can catch a ferry to Skye; we also visited Camusdarach Beach, near Morar (featured in films ‘Local Hero’ and ‘Highlander’) and after our day out there was time to spare to drive along the river and spot a few fish, abundant rises had my hackles up so I knocked on the door of a nice old lady who had given us directions when we were trying to find the jetty to our island a few days earlier. I was lucky that the local lady was such a font of knowledge and after a brief chat I even knew where to head for my day ticket. It looked like everything was panning out perfectly… unfortunately though, destiny barred my exit from the island once we back under its spell. The day set aside for venturing off the island on my own to get into some serious fishing was dissolved by a full day of relentless stair rods, it had to be seen to be believed. I wasn’t totally beaten though and instead I had a trip out in my waders and best waterproof jacket to fish for Mackerel. I tried a few spots and ended up in a vast but intimate bay, standing on a low rock, level with a surprising motionless sea; if the sun was out it would have been like a mill-pond, flat calm and balmy but the streaking vertical rain fizzed away across the sea’s surface; there was very little wind but a hell of a lot of falling water. There was a sense of calm about it all though and the weather could do nothing to obscure the wild beauty, it was great to be alone in such a stunning place with the elements doing their best to wash the island away for good; I caught a few Wrasse but couldn’t repeat my earlier successes with catching Mackerel, so after a couple of hours or so, I was happy to head back for the great indoors. The easy ambling gravel paths we had walked along in sunshine a few days earlier were now running like small streams, previously mild mannered water falls were now gushing torrents, hissing venom like angry vipers … it was an easy choice to stay hidden away on the Island on a day like that, as a full day out with only a single boat crossing to get back later in the day wouldn’t have been pleasant at all, a couple of hours were manageable but the rain was so relentless it would have pierced even the best of clothing and made a lengthy visit dreadful. I felt no shame in giving myself a break from fly fishing for a change whilst on holiday.
Out of all the places I have visited, this is one place I offer to readers with a little reluctance, as it is special and should perhaps be kept a secret to be found through your own efforts; Neverland just wouldn’t be the same if everyone knew how to find it … I will definitely be returning to soak up the energy of the place in the future and next time I may even get around to tackling the trout fishing on the mainland as well.
Tight Lines, Splash.
The fly fishing treasure is not on the island!: