April 22, 2018

Scotland, November

When Saoirse was born and we decided to come back to Europe, we didn't have a plan. We just knew that we wanted to be safe, to find somewhere to live, and to have as much time as we could get with our new baby. There was of course the option to move back to London, but it would mean one of us working crazy hours just to make rent, and the other one staying at home alone – so we decided against it. We started thinking of Scotland, and we found a hostel looking for people to work over the winter. It turned out to be the best decision we made.

Iona is a small island, but it is a special place. My favourite name for her is “an island off an island off an island”. It sits about two hours away from the mainland, connected to the vast island of Mull by a ten minutes boat trip. The small ferry runs a few times a day. With her grasslands so pale and her long stretches of white sand and turquoise water, she definitely belongs to the Hebrides. There are almost no trees, and the only hill rising from the flat land is called Dun I - “the Mountain” - an Iron Age fort settled in 100 BC.

This place is so old, its history is almost undistinguishable from its legend. In 563, an irish monk called Columcille founded an abbey here with twelve of his companions, and from there converted most of Scotland to christianity. The abbey became a beacon of learning and creativity, producing many important manuscripts. Many kings, warriors and priests are buried here. It's a place full of spirit, a “thin place” for some, where the barrier between heaven and earth is stretched at its thinnest. The clouds feel so close you could touch them.

There aren't a lot of people on this island (around 125), and now us three. This season we'll be stewarts in one of the hotels – the only one staying open through the winter. As soon as we arrive, we find ourselves at home. There isn't much – a small grocery store that opens at 10 and closes at 4 ; a post office ; a tiny shop who serves good coffee. Most other businesses close the same week we arrive, and soon the travelers will be few and far between, but we don't mind. We have a warm room of our own, and the openness of this unique landscape surrounding us. At night, the stars are so clear you can walk without a torch.

Life is simple here. Everyday we wake up with the baby, watch the sunrise over the sea. Then we each work for a few hours – me inside so that I can watch her, and my love on the croft, sanding and painting boats or digging trenches. If weather permits we'll sometimes walk down to the village, buy groceries or go have a coffee. Everybody here says hello and stops by for a chat. There are a lot of children on the island, and you can see them rush by on their bikes, carrying vegetables from the school garden. In the evening, we walk down to the beach, two minutes from the house, and watch the tide turn pink and grey in the dusk. When the wind howls outside, we'll cosy up with a book and light a fire in the stove, listening to the rain battering the windows.

It's a quiet life, and it's perfect for us.

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