November 21, 2018

The High Road

The train takes us to Oban, one more time. From Glasgow it goes straight through the Loch Lomond national park, stopping at the smallest towns. We know the string of names by heart, each more magical than the last : Garelochhead, Arrochar and Tarbet, Ardlui, Crianlarich, Tyndrum, Lochawe, Taynuilt... Have you ever wondered at all the small places you go through on your commute, and never stop to see what they look like ? Here, we can see them from afar – wooden villages surrounded by dark pines, to sleepy lochside cottages, to the main coastal town at last. We get fish and chips at our usual place, have a stroll through the bookshop, and run panicked through the aisles of the Boots to find things we can't get on the island. Then we hop on the giant ferry and on to Mull we go.

Saoirse plays on the seats, smiling and waving or just staring at the waves outside. One more bus, a long walk from the pier, and we are sitting back in the living room, fire roaring in the stove, and Mark's shortbread on the table. The sun is setting on the sea, and on the croft the daffodils Callum planted this winter have finally blossomed. No matter how long I spend here, the beauty of this land takes my breath away, everytime.

Our days go slow. Callum spends hours outside, digging ditches or helping plant the new trees. Early in the morning, he feeds the sheep and we watch him through the window, wearing his cap and boots, followed by the herd of black hebrideans. Customers come and go, some very quiets, some noisier, like the wonderful bunch of friends playing bagpipes on our lawn. The island is slowly waking up, and every day the boat brings more tourists – soon the high season will start.
Our routine resumes. Some days we walk to the village for coffee, others we just play on the beach. We try to explore the corners of the island we haven't been yet. The sun is out and warm and for the first time Saoirse can sit on her own outside, playing in the grass and shouting after Snuffy the dog. I wish I could see her take her first steps here.

Lisa arrives to work in the hostel. She sleeps in a caravan outside, spends her free time felting landscapes of the island, and sings the most beautiful songs. Mark goes to spend a few weeks in Spain, and hugs us goodbye. Sometimes it feels so know, the constant coming and leaving of people, it feels like this has always been our life, and it could be always. Why would we want anything to change ?

But change happens, and it arrives hard and unannounced. For a couple days the island is off the grid, no internet or telephone. We make do with our customers the best we can. Next is our friend Callum falling off his bike on the road from the abbey, breaking his arm and being helicoptered off the island. And on the same day, we learn that due to a change of circumstances we can't stay on the island as long as we planned, and we have to leave within a week. On that day, Callum goes outside and digs in the rain until he's covered head to toe in mud, and shivering. We change our plans and book flights to France. I try to see the good in our moving, but mostly I can only feel my heart breaking at the thought of leaving this place. I think of all the things we will no longer see : ; the glittering sand on the beach in the morning ; the stars so bright above the road to the house ; the light on the croft at dusk. I am grateful we get a few days to properly say goodbye to this place.

Our last days on Iona are bathed in sunlight. The sun sets after 8pm here, so everybody is out until late, taking pictures of the sunset. We hug our friends goodbye and have a wonderful meal with them. We empty our room – everything fitting in a huge bag once again. John drops us at the ferry under the rain, and we look at our island becoming tiny in the distance. We take the bus and the ferry back to Oban, in silence, but smiling. I will never forget Iona. How lucky are we to have had this escape, to have lived there for the first year of our life as parents. How lucky are we that our daughter grew up lulled by the waves, and loved on by so many. One day we will be back and show her the house we lived in and the beach we walked on everyday, and tell her the many stories of our life here.

We are so grateful for the time we had here. Now we go forward.

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