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Dawn at dusk

January 15, 2014

It’s 4.30 in the afternoon and the light is fading. All day the rain has come down. It’s been as dismal as it gets, with fields sheened with flooding and the dispiriting drip of a leaking window. However, over the last hour a weather front is moving in from the Atlantic and as I write, above me the sky is cut in two, like two pieces of contrasting fabric. To the east receding over Mull is a turbulent and sodden mass of cloud while to the west, a pristine and dusky blue. Where they meet is a thin band of salmon and rose as the setting sun catches the last of the cloud. There is no wind. It’s exquisite and is one of those moments when you just stop and breathe out. The air seems to hold still. Adding to the loveliness is the knowledge that fine weather lies ahead and that slowly the light is returning after this stormiest of winters.

After the jollity and disruption to life over Christmas and New Year, life on Iona is resuming it’s usual shape. The ground is water-logged but the cattle and sheep seem well enough. Mine are relieved to have the machair to graze: it’s not trampled to mud, there’s still roughage for them to munch on and compared to the other fields it is dry underfoot. They too get bored and like a change.

There doesn’t seem to have been a lot of damage from the storms. My old byre is a bit worse for wear, but repairable, and the house has lost a few tiles. Nothing drastic. We’re lucky though, I don’t think there is anywhere on the island prone to flooding and we’re used to the wind. Certainly, over the last couple of months gusting Force 8 and 9 seems to have been the norm but maybe that’s just what it feels like! The worst of it for me is that the exhaust on my old Subaru fell off (£££) and whilst listening to Frank Crumit sing Abdul Abulbul Amir (You-tube it, it’s fantastic) on my wind-up gramophone a couple of nights ago, the main spring broke. Where on earth do I get a 1920’s gramophone player repaired?


2013-03-21 19.20.16

Dan is busy painting inside the hostel and making a lovely job and Elsa is back for a few weeks to push forward a set of nature information boards we have thought up for the Hostel. Dan came up with the title ‘Snuffy’s Snippets’ which sort of catches an appropriate mood of enthusiastic amateurism that seems to be my guiding star. Marc is coming back in a week or two and in early February Lou is coming to replace Elsa when she heads off on her travels. The photo below is enclosed simply because I think it’s funny -and you have probably had enough of waves in the meantime… (I’m giving Snuffy a biscuit, by the way, not pulling her nose!)


Iona is buzzing just now! There was a fantastic party in the Village hall on Hogmanay and tonight that excellent movie ‘Untouchable’ is on in the Hall. There is so much going on, so many groups doing different things and so many children on the island now. The demographic has completely changed: when I came here 14 years ago the average age was probably around 60. Today it is probably about 12. Ok, slight exaggeration -but Mexico City does spring to mind. In a population of around 150 there are probably around 30 children under the age of 15. Brilliant. It’s a fascinating time and a great time to be involved in the Community Council.

A major project for the coming year is that the Iona Community and the University of the Highlands and Islands are discussing the possibility of developing a small campus on the island at the MacLeod Centre. The island community broadly supports this initiative and are pressing for a centre of international excellence rather than simply a local vocational outpost. Vocational study is valuable but we are already well served in that respect. Rather, we want to appeal to international students -as was the way on Iona a mere fifteen hundred years ago. Orkney already has a Centre for Norse Studies, and how appropriate it would be for Iona to have a ‘Centre for Celtic Studies’, for example. Iona has such international cache and was an international centre of scholarship centuries before any universities were dreamed of. How exciting that the newest university in Scotland should find a home on this oldest centre of learning! I would personally love to see learning once again on the island (and all the accompanying artistic and cultural opportunities) and feel that this could have real significance for the island over the next decades -rather as the rebuilding of the Abbey had mid last century. All the agencies, (Iona Community, University of the Highlands and Islands, Historic Scotland, The National Trust for Scotland) and the local community would draw behind this, support it and benefit. What they call a win/win. Early days, but I’ll keep you posted.

Remember that Gill and Rachel are holding their illustration and paper art workshops in the hostel in March (see the website). Why not book and come along -they’ll be good!


3 Comments leave one →
  1. Karen permalink
    February 11, 2014 8:05 pm

    Thank you for this beautifully written blog post (made even better by discussing both Iona and gramophones). Sorry to hear your gramophone has stopped working. If you are ever in Edinburgh, perhaps you could pay a visit to the two gentlemen who run the Gramophone Emporium. They might be able to fix your machine. Their knowledge is impressive, and is matched by an equally impressive collection of gramophones in the back of their shop.

    It is quite exciting to read your news of the prospect of the University of the Highlands and Islands having a campus on Iona. I agree, it certainly would be fitting for the island that was once one of the great Medieval centres for learning. I will keep reading your posts and look forward to hearing more.

    • February 11, 2014 10:17 pm

      Hi Karen,

      What timing! I’m going to Edinburgh tomorrow to drop my gramophone off at the Emporium. I’m in Stockbridge regularly so I know the shop and their sagging shelves of old ’78’s.

      Thanks for your friendly message.


      • Karen permalink
        February 11, 2014 10:42 pm


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