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View from St.Martyr’s bay, Iona

Martyrs’ Bay in the early morning before traffic, before tourists crossed on the ferry is where I start each day on the island. I watch the sea, its tide,  fishing boats travelling across the Sound. I notice gulls, gannets, guillemots and the way the oystercatchers seem to drill the sand with their long red beaks. I am entertained by the lambs racing each other, those that nose through the wire fence, those that flee. I listen to the music the wind makes through the metal gates and the salt smell of ribbons of seaweed, curly or flat. Sometimes the clouds are banked black, sometimes I need only to wrap my scarf tighter, pull up my anorak hood to keep out the wind and the rain.

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View from Oban of sea on a rainy afternoon

The journey to Iona is part of the experience. Any journey of intent- and I was travelling to Iona for a writing retreat- is a merging of worlds. I was leaving the crowded part of the world where I live, to the peace of Iona. The train from Wolverhampton to Edinburgh was packed with passengers standing in the aisles. Most were reconciled to the chaos- people reminiscing about similar journeys and I reflecting how unlike the adverts. At Glasgow Queen Street unsteady Celtic fans were herded through turnstiles to an Aberdeen train, while the rest of us stood round our luggage. No waiting room, very few seats. Ladies visiting the toilets were advised not to ‘loiter’.

Two surprises at my guesthouse: the host wore shorts on a decidedly cold evening, and that a decanter of sherry with glasses was on my dressing table.

The next morning my ferry from Oban to Craignuir was bliss. I sat on the deck in the sun- my only concern that the ferry from Fionnphort wouldn’t run because of rough seas. In fact we had a calm crossing despite the strong wind and as I wheeled my case up the causeway I wondered what the fuss had been about.

Celtic mythology teaches that Iona is ‘a thin place, a less material world’ in which the visitor can leave behind the outworn aspects of his/her self. I liked the image of ‘settling into the bedrock that had been covered with silt.’

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Rocks and tiny plants overlooking from north of Iona

No two journeys are alike. The weather and the island hadn’t changed much since my last visit. It was still wet, windy and mistily beautiful. Last year Roselle led our group to St. Columba’s bay where we searched for the green Lewisian stones almost 3 billion years old; the same this year. We were treated to poetry in the morning and evening and  we wrote  as we chose during the day. A group of creative and enthusiastic women, we ate and drank together. We sang in St. Odhrain’s chapel on Sunday evening as we had in 2017.

When I arrived I planned to walk to the Machair, the dunes towards the north of the island, the last point I’d visited the previous year. I didn’t.  I was drawn with the wind behind me to the southerly beaches- Healing Bay, the farm where a pet lamb followed me, a craggy boulder, which reminded me of the Yorkshire Wolds.

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Celandines in a wheelbarrow

So 2018 was different. A different group.  Just as interesting- so many courageous lives, so many voices.( I could hear in my head as I journeyed home.) I looked at the island through changed eyes- a little less anxious perhaps, but not much. Maybe I was a little more open, but not noticeably. What I was looking for was the person I am, the one who is worn down by the busyness and complexity of our lives, the one who searches for her writing voice that isn’t diminished by criticism but enhanced.

I am lucky to know that I have family and friends who love me.

What I re-connected to on Iona was the importance of place- not only on a wild remote island, but also the town, the houses, the history – deep into the past- that makes Leamington and at the moment, me.

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View from Royal Priors on to Regent Street, Leamington Spa

Roselle Angwin runs the course: Islands of the heart. Her latest poetry collection was published in March: A Trick of the Light.

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