Retreat to Holy Isle 1

Over the new year I travelled to Holy Isle off the west coast of Scotland to stay at the retreat centre there.  This is the blog I wrote while I was there... I'll post them all here over the next few days...  Happy new year!

The distance I have travelled to be here feels like part of the retreat: I have taken a car, a plane, a bus, a ferry, another bus and a small fisherman’s boat.  It's a very long way from home. 

The island is shrouded with rainclouds when I arrive and the sky is very dark and very low; a cold, persistently heavy rain is falling and the ground is boggy underfoot.  The sea is a cold, hard grey, yet when I look out of my bedroom window later, I see that there is someone out there sailing a laser dinghy.

It is wildly beautiful here.  The island rises out of the sea, charcoal grey, green and red.  It is protected from the worst of the Atlantic by being between the isle of Arran and the mainland, but it is still lashed by strong winds and pelted with rain.  It doesn’t get very cold here; but it doesn’t get very warm either.

It’s hard not to feel a little out on a limb when you arrive.  It is very quiet; everyone is friendly, but they are strangers.  There is no escape from the island and there are none of life's usual distractions (tv, radio, internet, telephone).  But you can read and walk and meditate and practise yoga and I have done all these things today. 

To help me get my bearings and to make the most of what little light there was here before darkness fell, I walked about half a mile south towards the first of two lighthouses situated on the south of the island.  I had been told that I might get a mobile reception here and I did, so I sent a text home to let them know that I had arrived safely.  On my way back, I thought that I could pop down there every day and check my messages or perhaps make a phone call.  Then I realised that I absolutely didn't want to do this; actually, I want to switch off my phone and leave it switched off while I am here and when I get back to my room I put my ipod away too.  The world, with all its noise can wait, I am on retreat from it. 

Back in my room, I find I can hardly keep my eyes open.  It feels as though years of the noise, busyness and over-stimulation of modern life has just caught up with me and it’s all I can do to find my way down to supper.  Over spicy lentil and carrot soup and homemade bread, I find that a lot of other people have experienced this same overwhelming tiredness.

After supper some of us trudge over to the old boathouse for an hour of Chenrezig meditation, a Tibetan Buddhist compassion practice.  It’s new to me: everyone sings a very long prayer, with a break in the middle for some chanting of a mantra and then back to singing more prayers.  It’s not what I am used to and I probably prefer silent seated meditation, but it’s good to be in this warm and cosy room with such a nice group of people and to hear them sing their prayers. 

I think, on the way back to the main house through tonight’s storm, how lovely it is that there are so many different paths to peace: a path for everyone.  All you have to do is be open to the possibility of it, respect other people’s choices, and work to discover, by trial and error, by providence, or both, which is the one for you.


  1. Love the description of the island, V.

  2. just stumbled upon your blog on google. i was looking for some info on the Holy Island. i am going there for a week at the end of the month. it was really interesting to see your description of the island - although the news about poor phone coverage got me worried a bit, but then isn't that the reason that i'm going there - to escape from the phone calls and internet...

  3. You'll be amazed at how peaceful it can get without technology around you and how soon you get used to not having it there
    Have a wonderful time
    Let me know how it goes
    Sarah x


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