Birds on Eilean Shona in Winter

Jan 10, 2018

I'm cosily installed by the fire in a cottage on Eilean Shona off Ardnamurchan, a 2000 acre island where I am on a winter retreat. I look out over the waters of the South Channel of Loch Moidart towards the imposing 14th century ruin of Castle Tioram. This panorama is the backdrop for a steady stream of avian comings and goings; through binoculars I sometimes see a flock of rock doves, wild cousins of the feral pigeons found in cities, wheeling around the ramparts of the castle; on the water are small parties of red breasted-mergansers, raffish males leading dowdy females, sometimes a solitary goldeneye, once a male eider; occasionally a peregrine dashes across, hoping to surprise a dove or a duck. Jet-black shags dive, then fly off to dry their wings on the rocks. One afternoon a handsome great northern diver worked its way along the channel, spending almost as much time under water as on it. In the evenings the imposing form of the resident juvenile sea eagle (they are sometimes known as flying barn doors) wings its way across on its way to roost. The constantly changing wave patterns occasionally break to reveal the rounded head of a passing otter. Angular herons from a nearby heronry stalk the shallows, keeping an eye open for sea eagles, who regard them as both food and competition.

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Voices of Shona

Oct 26, 2017

In the summer of 2016, the stars aligned and I was lucky enough to stay on Eilean Shona for two and a half months. As anyone who has visited Shona could imagine, my time during holidays and study periods that I had spent on the island while growing up, seeped into my soul and the magical ‘look out’ isle stole my heart.

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Woodwind

Apr 28, 2016

In this era of climate change, we tend to think of the wind solely as resource – just one type of renewable energy that must be harnessed if we are to succeed in transforming our fossil fuel dependent economies into something a little more benign. As with every pragmatic, and technocentric approach to addressing the climate crisis, the natural processes of this planet have little to offer modern humans beyond their utilitarian value. The wind, the source of myths and legends, the muse for countless artists, poets, musicians, and writers[1] is nothing more than a source of energy to be used to power an economic system that must grow, even if nature dies.

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Hermit’s holiday part 2 – the visitor’s book

Apr 22, 2015

When I was young, on holiday in a French gite with my family, I remember asking my Dad if he and Mum would be writing in the visitor’s book. I must have been able to write at this time, but unauthorised writing in the visitor’s book by me was obviously unthinkable. ‘No,’ my Dad said. ‘It’s rather pretentious.’ Despite the fact that I’ve grown up to LOVE pretension, and have even been known to disagree with my Dad from time to time, this verdict on the visitor’s book has stuck. They are a guilty pleasure, a little like those round-robin Christmas letters – I relish the peep into other guests’ Pooterish prose, their documenting of every meal, every disappointment of the holiday, and marvel especially at the people moved to a spot of holiday poetry. But I wouldn’t dream of writing in one myself. Sadly I only noticed the visitors’ books for Shore Cottage on the second to last day. 4 hard-backed A4 books on the shelf, each dated with the year. I picked one up expecting to get 10 minutes cheap enjoyment out of sneering, to be honest. But though there was a bit of that (and yes, a lot of poetry to ‘enjoy’), the books were a revelation. I was hooked, and spent the remaining hours reading each entry from the start.

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