(Nearly) castaway on a Scottish island: What I learned about living my life
It was a holiday like no other. Ronay is an island in the Outer Hebrides, with one house on it, which was to be our home for the week.
The journey was pretty epic: 627 miles by car, ferry and motorboat. After the busy clamour of motorways and traffic jams of the south east, the scenery north of Glasgow was simply stunning. Lochs, towering mountain ranges and atmospheric mists that descended in a second. It felt timeless and grounding. After hotel stays on the way (Uig on the Isle of Skye being rather more picturesque than the Dumbarton Travel Lodge on the A82); a 1.5-hour ferry crossing; a stop to pick up our pre-ordered provisions for the week from a tiny supermarket; we met David, who looks after the house for the owners, at a small quay. Driving skills (not mine, thankfully) were tested by reversing the cars around a right angle at the quay and down the slipway- a stone wall on one side and a drop into the sea on the other. We put everything we thought we would need for a week into a small boat and off we went: speeding across the sea to Ronay. Permanent human population, zero; red deer, 200.
Ronay is a stunning place to spend a week. Craggy, heathery, elemental. Views in all directions of the ever-changing sea and sky. When you sit still and watch, it’s incredible how many different colours the sea can be, moment by moment.
We learned how to change the gas canister for the oven and hobs and the gas wall lights (yes, you read that right: you lit them with a match and a big whoomp of flame). The large stove in the living room needed to be kept burning to heat the water. Electricity came from batteries charged through solar panels. If we wanted to use any energy-munching appliances such as the washing machine or a hairdryer, there was a generator outside to switch to in order to have enough power. This certainly made us more mindful and aware of how much energy we use and take for granted at home. No TV, no Wi-Fi, no mobile reception, apart from a spot at the top of a hill near the house. To some this might sound horrifying, to me (for a week, anyway!), it was bliss.
We explored. We played games. We cooked and ate and chatted. We drew. We read. We coloured. We watched the variety of birds, a seal, and possibly a dolphin, from our living room window. We sat and watched the flames in the fire. We made a pretty successful banana bread without any kitchen scales (note for future island castaways: a calculation of six people multiplied by seven days equalling 42 bananas required is a very optimistic fruit consumption calculation). We watched countless different types of weather blow in and out each hour on the lively Hebridean winds. We were disconnected from the world but connected to each other.
I loved having time to be still and reflect. It’s something that I know is important to have in my life but somehow it can be the first thing to be squeezed out by all the ‘to dos’ and ‘shoulds’. I wrote a lot. I listened and watched. I was still and peaceful.
I realised that there are always more choices in how we live our lives than we might think. I’m pretty good with my phone: I made a decision a while ago not to read the news on it or to get sucked into social media, taking Facebook off my phone a few years ago. I didn’t miss not being able to check it on the i-pad. In fact when I came home, I noticed that I began to have a sense of low rumbling anxiety on opening up Facebook and scrolling. I want to be connected to people in real life, not via a screen. Don’t get me wrong, with technology and connectivity, as with anything, there are negatives, positives and a range of positions in between. I fully appreciate that there can be huge positives. But a week off highlighted to me that sense of striving and wanting and comparing that social media can bring. The bombardment of advertising carefully crafted to make us want more stuff. Having to choose what we might really need for a week with no prospect of going to a shop was eye-opening. We needed much less than we thought. And perhaps that’s a more profound lesson: when we strip back, leave behind, reconnect with ourselves and others, we need less than we think. If there is less around, less stuff, noise, people and causes and companies trying to grab our attention, we can turn with greater attention to what is around us right now. For us, that was sea, sky, heather, each other. No constant low-level hum of traffic, people, sirens. Instead the sounds were elemental. Lashing of rain. Waves crashing. Birds. A whisking wind.
No mobile reception means no BBC weather app. Not that long ago, we had no idea of what the percentage chance of rain was for any given day. The crofters who lived on Ronay 250 years ago would have used their senses and intuition. What does the sky look like? What sense do we have of the quality of the air when we step outside? What can we smell? Do we get a sense of there being rain in the air? Our time was an opportunity to get back in touch with those intuitive senses: to listen and to feel. Again, while technology can bring time-saving benefits and perhaps satisfy our urges to have certainty and control, I think it can encourage us to switch off our intuition. And I believe that intuition is a special human muscle that needs exercise to thrive.
I loved exploring. Climbing hills, smelling the heather and the peat. Having to really concentrate on where to put my feet: no paths, just springy heather, ferns, rocks and regular boggy patches. Being buffeted by the wind and feeling the warmth of the sun on my face. Spotting birds we’d never seen before and seeing deer at a distance. Standing on the top of a hill and just feeling so alive and grateful for all that I have and all that may be to come.
I rediscovered how I feel when I’m truly rested and relaxed. Not that feeling of flopping in front of Netflix in the evening, but warmth and calm to my bones. Part of this was catching up on sleep. Although it was light until 10:30pm, when it was dark on Ronay, it was pretty darned dark. None of that light pollution of a city. And I hadn’t really clocked how tired I was until I properly stopped. The week away was a chance to feel restored. For me, this means a feeling of deep calm within. From this place, I feel more grounded to deal with whatever life throws at me. At home, yoga and meditation and walks in nature help me to tap into this inner calm. But this week away from my usual life helped me to remember how important these things are to me for feeling good. I will be consciously planning in regular time in nature, time to be still and time to top up on sleep from now on.
Our holiday was undoubtedly at the more extreme end of the rest, relaxation and restoration spectrum. But it’s helped me to reflect deeply on what’s important to me, where I have choices and how I want to move forward. And that’s priceless.
Here’s a link to where we stayed https://www.ronayisland.com/ . I’m not on commission I promise! I’m very grateful to dear friends, who in a slightly merry state, bid for and won this stay as a prize at a work charity auction.