Continued from last Saturday
We saw plenty more wildlife during the rest of our stay but
after those two days in the north of the island, the recce had served its
purpose. I already knew I’d be coming back. I spent the rest of the time getting
to know the place as thoroughly as I could, taking advantage of the car while I
had it. The cottage had no wi-fi, TV or mobile reception and although we went
to the island’s only hotel every few days to check emails and catch up with the
news, we settled into a slower pace of life. I was surprised by just how
quickly my mindset adjusted to the lack of connectivity to the rest of the
One afternoon, when we were forced inside by sheeting rain and wind, I read through the cottage’s visitor book. It was obvious that the slower pace of life appealed to others too. The same words and phrases reappeared throughout. People from all parts of Britain, and further afield, were refreshed and relaxed by the end of their stay; batteries were recharged. Contrasts were repeatedly drawn between normal, everyday life with its noise, pollution, stresses and strains, and the lifestyle here with peace, tranquillity, calm, and sightings of interesting plants and animals. Families wrote about activities with their children that provided a meaningful connection with the natural world and would have been part of a routine, normal upbringing far more widely a few decades ago. Wild flowers were picked, dunes were run down, long walks in the fresh air were taken, shells were collected, wild fruits or wild fish were gathered and eaten. Are these things that many people now do mainly on holiday?
Perhaps it’s not the sort of thing you write in a visitor book but no-one seemed to miss the TV or their smartphone. In fact, whenever these two things were mentioned, it was to point out how refreshing it was to be without them. I was struck especially by comments from people who loved the feeling of being without these things, but acknowledged that this was only possible because temptation had been removed. If wi-fi is ever installed here, there will be fewer walks on the beach, fewer wild flowers picked, and more time spent checking in with the rest of humanity. I was reminded of an old quote by the American psychologist Rollo May from his book The Cry for Myth: ‘technology is the knack of so arranging the world that we do not experience it.’ Although it was a comment on the way things were at the time (in 1991), it could also be seen as a prophecy for how much worse the levels of detachment from the real would become. It was exactly the trap I’d found myself falling into back home in Devon.
I’ve taken what I hope is not too great a liberty in reproducing here just a few of the comments from that visitor book:
‘…the magic remains – the peace, the silence, the stunning views, the wildlife, the ever-changing light.’ John and Valerie Selden.
‘We have visited few places that rival this wild and wonderful island in its beauty. The remoteness brought our family closer together.’ Jacqueline Posada, Galveston, Texas.
‘…days of walking,
bird-spotting, shell-collecting…just how relaxing can a place be? Going home
relaxed and recharged.’ Emma,
Graham and Harriet, Cumbria.
‘Arrived. Mind emptied. Sun shone. Then set. Sea sparkled. Wind blew. Now we are leaving.’ Anon.
‘Our cameras are filled with pictures of children under giant skies in sublime landscapes. Everyday, every hour, we have been amazed by the unending, spectacular, crazy beauty of the island.’ Asta (7), Bo (5), Nick, Rebekah and small dog Albie, Crouch End, London.
‘What a delight it is to bring our two “children” back to Colonsay where they each took their first steps 20 and 18 years ago. They still run on the beach, they still do headstands and cartwheels, and manic frog-leaps from the dunes, and they still feel, as I do, at home here.’ Alison Hendry.
After a couple of glasses of wine, looking out at the view and thinking of my own ‘children’ just a year or two younger, I found the last comment rather moving. The words, as with the other comments, were describing such simple and easy pleasures and yet they carried an unexpected power. If an alien race were trying to make sense of this visitor book, they might think that the people writing in it had stumbled upon an easy, inexpensive way of making their otherwise difficult and wearisome lives more enjoyable, richer and fulfilling. They might reasonably wonder why families would come here for two weeks and undertake these activities, only to head back to their normal lives, ready to charge up their mobiles at the expense of their own freshly-recharged batteries.
The End – or at least the end of this series of guest blogs – maybe to be continued somewhere, some time.