At long last, I have had my yearly week’s holiday. Each September I try to go away somewhere quiet and peaceful where I can rest, recharge, and hopefully walk and enjoy the scenery. I’m not interested in hot sunny beaches or bustling cities when I go on holiday, what I’m looking for is some peace of mind, preferably in the middle of nowhere. Splendid isolation.
While I do not like the word “glamping”, I think that’s what my holiday this year was. I spent 5 nights in a Shepherd’s Hut in Kilchoan, Ardnamurchan, the most westerly mainland spot in Great Britain.
I don’t drive, so it took me all day to get to Kilchoan from Glasgow. A train to Fort William, followed by a local bus via the Corran Ferry. When I headed out for my bus in Fort William it became clear that life was being lived at a different pace all the way out to the far west. The driver had to retrieve an elderly gentleman from the supermarket, as if the bus had gone without him, he would have been stranded. Everyone knew him, and he was found in the DIY section, apparently. The locals all knew each other, and I suppose when there’s only one return bus journey a day, even newcomers get to know their neighbours.
Once we headed off it became clear how quiet and isolated the peninsula is. The settlements are spaced out, and there are crofts and isolated houses along the way. The road is almost all single track as soon as you leave Ardgour (the first village you come to), so the 45 miles or so along the south coast route is slow going.
The rain was lashing down almost all the way from Glasgow to Kilchoan, but it was easing off as I arrived. On the way I saw some deer on a the beach, and after I arrived at my hut, I saw an otter and a grey heron both fishing in the same lochan right outside the hut. Now, this is what I came all the way here for!
The hut was small but comfy, with a separate eco-compost toilet and kitchenette hut, outdoor seating, and practically no electricity (I drained it on the first night, never to recharge properly again!). I was looking forward to the peace and quiet, but was slightly perturbed by the lack of electricity. As a person who lives alone and prefers their own company, I rely on the internet a bit too much. The lack of electricity was a perfect opportunity to unplug from the online world, even though it was unplanned.
As I settled in (and dropped out of my usual life), I began to notice the sights, sounds and smells of the local area. It was almost entirely quiet at night. No cars, no industrial hums, no sounds of modern life. I slept better than I had in months, and without earplugs too! All I could hear at night was the gentle lapping of the waves on the shore (just a few metres from my hut), birds calling (oystercatchers, curlew and occasional ducks, geese and gulls) and the weather.
Another reason for my improved sleep was the total lack of light pollution. The brightest thing in the sky was the moon reflecting on the water. There were a couple of clear nights while I was away, but the moon dominated so much that the stars were faint, though many.
On my first full day I walked down to the pier (about 40 minues walk from the hut) and sailed to Tobermory. After just one evening in Kilchoan, Tobermory seemed like a bustling metropolis. It was a glorious sunny day, and though I enjoyed my vegan lunch (and cake!) in the arts centre and popping into the shops on the main street, I knew that when I returned to Kilchoan I’d probably not see so many people again until I got back to Fort William.
On my second quiet evening in the cabin, I got to thinking about what I was looking for in the remote places I go to on holiday, and I recalled a friend talking about how our bodies can’t cope with modern life, which leads to stress, feeling frazzled, and dissatisfaction. We have more than we need, so much more than we ever need. I had downloaded the book on mindfulness that she recommended before leaving home, so I started to read it. Before I began, I was thinking about how I could change my life to get more peace of mind. Leave the city, leave my job, have more breaks in the middle of nowhere, basically run away from my life. But as I started to read, I finally realised what mindfulness is – focusing attention on what you are doing rather than mindlessly going onto autopilot all the time, and that maybe my exhaustion was my body telling me to pay attention, rather than to rest more. When I rest more, my screen time increases (TV, internet, social media) and I feel no more rested than before. Food for thought.
My third day in west Ardnamurchan consisted of a BIG walk from Kilchoan to Sanna Bay in the north. As the crow flies it’s a lot shorter a walk than it seems on foot, up and down hills, through the extinct volcano, winding ever winding single track roads. I passed not a single soul on foot and only a few cars. As my walk was long, and there was no chance of public transport, I focused on keeping up a steady pace and eventually made it to the beach almost three hours after I had set out. White coral sand, turquoise water, and improving light, as the sun came out. I paddled, ate my lunch and gazed out at the water, little white sailing boats on the horizon. I saw some excited looking photographers on some rocks behind me and spotted that they were filming whales, just a few metres away in the sea. I didn’t find out what they were, but enjoyed seeing them move so sinuously, their shiny backs breaching the surface for a good five minutes before they disappeared back into the sea.
I managed to get slightly lost on my way back (no signage on the hill paths), but realised I was headed up a mountain rather than into a village, so managed to save the day and headed for the road out of Portuairk. By this time it was really hot, and I had to apply the factor 45 liberally as I hiked up the winding and steep hill out of the village. I passed a signpost for the lighthouse, but I was getting pretty tired by this point so I thought a diversion would not be a good idea. So I just kept walking. Thankfully, the owner of the hut was driving by and offered me a lift back to Kilchoan. I was running out of water, so took him up on the offer and was back in the village and eating an ice lolly before I knew about it!
After relaxing in the garden for a short while. I decided to continue reading the Mindfulness book, and i was definitely getting the “point” this time. I realised that I could change my life by trying to find contentment in different activities, and places (running away from life), or I could learn how to live the life I already have. Mindfulness seems to be a way to do that. I remain particularly interested in the repeated mention of exhaustion as a facet of stress/anxiety/joylessness. I have had more than my fair share of health issues, and I had presumed there was something physically wrong that was making me so tired. But perhaps not. Maybe it’s my way of living that exhausts me. My desire to escape isn’t so much a physical need, but a mental one, as sometimes I feel like the very definition of “frazzled” despite a quiet home life. I also realised that my regular yoga nidra practice is certainly a head start on the mindfulness thing, so maybe it’ll slot into place without too much struggle. Here’s hoping small changes bring some much needed peace of mind.
Ardnamurchan was a beautiful rural location to inspire some life changes. I reckon I’ll be back.