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17 October 2014

Life on Jura

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Dark mornings and bright lights

The mornings have, of course, been darker recently. It's a long way now from the light 4am skies of summer. Yet different kinds of light keep revealing themselves every day.

The white-bright moon in the clear night sky has been so strong recently, its light filtering through the window and bathing my landing in an eerie glow in the wee small hours. It casts night-shadows and sharpens the silhouettes of the trees on the hill and the islands in the bay. Walking on the beach after dark I can pick out the shapes of the landscape and the sea so clearly.

On cloudy nights a distant orange glow out beyond Goat Island marks the spot where Glasgow lies. On nights like this, on a deserted road with only the sound of the sea on the shore, it is hard to comprehend the hustle and bustle and life of which we see only the glowing embers.

But we have our own light show. The sunrises have been so beautiful of late. One gorgeous clear morning I left for Islay when the sun was still just a pale light behind the mainland and arrived in Port Ellen as the blue and lilac of the sea and sky merged at some indefinable, distant point. The white water round the skerries mirroring the small puffs of cloud in the morning sky.

Each sunrise offers something different. At the start of this week, gone were the soft pink hues and instead a blazing slash of gold and orange burned across the sky in one sharp slice above the hills of the mainland and Arran. As the sun slowly rose the colour seemed to seep out of the sky and into the hillside, setting the reds and oranges of the dying bracken on fire.

I stood there in this sunrise, amazed at the blaze of colour on the hill. Not only for the spectacle of nature, but also because for that brief moment I was transported back to another sunrise, half a world away. Because standing in that chill Scottish morning the hills of my own wee island blazed the same colour as Uluru at dawn.

Posted on Life on Jura at 00:08


Another, crystal-clear bright day today. Without the haze (or rain) of summer the hills appear more clearly focussed. The air is sharp with cold and the light is just so pure.

It's a bit of a change from the weather we have been having for a long while now, which has mainly involved at least some rain most days even if the sun has cracked through the clouds at times. But the temperature dropped noticeably earlier on this week and, one day whilst making my way to work, I glanced up at the Paps and couldn't help but stop and stare at the normally grey peaks softly dusted with a thin layer of snow. It feels like a long time since I have seen that view.

Much of my time over the last week has been spent up the north end of the island and I have been lucky enough to view the snow-dusted Paps from a variety of angles, first framed by moody clouds and then by brilliant, clear-blue skies. I love the little glimpses you get of them from all over the island, but I think I would be hard pushed to improve on the view of them steadily rising up from the Ardmenish Flats.

I love spending time in the north of the island and am still constantly astounded by the beauty of the place and overwhelmed by how little of the vast expanse I have actually explored. Hill machine tracks snake their way up the sides of hills whose names I don't know. Footpaths disappear off into unexplored woodland. Nameless rivers run down to bays, hidden form view behind rocks and braes.

Even a simple job - having to deliver leaflets to every house on Jura - recently opened up amazing wee corners of the island which I pass by all too often. It was a day spent reminiscing about the people who lived in certain houses when I was young, about parties I had attended, and for a few firsts too. Almost unbelievably it was the first time I had ever been to Lussagiven which is at the end of a very short track on the road to Ardlussa. You can see all three houses from the road, but I had never ventured down the 50m track to gaze at the view these houses share. Just a small change of perspective maybe, but it helped me view a place from a whole new angle.

Every so often, when driving down the road, I catch a view of the receding landscape in the wing mirror and even just the simple action of flipping and framing the landscape makes it like a new, fresh picture again. That might sound strange I know, but when you grow up midst such stunning beauty it is all to easy to take it for granted. As much as I am eternally grateful for always having had Jura in my life, I am sometimes a little jealous of the wow factor first time visitors must experience when they see the place. Especially on a beautiful, crisp autumn day like today.
Posted on Life on Jura at 16:40

The nights are drawing in...

It seems like the summer (what there was of it weather-wise) is finally over. The music festival, with it's influx of musicians and revellers, has been and gone but even after the traditional 'end of summer' weekend we have still managed a few random gatherings as well as a wedding, birthdays and an engagement (congratulations all round).

The pace has slackened a little as the nights draw in, giving people time to catch up with indoors jobs and socialising amongst ourselves for a change. Heading back down the road from dinner at the other end of the bay on Friday at a quarter to one in the morning it was odd seeing the lights of the pub out and the village all quiet and still.

I like this time of year though. I like the quiet emptiness of the landscape which has turned vibrant shades of red and orange and brown against the sharp granite Paps. I like the slate-grey sea, the windswept beaches and the unexpected moments of warm sunshine. I like walking in the gloaming and experiencing the different shapes of the landscape in the half-light. I like sitting by the fire with friends talking about plans and ideas, big and small, or on my own - just me and the crackle and hiss of the flame.

The drive through the darkness to a friend's house which sits all aglow with warmth and light in the early dusk. The small sessions in the pub - music being played just for the love of it and for the few of us there. It is these small moments in life that make me feel more solid and grounded. More myself.

The small moments in life - where would I be without them?

Posted on Life on Jura at 23:20

Summer madness

So - it has been a busy couple of weeks on the island, with the sports and the regatta and various other celebrations.

Of course, it is fantastic to have so much going on, but it does make me realise that I seem to have less energy now than I used to. I remember the days when I thought nothing of dancing most of the dances in the hall on a Saturday night and still had the energy not only to go to work the next day but do it all again at the Sunday session. As I type the Sunday session is hammering away in the bar and good it is too. The guys are playing, the drink is flowing. But I am a little tired from the exertion of the last few weeks and am pacing myself for the other wee gatherings yet to come.

And it's so lovely to see so many people about. The wee row of houses that I usually have all to myself is once again full of families on their holidays and I am catching up with people I haven't yet seen since my return.

Amidst all this busy-ness, however, it is good to find time for a quite walk along the shore or peaceful reflection whilst I watch the clouds skid by. Because, let's face it, most people don't choose to live on an island for non-stop hustle and bustle. For me personally, I am drawn as much by the silent spaces and the feeling of being on the periphery as I am for the sense of community and belonging. I think we all need these things, wherever we may be, and sometimes even I need to make an effort to find a quite space to sit and reflect on how lucky I am to live in a place like this.
Posted on Life on Jura at 23:44


Much has happened in the 25 months I have been away. Both to me personally and to Jura. And though I was really looking forward to coming home, I guess there was some apprehension there. After all my travels and all the changes would Jura still feel like home?

There are new houses and new people. New businesses and new initiatives. Which is, of course, fantatstic. It shows that the place is thriving. But I guess I was a little scared that I would have been left behind.

It didn't help that, in my long absence, some old friends had passed away. I had spent many an afternoon shift in the bar (and quite a few evenings too) in the company of Paddy and Duncan and it seemed incomprehensible that they wouldn't be sitting there on their allotted bar stools with a dry comment and a twinkling eye when I walked back in the door.

So the familar road home was filled with mixed feelings. Loss, hope for the future, excitement, apprehension. The kind of emotions that let you know this is something important for you. But really, I neededn't have worried.

Of course, I got the inevitable question 'what's it like being back?' from the dozens of folk with smiles on their faces who welcomed me home. And I answered truthfully 'It's just like being on Jura for Fell Race weekend'. Because, for all the changes, Jura is still Jura and I am still me.

There have been adjustments to make, of course. But it helps to be with people who share your memories. Who delight in telling and hearing stories about people and parties long gone. Duncan and Paddy, and the rest, remain alive in spirit in the Jura pub anyhow. We miss them dearly, but their pictures still line the walls and they are nowhere near forgotten. And it's great that those same people share my hope and excitement for the future, and a pride in calling Jura home.

It's like I said to Paddy and Duncan and my Grandad when I went up to the cemetary to share a wee dram with them. The sadness of losing them is hard to deal with, but it comforts me to see life carry on. To watch the next generation place their peg in the ground and to think that those who went before would continue to be proud to call Jura home.
Posted on Life on Jura at 10:22

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