Loneliness

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If my most asked question is, “why did you move to Skye?” then the second most asked is definitely, “but aren’t you lonely?”

My answer is always an unwavering “no”.
Actually, it’s usually a bemused “no”… I’m always a little surprised when someone asks me that. If I had been looking for a buzzing social hub I wouldn’t have moved from the outskirts of London to somewhere almost an hour away from the nearest pub.

Some solitude at Coral Beach

Some solitude at Coral Beach

Not that I had intended to come up here and live the life of a hermit… when I arrived I knew that my 2 days a week at the gallery were an important lifeline to help me meet people and get involved with the community a bit.

However, I had expected to enjoy a significant amount of peace and solitude on Skye.
Life was getting busy in the South and I was spending too much time, money and energy doing stuff just to keep other people happy. I’m an incredibly social person (I love a party) but I grew up as an only child which means I also like my own space. I actually think that time alone is a great luxury, as I said in a previous post, it’s quite indulgent.

Some time to think

A place to think

So, a move to Skye was going to be a way of streamlining my life; less time trying to maintain work/social commitments and more time for myself.

Only, it hasn’t really happened.

Not at all.

I’ve tried to be solitary up here, to take time out, but I’ve actually been just as busy as I was in Surrey, albeit in a slightly different way.
I’ve been to music nights, lectures and ceilidhs. I’ve been on sporting weekends, day trips and dates. I’ve even seen the Scottish National Opera and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, all right here in Portree.

Aside from that, I’ve found it impossible to be lonely here because… everyone’s just too nice!

As with most rural places in the UK, the sense of community here is strong; though I’ve never come across this intensity of general kindness before.
In my next blog post I’m going to write about Skye as being a place ‘where everybody knows your name’, and I think it’s that involvement and knowledge of what’s going on in the community that ties in with the people here being so caring.

Liza and Barry at the Skye Baking Co.

Liza and Barry at the Skye Baking Co.

It’s not hyperbole to say that the people I’ve met here are some of the nicest folk I’ve met in my life.

Firstly there was my old pal Pat, who put me up in the big yellow hostel at the last minute when I arrived on the island in the pouring rain with a car full of stuff and nowhere to stay.

Then there were my colleagues at the gallery.

Liza and Barry who own the Skye Baking Co and Skyeworks gallery have created a business where being one of the team really feels like being part of a family. They’ve offered me places to stay when the weather’s been dodgy, they check my car over to make sure it’s running smoothly and they’ve all just generally kept an eye on me to make sure I get through my first winter (the lovely Christine is like an oracle for all things island-related!)

Home -Kilmaluag Bay

Home -Kilmaluag Bay

Later, two weeks after my arrival, I moved into the cottage at Aird and met my landlords, the Macdonald family. I cannot over stress how lovely this family is.

I still can’t quite believe how lucky I’ve been to find this place. They might be my landlords but they’ve always got an eye out for my wellbeing too, whether it’s making sure I’ve got enough fire fuel or just reassuring me that this amount of wind and rain isn’t the norm (I don’t mind it, I expected the weather to be much worse).

Then there’s all the other characters that have come into my Skye life… Peter and Ria my very cool Dutch neighbours with their gorgeous house on the shore, there’s Jane at Neist Point, Linda from Aros, Gordon from the hostel, Morten the photographer, Clare and Ian at the pub, Sarah the writer, my neighbour Mo, Mina and Chris the saltmakers….

I know it’s boring for me to list everyone here but the fact that I bump into at least one of these people every time I go out means that it’s hard to feel forgotten here.

I may have sounded somewhat antisocial at the beginning of this post. Sometimes I am, but I honestly think that meeting new friends can be one of the greatest pleasures in life. A lot of the characters I’ve met here come from completely different backgrounds to me so I’ve learnt a lot from them in the relatively short time I’ve been here.
I also believe you meet people for a reason…

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Perhaps one of the best examples of the kindness of the people of Skye is that of a man called Vernon.

We met when I was trying to pre-organise the beach clean at Talisker bay and needed help accessing the track to the beach. I was trying desperately to find out who to talk to locally and I waved him down as I was about to give up and slump back to my car. Not only did he help me with that but he also offered me the use of his van since my little car couldn’t carry a lot of rubbish.

The fact that he’d offer the use of his vehicle to a total stranger was totally humbling and, after completing the beach clean, I realised I couldn’t have done it without his help.

Two of our hardiest beach clean volunteers sheltering from the wind in Vernon's van

Two of our hardiest beach clean volunteers sheltering from the wind in Vernon’s van

The other reason I haven’t had a chance to feel lonely is the number of friends and family that have come up to visit me. My parents, my grandparents, my ex’s parents (the Outlaws!), my Godmother and her family, my friend Vicki, my friend Matt, Mum again…
I’ve had friends ask to visit who I’ve had to turn away because I didn’t have time to squeeze them in!

My grandparents at Portree harbour

My grandparents at Portree harbour

It’s been wonderful showing them my favourite places on Skye.

It was especially important for my close family as I felt that I needed to show them why I love this area and thus in turn explain why I made the decision to move so far away from them.

I’ve enjoyed every minute of having them here (and appreciate the fact that it’s a hell of a journey for them to make) but I can’t deny that it can be exhausting hosting people, even the most chilled-out guests are still guests who you want to feed and look after.

Mum at the Fairy Pools

Mum at the Fairy Pools

And all this is still without even mentioning all the friends from home who I haven’t hosted at the cottage… The London gang who were up for New Year, the Glancarron estate party, the Soval estate party, my old schoolfriend Charlotte…
All these guys came up and stayed at places nearby whilst I enjoyed the feeling of having friends ‘just down the road’ again.

A good internet connection also means that I’m only ever a click away from talking to friends on Facebook too (it might be an annoying addiction but it’s priceless for keeping in contact with everyone back home)

So, after all that, I think it’s safe to say that, nope, I don’t feel lonely up here!

Illustration by Maurice Sendak for Open House For Butterflies by Ruth Krauss

Illustration by Maurice Sendak for Open House For Butterflies by Ruth Krauss

You shall go to the ball… somehow!

How do you find yourself standing in a car park in your pants with paint on your face? We’ll get to that in a minute…

Saturday night was the Row St Kilda To Skye ball and ceilidh, an event to celebrate the charity efforts of a group of islanders who raised money for local causes via an epic 100 mile row.
Liza and Barry had booked a whole table for the staff of the gallery and bakery and I was chuffed to have kindly been given a ticket. My first proper night out on Skye, it was a chance to dress up and to spend some social time with my new colleagues.

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The Row St Kilda to Skye superstar fundraisers. With thanks to them for this photo!

It was a grey day so I’d ensconced myself in my B&B room for the afternoon with a book and continuous cups of tea. Of course, I forgot the time and all of a sudden it was time to get ready. Emma, my landlady at the B&B was staying elsewhere for the night and there were no other guests so I put on some music and started laying my outfit out. I always end up rushing to be ready for black tie things (I’ve got dressed in 5 mins in the back of a London cab SO many times), so I was going to take my time and enjoy this.

To transform from scruffy girl in pyjamas with sleepy panda eyes I needed to grab my hair curlers from the car so I slid on some shoes and popped out.
Slam.
The door!
Oh, you’ve got to be kidding…

About 8 laps of the building and I’ve learned that Emma’s B&B is possibly the most secure place I’ve ever come across (not that I make a habit of trying to break into homes). The curtains in my room are open and I peer in at my phone, door keys, purse, evening dress etc etc on the bed. Everything just sitting there, mockingly. All I had were car keys.

It was no use, I couldn’t get in. The last of the light faded away and I realised I only had 15 mins to get to the ball.
Luckily I’ve got my entire life packed into the back of the Yaris and I ripped through my bags until I came across a long summer dress that could pass as eveningwear. A further rummage uncovered some shoes and a hair tie. I went to put my greasy, frizzy hair up but couldn’t see a thing. I’d have to drive to the square, park under a streetlight and get ready there.

So that’s how I found myself stripping down to my pants in the pouring rain in the middle of a Portree car park.
Have you ever been so desperate to look nice for something that you dug out a pot of black acrylic paint and used it for make-up? Well I have, and I can tell you that old Daler & Rowney actually makes quite a passable eyeliner. I knew that art school degree would come in handy somewhere…

So, slightly frazzled and without ticket I rushed off to the ball.

I followed the beautiful ladies and men resplendent in kilts to the entrance to the Portree community hall. It was beautifully decorated with creels, shells, pebbles and all kinds of coastal paraphernalia. Inside I joined the table and we had a lovely meal accompanied with live music from a local band. A film about the row followed and then the ceilidh begun.
I’ve never really enjoyed country dancing myself but I loved watching everyone flinging themselves across the room to the sounds of traditional Scottish music. It was quite an appropriate introduction to the island, although I’m pleased it was more authentic than those tourists who go abroad and watch belly dancing or something to feel part of the culture!
I also found out that on Skye people don’t call this type of dancing ‘reeling’, only a ceilidh. I assume that it’s a Gaelic thing and that reeling is a mainland term…

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The Skyeworks gallery and bakery table. With thanks to the Skye Baking Company for the photo!

I found out today that, with the contributions from the ball, Row St Kilda To Skye have now raised over £39,000 for the RNLI and Skye & Lochalsh Young Carers. So they don’t just throw a good party, they’re pretty incredible fundraisers too!
To find out more about the rowers and their journey check out their Facebook page here: www.facebook.com/RowStKildaToSkye

So, that’s how I went from standing in the rain in my pants to enjoying a rather lovely evening.
As for getting back in? I’d resigned myself to a night in the car but I thought I’d post a note on the B&B door first to let Emma know the situation. By a blessed stroke of luck she’d changed her mind and decided to come home after all. I pushed through the door of my room and collapsed on the bed in bliss.

The moral of the story?
Sometimes there’s no fairy godmother to get you ready for the ball; a princess has to be resourceful and independent and get herself to the ball.

Actual moral of the story?
Just keep a hold of your damn keys.

Skyeworks Gallery and a little bit of fate…

The decision to move to Skye happened pretty quickly. The idea to move to The Islands had been building up for some time but all of a sudden I experienced a real ‘flight’ feeling. At the same time a few little things fell together that may or may not have been fate.

A vacancy with a marine conservation organisation on Mull first put the spark amongst the tinder (a dream job for a whale lover!). It wasn’t really suitable and the timing wasn’t right but it started a tiny ember (an ember that was fanned by a few friends, that includes you, Ian Rowlands, if you’re reading this!)
I didn’t need a job to bring me up here, I could survive on my wages from painting, but a little part-time position would help me integrate into the community and meet people. It would be pocket money and a way to make friends.

I spent my evenings thinking of all the stunning islands I’d visited on my travels. I called up property agents on Orkney, I dreamt of white beaches on Harris and purple hills on Skye. One night I was wasting time on the internet and I looked down at one of the rings on my right hand. Beside my grandmother’s sparkly ring I wear a little silver band cast from a Scottish heather stem by jeweller Nick Shone. I bought it at the Skyeworks Gallery in Portree and I’ve never taken it off; I’ve worn it to remind me to return to Scotland one day.

Remembering how much I liked the bright little gallery (above an absolutely incredible bakery, The Skye Baking Co) I looked them up online. The first thing that appeared on my screen was an ad asking for help in the gallery. I could do that, it’s something I’m good at.
My ember turned into a flame and that was that, I’d go to Skye.

Liza and Barry, owners of the Skye Baking Co and Skyeworks Gallery

Liza and Barry, owners of the Skyeworks Gallery and The Skye Baking Co.

I remembered the owners of the gallery and bakery from my previous visit. Liza and Barry were incredibly kind when I told them I was interested in food and food writing and had shown me all around their lovely converted woollen mill premises.

Liza was understandably hesitant when I emailed to say I wanted to join them; many people arrive on Skye with unrealistic expectations and dreams of easy living. I imagine a lot of them go straight back when they realise that work and property aren’t as easy to come by here as it is at home.
Somehow I managed to allay her worries and I started on the 1st, the day after I arrived in Portree.

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The Skyeworks natural light gallery

It was quite strange being the New Girl again on my first day, you get quite used to being your own boss when you work from home, but I really enjoyed helping out and learning.
It’s a very different gallery to some of the ones I’ve worked at or managed in the past, the ones with just four £12,000 paintings that never sell. No pretentiousness or snobbery, just lovely stuff made by interesting, local people. I shadowed a lovely lady called Nat (also an artist) and enjoyed spending time with Marion, the gallery’s best selling artist who was holding a painting workshop at the back of the space.
Lunch was provided by the bakery downstairs and I was introduced to a genius invention known as a lunchbread, a bread roll with a filling baked inside. It sounds simple but there must be some kind of magic involved to make them as delicious at they are. Bread sorcery!

By the end of the day I’d met a whole host of new people, gained a ticket to a charity ball, made a shopping list of things I wanted to buy in the gallery and, amazingly, found my next place to live. Not bad for day one.