A Year of Covid (2020/2021) Part 1.

At the beginning of March 2020 I went to see the Paula Rego exhibition in Edinburgh and, on returning home, I realised that I had been drawn to the expressive way in which she depicts hands. Almost all the characters were posed with their hands visible and they were portrayed as a microcosm of the expressive mood of the whole – I was fascinated. This led me to refer to the drawing of the Old Masters, from Leonardo to Van Gogh, and I realised that the depiction of hands in the history of art tends to be hands in action, hands gesticulating.

Since the first lockdown in 2020 I have been lucky enough to have much more time in my studio. Our business ground to a halt and this proved an opportunity to engage more fully with my creative practice. Inspired by Paula Rego, someone whose drawing and powerful feminist vision I admire, I asked my husband to pose as my model and began a series of drawings of his hands. Hands, not in action, but in repose.

As the spring continued, I created a series of drawings of hands, from sketchbook to large imperial sized drawings, some created by tying chalk to a cane. It became clear that hands had become a powerful icon for the sensory communication we all need and that haptic communication is a crucial part of our human experience. We were prevented from touching our loved ones and had to wash our hands continuously. For me, hands had became a symbol for our experience of Covid and of lockdown.

During the summer of 2020 I was invited to take part in a local, funded project based on the concept of ‘Consequences’ named ‘Highland Whispers’. It was commissioned as part of the Royal National Mòd and I was one of five creatives from different disciplines asked to respond to the five senses whilst in isolation. In turn I received work from the others. I chose the concertina format, partly because it was easy to post, but also because it is a favourite form which enables me to work en plain air with a compact kit of materials. By the end of the project I had made five concertinas of the same size but of very different subjects and mood.

They now appear on a website being launched on April 26th to coincide with an exhibition in Ullapool at

https://www.antallasolais.org/ 26.4-20.5.2021 or online www.highlandwhispers.co.uk.

Here are three of the concertina books I made.

My father died forty years ago. We have a pair of ravens nesting near our house and every time one of the pair sits in a tree, calling, I like to imagine it is my father keeping a protective eye over us. We frequently see them, either together or as singletons, flying over the garden. You can hear the rustle of their feathers as they pass. It always surprises me how close they sound, especially when you see how high they fly.”

“I worked on top of a set of old drawings that I had torn into the correct size to give a sense of the past and layers of experience.

We live next to a glen that is said to have been the home of more than three hundred souls but which now has no evidence of habitation except for one ruin. I started my work by visiting the ruin. Local mythology tells of a murder committed there. By spending the day, walking and then drawing, I opened myself, with the help of meditation, to the atmosphere. I sensed a feeling of dis-ease but who knows what I already carried with me in terms of expectation and projection.

People often visit the Highlands with the belief that we live in virgin landscape, wild country with no past  except for nature. How wrong they are. Our hills are filled with human history and they have probably not been as empty as they are now for millennia. Human intervention is in evidence everywhere and now often managed by people who don’t venture out and enact government policy with drones and a computer from a desk. New fencing marches across hills as grants are administered for landscape restoration with little knowledge of the specific place. Humans were replaced by sheep but the sheep have now left and are replaced with deer as a few privileged people galavant round the hills in the name of sport. The flora is impoverished, the fauna dwindles and the Highlands fulfils the saying of Frank Fraser Darling when he described it as a “wet desert.” 

I have chosen to accompany my piece with a recording of the call of the curlew, a bird now placed on the “red list” as a bird of conservation concern, category 4 (the worst).

“The most noticeable thing is that we’ve got a number of new upland species on the red list. So we have increased concern there, particularly for curlews as our UK population is internationally important. We have about a quarter of the world’s curlews breeding in the UK and we know that they are doing badly elsewhere as well. So there is real international concern for curlew.” (www.rspb.org)

So this piece is dedicated to the people and the birds who once lived in the Highland glens and in particular Glen Gour in the parish of Ardgour, Lochaber.

‘In Love With Moss’ in response to the sense of smell.

I have chosen to make my piece about moss and its evocative smell.

The concertina book is laminated with the pages of the International Oak Society, Membership Directory 2003-2004. I chose to use these old pages as a reference to the concept of the past and of memory.

The subject is the Oak Woodland that we have here and the piece was made from drawings done in the Ariundle Nature Reserve, part of the Sunart Oakwoods Initiative, Ardnamurchan and Morvern.

An unplanned interval

We have all been overtaken by events and overwhelmed by the unexpected. For some it has had tragic consequences; for others is has caused untold anxiety and stress. There is no one who is not affected. This has never happened in my lifetime and I am sixty four. Like war but not a war, it all began with a sense of unreality. I have read about the phoney war of September of 1939. Glorious weather and everyone waiting. This is how the beginning of the pandemic felt here on the west coast of Scotland during the month of March.

Lock Down has had a profound effect on me and as most European countries now emerge, I have begun to reflect on what I have done and how I have used the time. Today I awoke feeling ungrounded, an unusual feeling when living here as there is always so much to do. It was useful because it made me reflect and write a list of what I have done to fill the last three months.

“bracken whacking gardening drawing reading weeding vegetable growing talking to my son chatting with my grandson on zoom sewing masks for family and friends cooking with foraged food walking on the beach with the dog sea swimming white wine zoom yoga three times a week collective household cleaning once a week speaking with friends to check they are safe and well listening to birdsong watching the fledglings on the bird table putting on weight”

It is amazing how long it all takes.



The Distraction continued.


It is over nine months since I wrote the last post here and I feel as if life and work have changed and developed without maintaining a record. Perhaps I doubt the validity of baring my soul to the world with the vain delusion of remaining private?

The internet induces us into new forms of behaviour as we constantly hear on the news. I must confess to feeling ambivalent. It is undoubtedly a generational thing for those of us who passed our formative years with pencil and paper. It is as if we pretend to be home-alone with our screens, exposing parts of our thinking and feeling whilst deluding ourselves that we are alone, when in fact we are on a worldwide network. The medium has obviously exposed a vulnerability in the human mammal which is deeply complex and private whilst we also have a herd inclination and instinct. Luckily I dont often suffer from loneliness despite living an isolated life and on the odd occasion when I venture out into the wider world, am amazed and somewhat appalled at the ways people behave and how we treat one another. No coincidence then, that I have wound up on this sea washed shore, a hundred miles from the nearest city.

Since last April, 2019, when I embarked on printmaking for ‘Bug Life’ I have continued my fund raising effort. They have a new website and an Anna Raven page;

As I write my total now stands at £911.90 and as I explained, I aim for £1000. The land fill tax, match funds all donations in a ratio of 10-1 so £10,000 is not bad as a contribution to the conservation of intervertbrates!My enthusiasm has led me from postcards to teacloths with fine art prints and one off tiles. One gallery has framed the tiles individually without the glass, another made shelves along which the tiles were propped. I had great success with eco warrior Christmas Shopping!IMG_0870IMG_0838IMG_0036The big plan was to have an exhibition which would include a wall of tiles; fifty frogs by Charlotte Mellis shown alongside fifty of my beetles. I wrote a preposal entitled Endangered and was delighted to have it accepted. This time to be shown in a public space funded by Creative Scotland, a first for me. Sadly, despite my excitement and enthusiasm, the exhibtion was cancelled as I have had a woeful winter of illness and misdemenours and with the amount of work involved at short notice, I couln’t possibly have done it in time.During the couple of years that I have been making this work, I have experienced something new. I have been lucky to have had a very positive response from a wide selection of people, many of whom are not especially interested in painting. They have enjoyed the graphic imagery and the contribution to a cause they are enthusiastic to support. The positive response is enormously supportive but it is also confusing. Perhaps there is a place for both? I have really enjoyed fund raising for a cause I believe in and it is one way that with my skills, I can draw attention to an eminent crisis and encourage others to engage with it, without taking to the barricades.

Fund Raising for Bug Life or “Saving the small things that run the planet.”

IMG_9286 2In a recent news headline we were all warned of the demise of the natural world and in particular that of invertebrates. They are dying out at a more rapid rate than any other life form and we are hurtling towards a world with few pollinating insects. Surely this will be the end of the world as we know it?

On hearing this shocking news I approached the charity “Bug Life” and offered to promote their work with the sale of my prints. Having already embarked on a series of tiles based on beetles I decided to extend my interest by designing a series of small lino cuts of the same subject, interested in the visual difference between one medium and another.

Within twenty four hours “Bug Life” made me a page on their website with a donate button (https://www.buglife.org.uk/get-involved/fundraise/anna-raven) and for every ten pounds donated, I have sent the donor an artists print of a beetle. So far there is a collection off four beetles but this will increase as I become ever more fascinated by the subject.

I have been gratified and encouraged to discover how well received my beetles have been and so far I have raised £430.

7.10.18 An Interesting Diversion – Ceramics

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Last summer (2017) I was asked by a potter if I would like to collaborate and go to work with her in her studio on Mull. Charlotte Mellis had seen my painting and the marks resonated with her as a painterly approach, something she applies to tile, thrown or moulded surfaces. It took us a year to find a mutually convenient time and so eventually, this summer, in June, I went to the Isle of Mull to stay with friends and to work with Charlotte for ten days.

Kissing fishes

We had an extremely productive time. Charlotte had inherited some moulds from her aunt, the potter, Ann Stokes. Arcadian moulds for charming animal and bird tiles which Charlotte decorates in a lively naive style. She has resurrected them and makes tiles again in memory of her aunt.

When asked what I would like to do, I thought tiles would be a good beginning; not too much technique required so I could focus on decoration. I took a series of linocuts I had made twenty years earlier and had cut them whilst doing a ceramics course in Bath, applying print to clay as a form of embossed decoration. I began by using these blocks at the same time as carving a mould with the motif taken from a piece of embroidery given to me in my childhood.

Aunt Mary was my fathers eldest sister who lived near us when I was a child. She always took an interest in me from an early age as I too am the eldest in my family. We developed a close relationship. At some point in my early teens, she sold her house and moved to Wiltshire. She gave me a desk which had belonged to her mother, my paternal grandmother, whom I never met as she died long before I was born. To my amazement inside the desk she had placed a number of things which I am sure she intended me to have although to my embarrassment I don’t think we ever discussed it. It was like a treasure trove to a young woman and I continue to cherish them still. There was a shawl, green silk with woollen embroidery which I wore until I spoilt it by washing, but still have. There was an oval portrait profile of an unknown man framed in a domed glass, later broken by an uncle who wanted to see if there was a name inside; there were some Victorian fashion plates of models dressed in themed costumes like shells, vegetables or fish and the last thing I found was a delicate piece of embroidery wrapped in plastic and stretched over card. It is a charming stylised natural scene, tree, flowers, butterflies, snails and a slug reminiscent of a detail in medieval tapestry. I have subsequently discovered it is a Jacobean book cover. It is delicately coloured and is stitched in silk.

When working with linocuts, years ago, I transferred the design of this embroidery with the intention of cutting another block. This I found amongst the other plates in an old carrier bag and it has now become the subject of a series of tiles. The series will be called a Tribute to Aunt Mary and now form part of a new project.

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Whilst with Charlotte on Mull she invited me to work with her on a painting project, applying slip, a liquid pigmented clay, to a large flat surface. We rolled out the slab in sections, joining them to cover a table top and laid ontop of pieces of torn sheet giving us a way of moving the slab. We chose a palette and some lovely new brushes. Charlotte had bought the brushes ten years earlier, made from Yak hair and mounted in horn to make the handle. The hair of the brush was nearly a foot long and when charged with slip, made a florid mark. We decorated the slab in under ten minutes using our fingers to add detail. Later, when dry, we cut the slab and laid each piece carefully into a mould where they stayed to harden and for us to finish the edge. It was an exciting experiment and I enjoyed the process but I soon learnt that clay retains a memory and when fired, they resumed their flattened form and so we inadvertently now have an interesting collection of cheese boards. I cut the remnants into squares as coasters for our holiday let and now have a fine dish exhibited on a stand at the top of our staircase.

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Now we have embarked on another project, a set of tiles based on insects and amphibians.
Our intention is to have an exhibition of “A Hundred Tiles”, hung like an installation on a large wall.

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anna raven tiles 5

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As the summer wore on Charlotte took me to lunch to meet some friends from London.
We had an interesting conversation about creativity and one of the guests was an art therapist. Our conversation made me realise how anxious I had become about my painting practice and they reported that the recognised way of unblocking creative blocks was to change media. Inadvertently I have stumbled into another material which has proved to be very relaxing and enjoyable.

12.07.18 – Making and Collecting: Seeking inspiration

By some random chance, I seem to have developed a bit of a thing for coasters or trivets (I believe the Americans call them.) I say random because there has been no intention behind my gradual accumulation of these useful things but now I have a number of them and they give me great joy!
The first I was given by my mother as a cast off from the family home and have had for forty years. The rest I have bought and now I am adding to their number by making more!
My taste started with the traditional.

Then some years ago I bought a tile by the potter Lotte Glob at the Watermill in Aberfeldy. Recently I went to the north coast of Scotland and visited her studio on my birthday where I heard the first cuckoo of the year. I bought another tile then and am interested to see how her work has developed. Last year I went to the Isle of Harris and to the Studio of Lotte’s son, Nickolai Globe.

There he gave me a shard from an accidental breakage which he had salvaged, cut and polished to become a Fragment of Colour.
I expect they use similar processes and judging by the colour, the same glazes perhaps?

And now, this summer, I have been working in collaboration with potter, Charlotte Mellis. Yesterday I collected our first prototypes and am getting rather obsessed with making tiles.
Charlotte is the niece of Margaret Mellis, a St Ives painter of the twentieth century and her sister, the potter, Anne Stokes. On the death of her aunt, Charlotte inherited some of the pottery equipment including moulds for tiles. Each is embossed with a charming, gently nieve animal or bird and Charlotte has resurrected them and now makes decorated tiles in memory of her aunt. I couldn’t resist one of a hoopoe and it now stands on our dining table in pride of place leaning against the plinth of the maquette of the sculpture of a unicorn, now gracing the centre of Inverness and given to us as a wedding present by artist Gerald Laing.

Even the offcuts look interesting!



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After a day of walking no further than the outside latrine (these days known as a composting loo) yesterday I decided to walk to the pier which has a cafe, shop and Wi-Fi hot spot. There was no point waiting for the weather to improve and so, although I didn’t put on my waterproof trousers, I carefully packed them, along with the Wi-Fi technology, into a small backpack. Usually it’s full of painting materials, with brushes tied to sticks emerging from the top, so on this occasion I felt rather different, like the well-equipped guests we host at home with all the latest textiles and boots made from modern materials which I presume derive from the petrochemical industries. No wool, little if any cotton, just varying degrees of breathable waterproof plastics.

I set off at a brisk pace, having gathered that it took an hour, but if I stuck my thumb out I might get a lift. I was lucky and did, just before the steep assent to get to the middle of the island. It’s funny how you can build things up and an hour each way had felt too much out of my day, despite the fact that actually I have nothing to do! It was also because when here in the past I had a sore hip which got worse as I walked. With two yoga classes a week it is much improved and not a reason to hold me back. When you drop the fear or resentment and accept a thing, it becomes easier to do. I know that but I don’t often remember! My mood lifted as I set off on a little island outing to be amongst people and contact the outside world.

My main encouragement was to try to speak to my son. As it was Saturday there was a chance of speaking to him without risk of him being at work, even if he hadn’t taken my advice and asked for compassionate leave. Although I was getting over the shock, I am still haunted by such an untimely death of one so young and I grieve for the loss for my son of his closest friend. My son knew the password to his friend’s phone and laptop and his parents said he knew more than anyone about their son’s life. The last call on his phone was to my son, they often shared a flat, went on holiday together, shared the same interests and spoke several times a day. ‘Brothers’ is how they described themselves. Every night I am troubled by the thoughts of loss and was relieved to discover the radio here has rechargeable batteries so I can follow the vagaries of the BBC broadcasting schedules although I am now catching up with their repeats. I am aware that it is distraction. The soothing sound of the voice of another, telling me a story.

As my time here moves into the second week, my thoughts are also preoccupied by other concerns. One aspect of working in tourism is that our lives are determined by seasonality. Coming here at the end of the season and after a big change in our lifestyle as we give up cooking breakfast and changing beds every day, I have been very surprised by how much work it still is to divide the house in half and have strangers just through a door. It surprises me that, having given up the daily personal involvement, it has still turned out to be intrusive. Unfortunately, with this new project, we have attracted a different sort of guest and a number have proved too demanding and critical. On two occasions I have been sent a twenty point list of criticisms and it makes one wonder why these people decide to travel? Over the whole season we have had masses of appreciation, so why do I find the few dissatisfied people so troubling?

By October, we are usually exhausted. In other years, we have closed and gone away together, leaving a house-sitter in charge. Because it is the first year of a new project, we were uncertain about its success so decided instead to have a less ambitious break in November. The reason for this long-winded preamble – too much information as Norrie says – is that the question I find myself troubled by, is where has my creativity gone? Empty, depleted, uninspired are all words that describe how I feel.


Living here in this perfect wooden hut feels like being cradled in a wooden womb. There is everything you need but no extras. Lucy has thought out every concern and still kept it simple and minimal. This is deliberate as she has discovered what gives her visitors the time and space to engage with their creativity and the Bothy Project works with her to provide subsidised residencies. I know all this and last time was on one of them, so why now am I empty of ideas?

Instead, I have decided to engage with the task of simple living; something I yearn for in my everyday. Reading Outrun has helped, as it is a gripping tale of just the same desire. There is an outdoor shower here which frightened me in the past, preferring instead to boil the kettle and strip off. This time I have used the shower and, with the careful management of the wood-burner and rationing of hot water, I have managed to have a great wash in what must be the most spectacular of locations, outside, looking up at the cliffs, with the caw of the ravens overhead, everything swathed in mist.


You bring your food with you when you come here and I have enjoyed the simple eating and having small meals when I choose. I am even keeping a food diary to try and lose eight pounds. I brought a bottle of white wine which remains unfinished outside, deciding instead that it doesn’t interest me. I have read a lot and listened to the radio, but there is something missing and it is my desire to make work. Perhaps that is why I am writing so much, it feels easier than drawing, I don’t know why.

On the way home from the pier yesterday, I met a man who told there was a whole whale skeleton on the north shore. I long to walk there to see it, but the weather is misty, I am unfit and don’t know the territory. I decide on a less ambitious plan and forgo my yearning to see a whale skeleton outside a museum. Instead I go to the Singing Sands, a famous beach that squeaks as you walk, but not today! Huge forests of kelp lie, ripped out at the roots, looking like extruded car parts or specialised components for a car wash. I pick one up and feel what looks like the root, ripped away from its anchor and am surprised to find how hard it is. I expected it to be soft like a sponge.


Something changed today apart from the weather and I found some enthusiasm to go out and draw. I remembered some work I did on Harris which I found when packing to come here and thought there might be a thread to pick up.

The geology is the thing that moves me most about being here on Eigg. There are basalt cliffs as on the Sound of Mull, but more dramatic with chimneys and gorges to create a fascinating cliff just above my bed. There is a window next to me and so I am able to lie here watching the cliffs with the moon coming up behind them. Or watch them move in and out of mist reminding me of Faroe.

The beach is made of basalt sand just like at Old Ardtornish, but here it has a white overlay, perhaps of shell. The two layers remain apart, perhaps their weight is different but the result is a surface of intricate patterns like marbled paper, especially where the final length of a burn crosses the sand. I find a discarded plastic bucket amongst the flotsam and jetsam and, knocking out its weight of sand, take it upturned and sit in the middle of the flow, drawing the patterns with pen and ink. It’s very soothing to sit in the middle of such splendour simply making marks as a response. No plans, no destiny just enjoying the engagement of joining the process of intricate pattern making.


6.10.17 | Thoughts from the Isle of Eigg.


I have now been here for six days and have moved from one hut to another, this time on the west side of the island where there is no internet or phone signal without a walk. Lucy, who owns Sweeney’s Bothy has been very kind, but is now away and her husband has allowed me to use their house connection to send a couple of messages. I, in return have taken their dog, Crinan’s half-brother, for two walks. 

 I have spent my time doing almost nothing. At first, I thought I would struggle with filling the hours. My creativity has deserted me and instead I have filled the time with looking out of the window as the weather shifts and turns, practicing my meditation, reading and, most of all, listening to the shifting sands of the programming of the BBC. 

 I am haunted with waves of emotion. Sometimes frustration that there is nothing I can do to help my son; when I have walked to find a signal, the phone either remains unanswered or goes to answer phone. The same when I ring home. I have sent messages but can’t remain within reception for long enough to receive a reply.

Sadness washes in and out about the loss of a young life and then the memory of other losses still held within. The death of my father thirty-seven years ago or my brother at exactly this time of year, in 2005.

A sense of guilt that having booked this space well over a year ago to make new work that now I have no inclination to start, despite all the boxes of materials I have brought and that are stacked up around my feet! Then I remember that it is just as noble to remain here, observing these tides of feeling, washing in and out and not only to withstand them but to use them to grow. The world from which I come is focused on external achievements and worldly success. I have always swum in a different current but none the less those values have been absorbed and so part of the struggle is to remember my values and to stick by them. I often have a yearning to be less busy. To have time to focus on the here and now in order to watch the natural world that surrounds us here in the Highlands, but even that is tainted by no longer being an original idea.

 There are now so many books about nature writing and escaping what used to be termed the ‘rat race’. Norrie is absorbed in one at the moment that opens with a woman walking down Oxford Street and has an awakening to the idea that there is more to life than this and catches a train to Inverness. And so starts her life as a crofter. 

 Twice over the last few months, somebody I respect has recommended another book to me. I ordered it and it was added to the ever growing pile next to my bed, looking more like a rickety block of flats than well thumbed stories. But, when I packed to come here it was suggested I bring a huge suitcase with wheels and so in went a pile of my waiting reading and now they are coming into their own. 

 Last time I came here I discovered Jenny Diski. This time the recommended book was The Outrun by Amy Liptrot. It was recommended, not for the story of London living but for the descriptions of landscape in the Orkney Islands. I have read it with fascination and also connected with the London pages as I think of my sons steering their way through London life. In many ways I understand why they are two angry young men when I read about the difficulties of urban living, where there are so many people and you have to be tough just in order to survive. The contrast with the ever-caring and providing parents my generation became, often in reaction to our own parents post-war preoccupations, means the step into the world is much harder than it was for us. It is harder, much harder but the values have also changed and money seems to be a language that they value most. There is choice and the grasping urgency of city life is not the only way and I can’t really help them, being a committed country girl. 



These books are not really a discouragement. They demonstrate that there is a yearning to connect with our natural world and learning to drop self-importance and to tread lightly enough to really see and feel. This is central to the work I make and my task is to respond in an authentic way. The question I struggle with is, is it authentic to do nothing or am I being lazy?




It’s not easy bringing stuff to Eigg. You may remember that I had problems last time I came and Lucy came to my rescue. This time I had left a drawing board and twenty sheets of paper with Lucy who kindly kept them under her bed. She also dropped in to pick up a box of materials from the mainland. Lastly, I ordered a delivery to come here before me! Needless to say it didn’t work that smoothly. The box was an order of sketchbooks. Either I or the online company got the wrong address and it was delivered it to me at home. The simplest thing was to post it to myself. £16 later we despatched it through the post office via Track and Trace. Post from Ardnamurchan goes via Perth! I tracked it to there before my departure on 30th Sept. It could have been on the boat with me. Or on Monday or Tuesday. There is no boat on Wednesday so finally I got it yesterday. 

My project was to fill as many sketchbooks as I can with no pressure, doodling, playing, working at dropping my inhibitions. I want to move my work away from the representational into a less figurative response to the landscape. Surrounded locally by an artistic community committed to figurative painting or, in the wider artistic community of Scotland, a major preoccupation with conceptual work, as usual my work swims against the tide but I have spent years on following my heart and I am not sure it is wise to change now.

Poems by our friend Tom Clark
Poems by our friend Tom Clark found here in Sweeney’s Bothy. Very suitable reading.

This morning is a still day. After a night of bright moonlight silhouetting the cliffs above this hut, the air is still today and I can hear the ravens on the cliffs above and the surprisingly strong voice of wrens that live here amongst the stones and bracken. The bracken is like a jungle and must create a forest for one so small as a wren. 

The swell of the sea has calmed and the rain has stopped, so the roar of the waves on the shore, mixed with the rush of the waterfalls behind has faded away, at least when inside, and I hear the creak of metal as the wood-burning stove expands and the newly lit fire warms the room and dries my washing.

Lucy told me that on a clear day you can see the southern tip of Barra and it has appeared today – three humps on the horizon, like humps of an enormous whale floating above the bright line that marks the join between sea and air. When drawing that line it is hard to know where it is really located and it’s so easy to represent it with one line. In fact, as I look, the sea is darker at the edge and then above is a pale stripe. Is it air or mist or water-bound air, air so full of sea that it is nearly sea? 

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A View from Eigg.

The view of the mainland fades in and out. The hills merge and emerge. Sadness washes in and out like the tide; like the waves as with the mist. Showers of fat rain soaking me to the skin in minutes as I struggle to find a signal to the outside world.

 As darkness falls, a waxing moon reflects on water, seawater, water between islands, lochs and closer to home, even puddles. Like burnished silver, a trail of light leads across the land and sea. With the rumble of the gathering wind, I am here two days early to escape the anticipated storm. As with every out-of-season visit, I remember that the ferry service is not a tourist attraction for which I spend the summer months assisting guests to navigate the pitfalls of the Calmac timetable, but its real purpose is as an essential service to serve the island populations who rely on boats to bring food, fuel and parcels.

There is another light pulsing in the dark. A stronger, man made light that marks a headland of the smaller island, off this island, that makes the harbour here on Eigg. After the shock of hearing of an untimely death yesterday, I have pulled my bed to the window and am looking out over the panoramic view, back towards the mainland and find the strength and reliable intervals as the light turns round, enormously reassuring. There is a gentle creak of the metal chimney of the Hobbit wood burner and the occasional flex of the French doors as the wind gusts. I am cosy and warm in bed looking out through a crack in the curtains that I have swathed around the head of the camp bed to create a vista and lie on my stomach watching the night.

Over the last few years, I have used these outings to learn about our Hebridean and northern islands and have experienced an uplifting intensity as if the scale of a small place concentrates their essence. Each island is very different and distilled into a strong sense of place, but islands also have a reputation as suitable for people who wish to own their own small kingdom. Connected to that reputation is the fact that they also change hands frequently. The Isle of Eigg is no exception and in fact leads the way in this debate. As those of you who read The Guardian will know, there was an interesting article about Eigg last week. Amongst all the islands, Eigg is famous for its community land buyout. (In contrast, the iconic St Kilda is largely known for the evacuation in 1930). Eigg has a growing population which now stands at 105.

There is another aspect to being on an island. It can make you feel trapped. On my first morning here I received some devastating news about the untimely death of someone extremely close to my eldest son, his best friend and, in his words, more of a brother than a friend. I have spent the few days since then, preoccupied with an inner struggle, part of me longing to rush to my sons side and support the small child I gave birth to, who is now thirty-two. In fact, his mother is likely to be last person he would turn to or indeed, want, as he moves further and further into adult life and his parents become an irrelevance if not an embarrassment. That brings up more feelings of the emptiness a mother feels after the endless years of offering protection and support as one’s child learns to navigate the world and to accept that the world they choose is not the one you know or live in.

 It is now a challenge to be remote, cut off by a slice of sea, high winds and the constraints of the ferry timetable with no phone or email, intensifying the sense that there is nothing I can do which can easily flip into frustration and the sadness into depression. It is good for me to work through these internal conflicts. I haven’t gone so far as to decide to leave early but instead to observe the emotions as they pour through me.