Dispatches From The North

Tania Kindersley lives in the North East of Scotland with two amiable lab collie crosses and one very grumpy Gloucester Old Spot pig. She co-wrote Backwards In High Heels: The Impossible Art of Being Female, with Sarah Vine.

An island holiday

Posted by Tania Kindersley
Tania Kindersley
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on Wednesday, 21 August 2013
Last week, I went on holiday. I went to the island of Colonsay. It was very heaven.

When I was younger, I fancied myself as a bit of an exotic. When I went away, I went to Malacca and Venice and Cochin. I stayed in one of those glorious old black-and-whites in Singapore and drank bloody bulls staring at the Bemelmans mural in the Carlyle. I was hysterically poncy, and I really ought to apologise to anyone who was there.

Stanley herding the sea.Stanley herding the sea.

Now I am a hoary old horse person, dug into the earth. Pretty much every article of clothing I possess has mud on it. I live in bashed-up old boots, and quite often have strands of hay in my hair. (So this season.) I don’t want to fly off any more to glamorous long-haul destinations. I just want to get on a creaky old ferry and see a good Scottish island.

The ferry itself is so hysterically old-school that at one point the ramp refuses to rise, and Stanley the Dog and I watch in interest as an operative in overalls climbs up a rickety step-ladder and starts hitting a random piece of metal with a hammer. It’s the ferry equivalent of kicking the television. Amazingly, it works, and off we rumble. Oban is, as usual, wreathed in rain and low clouds, but two hours out to sea, as the low hills of Colonsay come into sight, a shaft of wild sunshine dances out from the clouds and illuminates the sage green land. Ah, I think, I am back.

Kiloran BayKiloran Bay

I have not been for four years, and it’s like coming home. Everything is exactly the same. The forecast is, as always, dour and dreich. I have brought gumboots and a hat, to ward off the rain. The days when I used to pack bathing suits and sunscreen are in a distant past.

But, amazingly, the next morning the sky is a singing blue and the sun blazes out of a wild sky and the beaches are as gleaming as the Caribbean. All the beauty dials are set to ten. When the Hebrides are like that, there is nowhere in the world I would rather be. I take Stanley to see his first ever glimpse of the sea. He clearly thinks it is a living thing, and attempts to herd it, chasing the waves with faintly baffled determination. I breathe in the strong salt air, those winds that come all the way from Canada, and can sense every atom in my body reviving. I had forgotten about the sea.

Sea and sky as blue as the West IndiesSea and sky as blue as the West Indies

The pace of life slows and settles. My shoulders come down. There is nothing to do but read a book and look at the view and walk on the sand and have a picnic with old and dear friends. I eat langoustine and drink pints of Guinness. Across the sound, the blue hills of Jura wear their customary white hats of discrete cloud.

There are many lovely things about taking a holiday on a Hebridean island. One of the things I love the best is that I have to drive across Scotland to get there. Once you are above the central belt, crossing Scotland is no straightforward matter. There is no direct route. The most modern of technology and advanced of engineering skills cannot counter mountain ranges and long, black lochs. The tiny ribbons of road wind up and down and round the houses. Except, for long stretches, there are no houses. I actually counted the miles: at one stage I drove for thirteen of them without seeing a human habitation, which feels like a miracle in this crowded land mass. The wilderness is so proper that the radio suddenly disappears, with a fizzing phfftt. When you can no longer hear Radio Four, you know that you are out in the lost places. It was just me and the sheep.

Looking across to JuraLooking across to Jura

Now I am back to work, back to normal daily routine, back to rushing about with never enough time. But every so often, I get a little mental snapshot of the wild glory of Kiloran Bay, and the perfect week rushes back to me, and I think how lucky it is that I don’t have to cross oceans to see exotic beauty. One hundred and eighty miles across Scottish mountains, a few leagues of sea, and I am in another world.
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