Friday, 31 January 2014


Don't worry if you've never heard of it.  I'd never heard of this Inner Hebridean island until we started researching last year's summer holiday.  It's a tiny gem of an island (8 miles by 3 miles, with a population of 144) just west of its larger neighbour Jura.

We stayed in one of a row of lodges (Geaspar, pronounced Jasper) adjacent to to the elegant Colonsay hotel.  We arrived to find the cupboards and fridge stocked with provisions pre-ordered from the Colonsay store and a bottle of wine and a packet of delicious biscuits from the cottage owner.

I awoke the first morning to the see a flock of sheep meander past the living room window.  The sofa overlooking the rock strewn hillside became my favourite spot where I spent many hours reading or knitting drinking in the solitude.

Scalasaig, the main habitation, was only a few minutes down the hill, with all its attractions, including a brewery (the smallest island in the world to have one!) and a well stocked bookshop.

We hired bikes and helmets from Archie who delivered them to our door and used them to travel the length and breadth of the island ... (riding a bike for the first time in over 30 years was an exhilarating, albeit painful, experience) 

Kiloran Bay where we sculpted a mermaid ...

Colonsay House where we explored the subtropical woodland and feasted on enormous slabs of cake in the cafe ...

Fresnel lighthouse lantern lens
 from Islay

Riasg Buidhe Cross
We climbed the hill behind our lodge and were rewarded with a panoramic view of the island ...

towards Kichattan
towards Oronsay

towards Kiloran

We followed the tide out to the tiny island of Oronsay to visit the ruined 14th century Augustinian priory ...

The Paps of Jura from Oronsay
The postie delivering mail at low tide
I have no photos of the ceilidh in the village hall, the quiz night in the hotel bar, the fresh bread and the spectacular seafood platter at the Pantry cafe, the local artwork, the church ... but they are all stored in the memory of a very happy holiday.

Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Back to Fasting

I followed the 5:2 Fast Diet during Lent last year, broke it at Easter and never returned.

But after having overindulged at Christmas and partaken of the puddings I cooked for our French exchange student teacher for the past fortnight, I think a second attempt at it is long overdue.

Today I skipped breakfast, had a big bowlful of vegetable soup for lunch, and a generous serving of dhal and rice with a tomato. cucumber and spring onion salad for tea, with an apple still to come.  I've drunk camomile tea all day.

I've been collecting low carbohydrate, low calorie recipes on my Pinterest board but would love to hear from anyone who's following the diet to swap tips and recipes.

Tuesday, 28 January 2014


Quotations on the Abbey wall

My elder daughter is called Iona and it has been our intention, ever since she was born, to introduce her to the island after which she was named.  Well it took 21 year,s but last summer we finally made it.

Our visit was part of a mini tour of the Inner Hebrides.  We spent a few days in Tobermory before catching two buses and a ferry to the island.  The scenery was spectacular and the fine mist only added to the atmosphere.  

Iona Hostel

We were booked into the eco award winning Iona Hostel, at the north end of the island.  You can just about see it in the photographs, nestling under the hill.  There was no one around when we arrived, but the door was open and there was a message on the front desk inviting us to kick off our boots and make ourselves at home in the kitchen.  Which we did, and the memory of that cup of tea on a comfy sofa looking out over the sea to the Dutchman's cap and beyond will stay with me to end of my days.

View north from Iona Hostel

It wasn't long before the other residents began to drift back in after their day's adventures, followed closely by John, the affable owner, who showed us to our room and gave us a tour of the facilities.  The room was basic, two sets of timber bunk beds.  That was it.  The toilets and shower rooms were equally minimalist.  But the walls were dotted with poems!

The kitchen/dining/living room ran the length of the hostel and was very much the heart of it.  Visitors were encouraged to make full use of anything and everything on the communal shelves and although we ate separately there was much sharing of tasks.  While drying dishes I met a woman who knew folk I hadn't seen since I was a child in India over forty years ago.  We bumped into a French family we'd first met a couple of days earlier in Tobermory.  We played Articulate late into the night with a young couple from the north of England and the two resident hostel helpers.  And on our final night we were entertained by the arrival of a large Scottish/Italian famiily who filled the hostel with laughter, the pattering of little feet and the aroma of herbs and tomatoes.

With only two full days on the island we couldn't hope to cover it all, so we picked out a few sights.  On our first day we braved the mist to walk right down the island to St Columba's Bay at its southernmost tip.

Dun I

St Columba's Bay

The next day, as bright and sunny as the first was cold and wet, we headed for the abbey.  To celebrate its 350th anniversary Historic Scotland has produced an excellent audio guide which allowed each of us to explore the site at our own pace.
Iona Abbey

St Martin's Cross
St Martin's Cross

St John's Cross

St Columba

Descent of the Spirit by Jacques Lipchitz

Afterwards we took advantage of the weather to climb Dun I for a bird's eye view of the island, including our hostel and the island of Colonsay to the south, our next destination.

Iona Hostel from Dun I

But of course, no visit to Iona would have been complete without a pilgrimage to John Smith's grave, perhaps one of the best Prime Ministers we never had.

Next stop Colonsay!