Eilean Shona, Scotland – Shauna Finn
As a teaching artist, I count on the summer months to reinvigorate my painting practice, and travel is a great way to find new inspiration. This year, I returned to Eilean Shona, a beautiful place that James and I discovered two summers ago when the LREI travel grant brought him to Scotland. First we spent a few days in Edinburgh, a city full of magic and mystery.
We walked the city all day and into the night; went on underground historical and ghost tours; visited the Botanical Garden; saw some great art, including a retrospective of Jenny Saville, one of my favorite artists, and happened upon an amazing show of kids’ art, giving us both ideas to bring back to the classroom… We saw a play which was part of the International Festival, and ate lots of good food!
We then took a train up to Fort William. The West Highland Line, running from Glasgow up along Loch Lomond through stunning green valleys, is one of the most spectacular train rides in the world and I highly recommend it if you’re ever in Scotland.
In Fort William, we bought all our food and supplies for 2 weeks (there would be opportunities to procure a couple homemade fish pies and bottles of wine in the small island shop, but otherwise we had to bring everything). We then met our taxi driver who would drive us to the coast, to the dock where a rib would pick us up and bring us across to Eilean Shona: a tiny, secluded and enchanted island.
Our cottage was on the remote end of the island, and we had to hike up the rocks where the boat dropped us off with all of our stuff. With no electricity, gas lamps which create beautiful soft light, a coal fire to heat the space and the water for hot baths, South Shore cottage was super cozy!
The best part of South Shore Cottage was that it was just a short hike to Shoe Bay, Shona’s stunning beach which is a blue lagoon when the tide is high and a vast white sandy bowl when the tide is out. We spent many days there, swimming, making tea over a campfire, painting, or just exploring. We always had it to ourselves, except one day when a group of young Sea Cadets who were passing through to fish out in the bay, stopped at Shoe Beach to cook up the Mackerel they’d caught minutes before. They had extra, so they gave us a few which we cooked up later. Delicious!
Just a handful of people are on Eilean Shona at any given time, including visitors who come week by week to stay in one of the few humble cottages peppered across the island. Its remoteness and ancient mossy woods give it an otherworldly, magical feel; its solitude and quiet provide the perfect escape from the big city and busy day-to-day, where one can recharge and reconnect with one’s creative work. Over 100 years ago JM Barrie understood the rejuvenating effect of such a place, and during a summer spent on Eilean Shona he was inspired to write the screenplay for Peter Pan. “A wild rocky romantic island it is too”, he wrote enthusiastically to a friend, “it almost taketh the breath away to find so perfectly appointed a retreat on these wild shores…”
So, it was a blissful two weeks of hiking, swimming, hot baths, painting, reflecting, imagining, gathering reference, spotting wildlife, cooking, drinking tea, sipping scotch, reading, writing, and listening to BBC radio.
The beauty and peaceful rhythm of the island is hard to put into words. It was re-energizing, and the aim was to breathe new life into my painting practice. I have lots of new ideas I’m playing with, and will be spending the next several months getting some new things started in the studio.