Find Your Element on the Isle of Eigg

28 May

I’m off to the Isle of Eigg this summer with educators, artists, scientists and writers. It’s for a Speygrian Creative Connections course, you’re welcome to join us. The course runs from Friday 10th to Monday 13th August and costs £99. The fee covers accommodation, food and workshops facilitated by the brilliant poet, musician and photographer Gerry Cambridge and the wonderful writer, broadcaster and lecturer Kenny Taylor. Art workshops are provided by the lovely artist Susan Smith and our top teacher Tania Noble is on hand to make sure everything runs smoothly. Find out more about the facilitators here and read about the Eigg course here.

Last year I took part in a Speygrian Creative Connections Weekend at Duiletter Lodge, Argyle. Here’s how I got on….

This blog post originally featured on the Speygrian website.

The Element

“It’s a bit scary to come to something like this on your own?” I thought as I read the programme. ‘Place based learning, storytelling and poetry with Sam Harrison’, it intrigued me.

I was persuaded to put fear behind me when I read Ken Robinson’s ‘The Element’. Ken states we all have an ‘element’. It’s the place where the thing we enjoy meets the thing we’re really good at. Sadly for many people, friends, family, the education system and modern society squash their element away before it’s even been realised. We learn to fit in with the world’s agenda for our lives and we lose the unique person we were made to be. Ken recommends we seek out those who are acting in their element. These people will help us to discover our element and give us permission to express who we are. I decided the weekend would be a good place to put Ken’s theory into practice. I signed up quick, before I could change my mind.

Glen Strae

I first saw Glen Strae in the moonlight, the snow-capped mountains shimmered on all sides. I couldn’t wait to see it in the morning.

Saturday Solo

I woke up stupidly early (6am) with the cold hard ground bearing into my bones. After unsuccessful attempts to get back to sleep I decided to get up and see those mountains. They were breathtaking.

I left the building and bumped into local farmer Donald. He proudly showed me the sparrows nesting in the barn and all the rosettes the cows and sheep had won that year. I went for a wee wander in the glen and took some photos. My grumpiness lifted as I explored, you can’t beat a little mountain therapy, I remembered who I was and felt at home.

Exploring ‘Sense of Place’

I exhausted my camera battery and headed back to join the group for a much needed cup of tea. After breakfast we started our first optional activity: Exploring ‘Sense of Place’ with Sam Harrison. We met outside and there was Donald the farmer, this time with two highland coo! Sam explained we would be taking them up the Glen to the Sheiling (settlement) for the first time in hundreds of years.

I carefully picked my way along the narrow paths and over streams, far in the distance I saw Donald with two cows on a lead, he was in his element! Suddenly I saw it, the tepee, my old friend. It brought back happy memories of the wilderness adventure last year.

Back in time

Two ragged girls welcome us with a penny whistle duet. A woman left her washing and came over to greet us in Gaelic as we crossed the river. She beckoned us into the tepee.

They explained what it was like to live in the sheiling over the summer, 200 years ago. We learnt about their way of life over a hot cuppa. Later we found out she was Julie, the local primary school teacher. Sam had been working with her pupils to make films re-enacting historical battles in the area.

Story challenge

We split into groups and created our own stories. Our group created the ‘story of the baby and the bog butter’. A tale of how the locals came to bury their butter (something they did do to keep it cool). We shared our stories, hilarity ensued, elements were ignited.

In the afternoon we took a difference course exploring ‘creative ways of getting into place’. We embarked on a journey through the glacial valley, we climbed a drumlin, a mound of earth left by a passing glacier.

Drawing challenge

We headed through some trees to the ‘Faultline Falls’, a hidden gem of a waterfall. Sam encouraged us to choose a section and draw it. Art teacher Alistair Thompson, a longstanding member of the Speygrian network, reminded us there are at least five reasons to draw and only one of them is to produce an attractive picture. I kept this in mind as drew the rushing water with difficulty. I enjoyed the process, it helped me to stop and really look at what the water was doing, it helped me to escape the business of everyday life and listen to nature.

Poetry challenge

After drawing we were challenged to silently write down words we felt described our surroundings. We shared our words as a group and we were challenged to use the words to write a poem. There was no pressure for a masterpiece in ten minutes, whatever you come up with has to be commended for effort.

Here are the groups words:

  • Ancient earth
  • White skeleton fingers (silver birch)
  • Wind swept trees
  • Stop
  • Wait
  • Thunder
  • Rushing chasm
  • Roar
  • Time well spent
  • Still reflections

Here is my 10-minute poem:

As I sit beneath the white bone fingers
I think
It’s time well spent

As I look upon the wind-swept trees
I see
It’s ancient earth

As I think beside the rushing chasm
I hear
The thunder roar

As I stop beside the still reflections
I know
My time is now

As we shared I was stuck by the individuality of each person, from the same starting point we produced such different expressions of place. We journeyed back and the group seemed closer, we’d made new and creative connections.

Saturday Evening

After a wonderful meal we retired to the lounge.

The logs crackled on the fire and the accordion came out to play, accompanied by a cardboard box boran. Jean and Douglas gently strummed guitars and Sam rocked the recorder. An impossible task but he really did, his sight reading of Scottish traditional music at triple speed was a wonder to behold, he was in his element.

Brian Cox Challenged

After the music finished a hardcore contingent remained to finish the singleton malt. Here’s a snapshot of the conversation:

Sam: I don’t understand why everyone loves him

Me: But he’s not a minger?

(Everyone laughed and I felt embarrassed! The conversation had previously been intellectual – the scientific accuracy of the wonders of the universe)

Sam: Well put it this way, as a heterosexual male, I wouldn’t want to look like Professor Brian Cox

Me: I think passion and intelligence are attractive

Sam: Right so if you had a choice of Paolo Nutini or Brian Cox to come round for tea, well who would it be?

Me: Brian Cox every time, I’d want a good conversation. I can put on a CD if I want to hear Paulo.

Jean was with me too; Julie was on Paolo (and Sam’s) side. Alistair was sitting on the fence as the five of us continued. I’m all for showing everyday people how fascinatingly beautiful the world is through physics.

David Attenborough Challenged

Another debate forced me to stay awake to defend David Attenborough. The argument – he portrays nature in an unrealistic way, apart from people. In the real world people and nature are not separate. Two intelligent and strongly opinionated men with loader voices then me didn’t give much space for my opinion. They were in their elements. I was trying to argue that if people were there, they’d scare the animals off! To me what David is capturing is that moment of privilege you get when you spot an animal, say an otter, that’s not seen you. You watch it, it’s totally unaware and unaffected, its natural in its element. I wasn’t having much luck. Julie kept piping up that spiders were nature too and Alistair finally came to the rescue with an example of ‘if the Tay beavers lived in Glen strae’. I threw in the towel at 4am.

The morning after

It was sad to say goodbye, I’d miss my fellow debaters and it had been a thought-provoking weekend.

If you like outdoor learning, mountains, creative sharing and optional debates, why not come along to the next Speygrian event on the Isle of Eigg? I’d recommend you search for you element too, you’ll never know where it might take you.

See more photos of the weekend here.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to read about about my wilderness journey on Greener Leith, the SpeyGrian Creative Connections course on Colonsay and the Wild Connections course on Tanera Mor.


Posted by on May 28, 2012 in Education, Environment, Events, poetry, Writing


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2 responses to “Find Your Element on the Isle of Eigg

  1. belledelettres

    May 28, 2012 at 5:46 pm

    You were sleeping on the ground?

    Lovely account.

    • auntyemily

      May 28, 2012 at 10:12 pm

      Thanks Alison!
      I was sleeping on the floor (was on a budget!) (:


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