I have now left the wonderful Island of Eigg, one of Scotland’s Small Isles after living and working here as a volunteer for just over two months. I’ve not updated on here for a while as since my last blog I was in this one place, this tiny unique and absolutely incredible Island. I have been truly immersed in the place, getting to know the locals a lot more, being outside as much as humanely possible and working with the Eigg Heritage Trust doing anything from cutting bracken to helping on crofts to clearing forestry paths.
To be honest coming out here and being a volunteer for the Summer was nothing to do with my art work, it’s been a long time since I have done something that has not been for the sole productive purpose of making new work and being in an art environment. I desperately wanted to take some time out and just be outside, working with the land, not for any goal at all but just to be here and immerse myself in a self sustainable Island that is full of some of the most genuine purposeful people I have ever had the pleasure to get to know. I’ve been to Eigg a few times before having fallen in love with the place a couple of winter’s ago and I knew that my first time working as a volunteer had to be out here, not only in my home country of Scotland but specifically Eigg, a place that has been drawing me back time and time again.
I travelled out to Eigg on the 18th of July and have spent the past two months as a volunteer for the Eigg Heritage Trust and spending the rest of my long days meandering all over the place, walking most of the Island, hiking when the weather allowed it, going over to the neighbouring Island of Rum for a few days working with the Ranger there, taking part in my first Small Isles Games and most social occasions including many a spontaneous Ceilidh, completely and utterly getting to know Eigg and everyone here as much possible.
I can honestly say that Eigg is the only place that I’ve ever been that I’ve had such a strong connection to. Even when the weather was completely chucking it down around me, even when the midges were out in force and even if I was completely knackered from walking here there and everywhere, it didn’t matter one bit as I was on the Island and there is a magic to the place that I can’t quite put my finger on. Yet I notice it in the people who have moved here or who keep coming back time and time again, they too I’m sure have experienced the exact same feeling. That overwhelming sense that you are meant to be right there, immersed and surrounded by the inspiring landscape and sheltered from the outside world that seems to be going a bit manic right now. In amongst all of the craziness is Eigg, an Island of purposeful living and a strong sense of community whose strong minded, determined and forward thinking locals seem to be going full steam ahead with their perspective on the world.
I’ve been thinking a lot about a place that chooses you, a lot of people come to the Scottish Islands and find them ‘idyllic’ ‘beautiful’ and ‘quaint’ tending to only skim the surface of a place and see them in the rare occasion when the sun does make an appearance. However my draw is a lot deeper than that, one being it is one of the last places where I got to spend a significant period of time with my late Dad who passed away very suddenly last year. We spent a week together in Sweeney’s Bothy in January 2016, a hilarious time where we were cut off from doing most things due to the prevailing 90 mph winds, yet we had the best time, just us, off grid sharing our common bond, being in the Islands and getting away from the city. I come back to Eigg and I see my Dad everywhere in this place, it’s funny how an Island that I’ve never lived on for a long period of time has more of a strong connection to me than a place where I’ve grown up my entire life. We spent only a week here yet I’m closer to him here than anywhere because I know how much this place had an impact on him and the real memories we made here without any distractions whatsoever.
This is a reason among many that there is a strong pull for me, the lifestyle, the overpowering elements of the landscape where in our society nowadays seems worlds apart from being in the outdoors and surrounded by nature. Many people have no connection whatsoever to the earth anymore, how much we need this I’ve realised, to get our hands in the soil, feel the earth beneath our feet, we are natural beings shaped by the landscape and it is in our instinctual needs to be outside surrounded by nature. Overall, the place had everything that I ever did need, I really didn’t think I would have such a strong bond to it when I came back at the start of the Summer but I realised more and more how much more at ease I was within the environment and how I truly felt like I was surrounded by people who shared the same ethics as me, how refreshing.
Even though I didn’t set out with the intention of making new work whilst on Eigg, the inspiration prevailed and was in high abundance around me so I found that with my time on the Island came fresh new ideas, a new way of looking at the landscape and spending hours drawing outside in many of my favourite locations.
Instead of going into detail about every single thing that I took part in and every hike that I ventured on, I’m just going to share my visual diary of photographs that I took throughout the summer. I also didn’t set out for this post to become so deep and personal about how I’ve changed here and why there is such a strong connection for me but I’d rather share how personal the place is to me and how meaningful this Summer has been in general. I found that being on Eigg made me realise a lot about myself and look at the kind of society I want to live in.
Here I am now having just left the Island this morning and looking back at the distinctive shape of the Sgurr, shaped by the sea and now heading off to the Isle of Skye to do a big project and onto the next huge upcoming expedition of Svalbard. From now until next year I have full on exhibitions, residencies and don’t have much longer than a week at a time in my home country, however I will always remember my purposeful summer on Eigg and just being outside working with the land, getting my hands dirty and walking everywhere. No purpose but to just be. A slight adjustment now that I’m going back to my other life of full on work but it’s time to move on, get back to my projects as a freelance artist but will still hold the sense of peace within me that I felt so strongly on the Island.
And so to summarise my time I would say get to know a place, spend longer than a week there if you can but most of all take the time to get to know the people, you will not be disappointed, especially with the wonderful characters you will encounter on Eigg.
I’d like to personally thank each and every Islander who I met and got to know and for making me feel like part of your small community, I’ll try and remember every chat we had, maybe not the ones after a few cans but just the general banter that is so rife here on this wee Island. I hope I’ve contributed to your Island in a purposeful way!
Till next time Eigg, I have a strong feeling that it won’t be the last you’ll be seeing of me, after all I do want to live there, I’ll just leave it at that. I’ve realised that if a place fits you, it pulls you in and you can’t do anything about it but make the decision to go and do whatever it takes to make it happen. And that is exactly what I’m going to do…
Enjoy my visual diary of this meaningful Summer!