Island diary part 10: Christmas on the island

Poet Kenneth Steven and his partner Kristina Hayward on what life is like on the  Hebridean island of Seil – especially at Christmas when they visit an even smaller island

 

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Now and again Kristina and I go on holiday to Easdale. We jokingly remind each other not to forget our passports, for somehow we feel we are going ‘overseas’, even if the crossing to the much smaller island takes all of a few minutes.

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Island diary part 9 – dealing with the darker months

Island diary part 8 – foraging for a feast

But now it was December and after a relentlessly wet autumn the frost and the snow had come. The little hills around our Seil home were covered in a thin white blanket, and that was startling enough, since snow rarely if ever sets here so very close to the sea.

Even the greylags on our lochan were left confused for there was now a layer of ice to contend with: in complaining skeins they had left for unfrozen water.

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Kenneth waits for the ferry to Easdale, with the snowy peaks of Mull in the background.

As we drove to Ellenabeich and the Easdale ferry, we marvelled at our views of the island of Mull. The high hills were etched with snow; even the cliffy slopes running down to the sea were a greyish white. Why is it that hills ordinary enough for the rest of the year are transformed and made mountains by just a dusting of snow?

A lone cormorant sat disconsolately on a buoy as we curled out on the little boat, the cold in our faces. It’s then I feel five years old once more: the thrill of a crossing in an open boat re-awakening pressed flowers of memory.

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The tiny open boat that serves as a ferry between Seil and the tiny island of Easdale.

But there’s only time here to look about and take in the craggy grandeur of the broken crockery of half a dozen island landfalls before it’s over and you’re climbing the steps to stand on Easdale.

A voice hailed us at once: Jan Fraser from her little converted bothy hardly 20 yards from the jetty. It’s here she does her picture framing for the many artists on Easdale, Seil and beyond: these are islands that attract generation after generation of painters and sculptors.

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Picture framer Jan Fraser on Easdale

We gladly went in to the warmth of the workshop to talk to her about Easdale’s preparations for Christmas and about the pantomime scheduled for the first days of January.

Thereafter we fled the cold once more and go into the little Puffer Bar and Restaurant for sustenance. Many a hungry time we’ve come overseas in the summer from Seil for a plate of langoustines, full of the salty Atlantic.

We’ve sat outside at the wooden tables in the sunlight, happily watching life going by on Easdale. Residents keep wheelbarrows just above the jetty to cart away sacks and boxes and bags: there are no cars on the island, and it’s so small anyway there’s little need.

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A collection of houses on Easdale – generations of artists have lived here.

But today we’re content enough to have coffee and cake inside and feel the warmth returning to fingers and feet, to peer through the little cottage-like windows for a glimpse of Ben More, the highest point on the neighbouring island of Mull.

But no nature. On our way home one single scraggy heron, for all the world like some disgruntled Presbyterian minister (and that’s how I will always think of them). But everything else in hiding – vanished and burrowed away into an island world that has wrapped a white blanket of silence around itself and gone into winter sleep.

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Photos by Kristina Hayward