The Garrulous Jay – Perspectives 1&2

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My week away on Colonsay in The Western Isles gave me the opportunity that comes with every holiday to recharge my batteries and take a break from the day-to-day freneticism of running my business. This was particularly true after the Covid-induced restrictions of the last 18 months. In two particular ways I was able to gain fresh perspective.

Perspective 1 – Other People & Places

Balerominmhor cottage is a mile down a rough track that leads nowhere else: it is splendidly isolated, with a stunning view west to the Isle of Jura. Its location alone gives one a sense of space and freedom.

Being able to spend time away from the familiarity of home brings with it the opportunity to gain an understanding of somewhere different. Of the geology and culture that has shaped this rugged, remote landscape and its people. Of the clans that have fought over these lands: in 1623 Malcolm, last Chief of the Clan McPhee, met a bloody and untimely death less than quarter of a mile from Balerominmhor. A stone marks the spot.

Sharing such a place with friends (if I may presume) and being able to talk to them without the usual time-bound pressure of “needing to get home”, also brings with it the chance to discuss ideas, to learn and to laugh.

Equally, I check my email sporadically when on holiday, resolving only to reply to messages that appear to be urgent. On Colonsay this was helped by the intermittency of the wifi. And most years I relearn the same lesson: with hindsight even those ‘urgent’ emails could have waited.

All of this allows one to return with a revived sense of context to one’s work and life. Yes, it’s a cliché, but one borne out of truth.

Perspective 2 – Time & Tide

At low tide it’s possible to cross a mile of sand and seaweed from Colonsay to the Isle of Oronsay to the south. A winding track over treeless moorland grazed by hardy sheep leads to the remains of a fourteenth century Augustinian Priory.

It is easy to see how holy men devoted to a life of quiet contemplation might choose a place such as this, perched on the edge of the known world, to make their home.

But it turns out this may be a peculiarly 21st century post-Reformation perspective on the priory and its location. By the mid-1300s when Oronsay Priory was clearly established, the Augustinians were a sophisticated international religious network, active in the communities where they were based. Furthermore, the Middle Ages were a time when travel by sea could be quicker, easier and safer than moving by land, so the priory may actually have been located on a busy shipping lane.

Ironically, Oronsay Priory, and the farm built adjacent to it more recently, may feel more remote to today’s visitors than it did to the noblemen, merchants and monks that passed by the island or made it their home over five centuries ago.