A few more reflections on our wilderness retreat…

Looking down on our camp site

Regular readers of this blog will know that one of the things I really love to do is to immerse myself in wild places and for many years (along with some old friends) I have been taking time each year to make what we call ‘wilderness retreats’.  These usually involve camping on small uninhabited islands and following a deliberate rhythm of silence and community- with a lot of laughter in between.

Increasingly we have enjoyed being hosts and have been joined by friends, friends of friends and contacts from the assortment of church contacts and networks we are connected to.

This year, Crawford (a friend who has been coming for a few years now ans our go-to source for all things avian) described how it was usually only quite a while after we had left the island that its full impact was felt- almost as if we take a little of it away with us.

This year I felt very privileged to take some people who had never camped before and certainly never managed to get out to a wild west island. I always worry about the shock to the system that camping wild can be to those who have never done it before- particularly when (as happened this year) the weather is bad. It requires a methodical stoicism and can result in real lows as well as highs.

Half way through for example, I was convinced that my mate Graham was in some kind of stupour induced by wet waterproofs and fear of the poo-trowel. I would have taken odds on him chalking all of this camping in the wild stuff to experience and deciding that, if he were to survive, it was an experience he would never repeat.

Graham- "What have I done?"

Which just goes to show how wrong  I can be.

Graham is a blogger too, and his blog has had a series of reflections on the retreat- the last of which is here.  I loved this;

What I loved about retreat on that island was trying to discover a male spirituality that did not rely on dominance and aggression but had a measure of strength and vulnerability. It was ok to pray, share deeply, lose the mask of invulnerability and at the same time banter, fart, make toilet jokes, swear and build fires. Realising you are male, a Jesus follower and you don’t have to pretend/assume false piety is a very powerful thing.

I don’t claim to have discovered ‘a model’: there isn’t one, but the route of honesty is good for the journey…

It occured to me again that one of the most important spiritual disciplines is the attitude of vulnerability. We normally armour ourselves against this in a thousand ways, but in wilderness, on a tiny island, in silence, this armour falls away. For those like Graham who experience this for the first time, it falls with a loud clang.

There have been a couple of other lovely things that have been inspired by the retreat which I wanted to mention here- firstly Andrew wrote a lovely poem on his blog- which is here. A quick excerpt- but please go and read the whole thing;

Steel grey skies darken,
Hidden rock spires, deep depths, whirling, roaring tides and waves.
Wind and waves grow,
Deck lurching side to side,
A rocky shore, but his plan, not ours.
Safe upon a new shore, an unknown glen, not known for generations passed.
Rocks, prayers,
The rough-hewn blackness sinking into waves,
Rocks, prayers,
Held, carried, prayed over
Are you there?
Finally, Andy- who has been a friend of mine for about 25 years, and a companion on many of these trips, wrote a song. More than that, he recorded the song, and made a video using clips and photos taken on quite a few of our trips- I recognised Scarba (x2) Jura, Coll, Eilleach an Naiomh, The McCormaigs and man more. It is quite lovely, and so here it is;

Retreat weekend…

Forgive the commercial, but…

We are putting the finishing touches on our B and B/guest accommodation, and also planning the first of our retreat weekends up here in Scotland  (or the first of our ‘Recreate’ retreats anyway.)

If you are interested in starting out the next year with a period of reflection and retreat, this might be just the thing for you;

These weekends are intended to allow individuals and couples to set time aside to reflect, pray, meditate and share some evenings around a fireside. Our starting point for entering into meditation here is Christian spirituality- of a generous open kind.

The spaces at our house will allow for three double bedrooms, one twin, and one single, and it would be lovely to fill these.

We will divide our time into periods of silence – where guests are welcome to use prepared spaces in the house, the garden, or to take walks along the shore – and times of sharing.

There will be an opportunity to be part of morning and evening rituals, and to use clay and other art materials to aid reflection and meditation.

We have decided to offer a discount for this first retreat, and so the total cost for the weekend (including accommodation, all meals, craft materials, etc) will now be £140 per person, with discount for couples or those who are happy to share a room. We think this is great value, and hopefully makes it possible for people on modest incomes to benefit from time out.

If you are interested and want to know more, drop me a line here- chris@aoradh.org


Wilderness retreats 2012…

Here’s a bit of advance notice of a new thing we are doing next year. I would appreciate any help getting the message out there…

For many years now, along with a group of old friends, I have been escaping to wild places in order to recharge. Nothing unusual about that I suppose- but over the past few years, we have been ever more deliberate about the spiritual practice of retreat that can be experienced in wild places.

We have gathered ideas and activites, as well as developing lots of our own ideas, usually taking specific locations- caves, rivers, abseils down cliffs, mountain tops- and shaping thoughts, prayers and actions to the surroundings. We wanted to find ways to worship, and to wonder, and to share the depth of our experiences.

At least once a year we have tried to escape to a small deserted island- there is such a wonderful selection within reach of where we live in Argyll. Each one seems to have a different character and a different history. Many have ruins and remains left behind by the monastic gatherings of the Celtic missionary saints. We in Aoradh have been keen to share these experiences, and have already hosted a number of weekends with invited guests.

You can read about some of our previous trips here here and here.

However, in the spirit of seeking simple collaborative means to making a living, some of us are planning to organise a number of 3 day retreats on a slightly more commercial basis.

Two of these will be based at Sgath an Tighe– one of which will be more ‘adventure’ based, and the other for those of us who appreciate wild places in a more restful way.

The other two will involve wild camping on uninhabited inner Hebridean islands-  in one of the most beautiful places in the world. This kind of camping allows us to appreciate wild places in a much purer way, and also allows us to be in places that few people ever visit, let alone linger.

Over the next few weeks we will be working on final destinations, costs and dates. For the camping trips we will provide boat charter, organisation, activities and leadership.

So- next year, ditch the package tour to the Costa’s. Go somewhere where few people have been before.

If you are interested, then we would love to hear from you…



Wilderness retreat weekend- update…

Just an update on our planned Aoradh Wilderness Retreat– which will be from May the 1st- 3rd.

I am just trying to nail the venue for this weekend, and thinking about different venues. I think there are about 9 people confirmed, with another 5 or so possibles- this time it looks like there will be possibly 2-3 women coming too- brave souls that they are!

Terry may join us for the sea voyage out (or return) too.

Nick and I are keen to continue to use some of the ‘wilderness meditations‘ on the weekend- although Nick himself may not be there.

The prefered option was Lunga, Treshnish. However, I think this might be turning out to be potentially too complicated. The route to get there involves two ferries- one to Mull, then a bus, then the small boat out to Lunga. It is a lovely journey, but will take most of a day each way. Also- the ferry operator has been rather unhelpful, and appears to want to charge us more than his regular day trips. He did not reply to my questioning of this! There are other boat operators, but I think costs will climb, and we will also need to factor in the trip onto Mull, and driving over to where the boats operate from.

Which is a long way of saying that I think we need to simplify, and head out to either the other Lunga, or to the wild west coast of Jura.

On closer examination of the maps, I think Jura offers the most. It is not as romantic perhaps- but it offers beaches and caves to shelter in if we get bad weather in the evenings.There are a couple of lovely bays that we can base ourselves at- with brilliant walking/exploring/scrambling/wildlife watching/sitting contemplating opportunities- according to your choice!

So- here is the question. To those who are coming- can you let me know if I should go ahead and confirm the boat from Ardfern to take us out to the other side of Jura? This will mean a wonderful trip through the Gulf of Correvreckan, past the famous whirlpool.

Cost of this trip will be about £250 in total- shared between however many of us go.

Yesterday there was spring in the air… not long now!