Aoradh Wilderness Retreat 2017: Eilean Dubh Mor…


This year, we went here. 11 of us, old friends and some retreating for the first time.

It was a small island, one which even I had passed by and hardly noticed. But it was lovely. More than lovely, it was beautiful. A tiny jewel of a place, with a pebbled coast line punctuated by deep dry caves (we even slept in one. Or we would have slept, had it not been for the phantom snorer…)

The island is small, but big enough to do that thing that islands do; they expand to become your whole world. After landing (courtesy of Seafari) we explored, searching for shelter from the wind and above all, water. It has been so dry of late that water was in short supply- we found none running, apart from the odd drip from a shaded cliff face, so we had to manage with dark brown water taken from brackish pools. I have drunk far worse however, despite the chlorine tablets.

As usual we divided our time between stillness and laughter. We cooked over fires, making bread in an stone oven and cooking pancakes on hot rocks pulled back from the flames. We roasted lamb and shared a meal of haggis.

As usual, Crawford was in just the right place to whisper in an Otter’s ear. We saw a school of dolphins (we think they were the relatively rare Risso’s dolphins) on the hunt. Golden Eagles flew overhead and all sorts of feathered things flitted in and through the trees that grow in the sheltered places.

I stood on the high place – a volcanic plug on one end of the island – and all around me were old friends, islands where we have been before. The Garvellachs on one side, Scarba and Jura off in the distance, Lunga shouldered close.

But the real friendship was found in the company I kept. Sharing life like this is not just a pleasure, somehow is seems to make me a better person. In giving, I receive so much more. In hearing a mixture of stories, some of real hardship, some of great progress, my life is deeply enriched. Deep thanks to those of you who came this time. May each and every one of you journey well. Apart from the Phantom snorer. Whoever you are.

Thanks to the owner of the island, Mr Cadzow, for sharing it with us.

Some photos;


My mate Andy has too much time on his hands!

Find him some DIY to do Clare- quick- or at very least some dishes…

Otherwise he will post yet more embarrassing video clips of me on YouTube.

This (I think) was taken clandestinely during one of our ‘wilderness retreat’ trips. Dancing is not usually encouraged, but I must have come over all 1970’s.

I am looking forward to spring though- Christmas day is past, and the uphill climb through the hard soil of winter can begin…

Wilderness retreat pictures…

We are back after a wonderful few days out in the wild.

This year the Aoradh wilderness trip did not venture out to one of the islands- a few people dropped out and so the boat charter would have just been too expensive. We decided that we would stay more local, so I scouted out a location half way up one of our lovely lochs- Loch Striven.  Five of us walked/canoed in from the road end and spent two days and nights in silence, in community and preparing lavish outdoor meals.

This time we managed to bake bread in a biscuit tin oven, bake potatoes and apples, cook mussels harvested from the shore in front of the tent, and spend hours sitting round the campfire talking and laughing.

Even though the weather was mostly lovely it was unusually cold, which was a shame as I took advantage of the trees to use my camping hammock/tarp set up- which turned out to be rather chilly.

This trip was very different to our other wilderness retreats but still really great- it made us appreciate again the wild places right on our doorstep here in Argyll. We also wondered whether it might be a chance to offer people short taster sessions of what wilderness and spirituality together can offer.

I also got to do some canoeing too, for the first time for a while. Andy and I clocked up around 18 miles of paddling. In the process of which we saw seals, porpoise and countless sea birds. Today we canoed to the head of the Loch and Michaela came to collect us. Lovely!

Desperately seeking Spirituality…

Check out this article by Simon Cross on the site- he has included some discussion of our wilderness retreats.

(There is no particular link to the image above by the way, other than it reminds me of one of our island retreats!)

Simon’s article was focussing on what he saw as a significant change in the way Evangelical Christians are approaching spirituality, and whilst I would not regard myself as Evangelical, I recognise the patterns he describes. Here is a quote;

“Contemplative spirituality is a radically different way of being for most evangelical communities.”

In contemporary British society, with its emphasis on the importance of activity and consumption, a sustained path of contemplative Christianity is profoundly counter cultural. Success is generally measured by achievement, and when it comes to contemplation, achievement is hard to measure, or display.

I interviewed Roy Searle of the Northumbria Community for a book about new forms of monasticism , and during our discussion he made the point that the way in which desert spirituality differs from ‘conventional’ Christian spirituality, is that it focuses upon the inner journey – or the ‘journey of the heart’. This is in contrast to ‘normal’ life which is marked by external signs of movement, progress and achievement.


Visit Cowal gives us a plug…

The lovely Visit Cowal website has given our Wilderness Retreats a plug on their news section. Very charitable of them considering the retreats will not actually be held in Cowal, beautiful as this part of the world really is.

If you do not believe me- check out the site.

Incidentally, if you are considering a trip up north, then please consider our holiday accommodation. It can be booked through a whole host of online agencies- including the Guardian website, country cottages etc. It is also worth dropping me a line as we have a few owner bookings that we can use (particularly for loyal blog readers!)

We are moving towards our mixed-economy kind of way of making a living. Last night we had the first firing of the pottery kiln in our cellar. The house did not burn down! It is always a little bit scary to see the temperature gauge reach 1000 degrees centigrade inside something close to the floor of your house. We are still waiting for the contents to cool down to see what the firing will be like- watch this space!

Wilderness retreats- new FB page…

On a day when everyone seems to be talking about Google’s new (non) privacy policy, I have been trying to dip into the world of marketing. However, lacking the multi billion pound machine that Google can bring to bear on our consciousness, I settled for the creation of a new Facebook page all about our up and coming wilderness meditations.

If you are a user of FB, then I would be honoured if you would visit and give it a ‘like’. I think that this helps in some way, although I am not quite sure why!

Even better- why don’t you come along? There are lots of photos on the page to give some kind of flavour of how lovely these places are.

Looking forward to a few things…

This photo was taken looking out from the viewpoint at the top of Benmore Gardens today, where we took a picnic today, along with some friends. It somehow made me think of the year to come; looking forward into 2012. It suddenly seemed so hopeful and exciting to look forward, rather than looking back…

I love to have things on the horizon – distant goals/projects/destinations that I can move towards, even if getting there involves some graft. I think this is always even more important to me in the dark months of the year. So I started to write a list.

Yesterday we worked hard in our cellar, to continue the process of converting the space down there to a working pottery. Michaela and Pauline’s Blue Sky Craft Workshops will be planning some sessions down there. Watch this space if you are interested. I’ll post some photos when I have managed to build some of the workbenches down there.

Talking of craft/art we have  been asked if we want to use the exhibition space in Benmore Gardens- to fill it up with carvings and craftings. This is a lovely challenge, as it is a big space, and so it will need some big pieces, possibly combining work from different members of our group. Time to get in the workshop, and tidy all the things that have come out of the cellar into some kind of order!

Then there is the distant Greenbelt festival- which has become increasingly important to me also. I have a few ideas for poetry/audio installations that I am gathering soundscapes and ideas for. Not sure if it will happen, but the creativity it sparks in me is grand.

In all this mix is lots of uncertainty. A job that has been under threat for two years but may be about to finally end. Other plans to downshift and start all sorts of other micro enterprises have been long in the planning, but this will be the year one way or another, when things will change.

Then there is the Wilderness Retreats that I am planning with my mates Simon, Nick and Paul. I am really looking forward to these. I hope some of you will join us.

Then there are all the activities of the community I am part of – Aoradh. We meet to eat and laugh and pray, and to plan creative ways to celebrate our faith. Next year we are already talking about collaborations with others, bench meditation spots, community gardens, labyrinths, prayer rooms.

And to mark progress towards the new season, today Will and I attended the first of the years indoor cricket net sessions. We spent a couple of hours bowling, being bowled at and facing a bowling machine. Magic. It is hard to imagine the warm days full of the sound of leather on willow, but this too will come.

As I look at this little (incomplete) list, I feel blessed, excited, hopeful, humble, grateful. And perhaps just a little overwhelmed.

May your horizons be full of good things too!