Perseverance paid off and I finally made it to the Shiant Isles, or Na h-Eileanan Sianta last week, fulfilling a long-time dream to visit them.
The isles are well beyond everything I’d imagined them to be, having spent 13 years gazing at them from afar, through my windows on the mainland and of course, having read Adam Nicolson’s compelling book “Sea Room” – the passionate and moving account of his relationship with the islands and their history/geology/natural history.
From my vantage point on the mainland, I can usually see only 2 of the 3 islands. Garbh Eilean (Rough Island) and Eilean Tighe (House Island) are distinct outlines on a clear day, but Eilean Mhuire (Mary Island) is lower and barely a presence on the horizon; so to see all three together, up close and not merely as distant cut-out silhouettes, was beyond thrilling.
After several failed attempts in the last few weeks (due to bad weather and rough seas), we were treated to a blissfully smooth, calm crossing from the mainland on one of this summer’s hottest days. There were several thrilling encounters with pods of dolphins and a lone minke whale, on our way over.
I shot mostly in black and white… and hoped to become better acquainted with the isles and to come away with images to inspire a new body of work. A tall order, for one day.
Here are a few of the images I captured.
The columns of basalt, or dolorite (below), on the north side of Garbh Eilean are over 100 metres high and 2 metres wide. Similar to those on Staffa and the Giant’s Causeway, but so much more daunting and impressive.
Despite the glorious, hot, blue-and-cream mackerel sky day (which is not quite how I’d always expected to experience them), they embodied an idea I’ve always had, as a Canadian, of ‘The North’, in their austere, rugged and uncompromising beauty.
Eilean Mhuire (above, including a smaller detail in colour) and the Galtas (below), the chain of small islets/stacks to the south-west of the Shiants. Around them, the exceedingly swift and dangerous currents have led to the Sound of Shiant being known in Hebridean folklore as the Stream of the Blue Men – mysterious blue-green creatures from the deep, who will turn on you and drag you below the waves.
Black and white seemed a better way of capturing all of this – the ‘bones’ and the essence of the Shiants – and will provide me with a wealth of resource material for a projected exhibition in the wonderful new Gairloch Museum in 2021.
Although I spent a good part of the day looking at the islands through a lens, through necessity, I did drink them in and next time, will return for a longer visit, armed only with pencil, paints and paper. And maybe even a dram or two.
I can’t wait to get back into the studio, now that I’ve breathed in their magic.
Many thanks to the kindness of local friends for taking me and seeing that I had as much time as possible onshore – just enough to get a sense of the islands beneath my feet.
I’m sure that I will be back. It was a truly memorable day in an utterly magical place.