Update: Retreat On the Beautiful Isle of Arran

I have a confession: I love winter retreats.

IMG_20141208_152621Well, I love retreating any time of year, really, but by the time December rolls around I am a mess from Seasonal Affective Disorder. My Novembers are spent so busily and fastidiously managing winter depression — diet, exercise, keeping busy, waking up — that at the end of it all, I’m often too tired to write. I’ve mentally expended all my creative energy on trying not to go into a depressive episode.

It’s exhausting.

The last few years, I’ve done writing retreats at the beginning of December to recover from the creative SAD slump. The retreat is a space where I can focus entirely on writing. Each day is centred upon writing. I force myself to wake up early. I eat breakfast. I write for hours. And I get in a “work mode” mindset that encourages creativity.

This year, I planned one with Laura Lam and Emma Trevayne, because we all needed a push to get work done. And when a Whinge of Writers (Thanks, Laura!) get desperate, we immediately resort to becoming hermits.

And what better place to become hermits than to go to an island off the west coast of Scotland?

IMG_20141217_114517So we took the train and boarded the ferry and oh lord it was so beautiful. I mean, I know how beautiful the islands are. I’ve been to Arran before. It has the type of landscape that pictures simply do no justice. And when you approach it on the ferry, it feels like you’re going into fairyland. Or Narnia. Pick your fictional dreamscape.

IMG_20141217_114352It was cold. I wanted to curl up and read books and write and find myself again. It was perfect. I couldn’t believe how perfect it was and during the entire journey there, I kept waiting for something terrible to happen because SAD makes me pessimistic and gloomy and doomy and OK I’ll just stop now.

We stayed at a cottage. It is precisely how I’d pictured a writing cottage to look. If I had to describe a dream cottage before ever seeing this one, it would probably look just like this. We called it the Retreat Cottage of Wonder (and Whisky).

IMG_20141215_135657Seriously. Just. Perfect.

IMG_20141217_114854It was warm inside. We all bundled on the top floor where there was a nook with two comfy chairs and one comfy couch and if I say the word perfect again you’re probably going to roll your eyes, reader, but just bear with me. Perfect, perfect, perfect.

Especially the view, which gave us the most amazing, picturesque view of the Holy Isle and Lamlash Bay.

IMG_20141209_180006And just in case one gorgeous view wasn’t enough, we had another. *cue long, dreamy sigh*

IMG_20141217_113154It stormed on the Isle of Arran almost the entire time we were there. A proper storm, with thunder and lightning and hailstones and rain. For two days, the ferries to and from the island weren’t running. Our electricity briefly went out. Our little cottage shook with the force of the lightning. The rainstorms in the Scottish isles are something else. They look like like they’re conjured by the gods. They pass in minutes, one right after the other, intense and awe-inspiring.

IMG_20141210_094252We watched the storm from the upstairs window, nestled in our cottage of warmth. And we all wrote.

And wrote and wrote. We drank whisky. We had wine. We ate tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches and shared music and wrote for 7 wonderful, productive days. It was glorious. I wrote 20k words in that time. I read 3 books. I composed lines that made me grin with pride. I loved the atmosphere of the storms outside, the way whenever we were tempted to go for a hike, the island made a point of saying, “Stay inside. You have work to do.”

On Monday, we packed up our things and left to catch the ferry out. The storms were gone. The island was calm. And it sent us off in grand fashion: with the brightest, clearest rainbow I’ve ever seen, just over where the ferry leaves in Brodick Bay.


I am not shitting you, look at this thing.

IMG_20141217_114654We love you too, Isle of Arran. And we’ll be back. 🙂

xx Elizabeth May