Tiree. Never heard of it. Apparently it’s some tiny little island five hours from the coast of Oban, Scotland. Admittedly it wouldn’t be somewhere I’d choose to spend a two week holiday if I hadn’t met and fallen head over heels for a strange, exotic Scotsman who I’d met when traveling Bali.
So after a little gentle persuasion and many Google searches to see how true the idea of a tropical island in Scotland actually is, I decided to say “screw it” and spent two weeks on the Isle of Tiree.
Said Scotsman came and met me on the mainland, and drove us to Oban, where we caught the 7am ferry through the inner Hebrides and to the most outter Island, Tiree.
The journey was five hours, and was bloody miserable. The weather was particularly bad on this day, and the ferry’s captain even came on the tannoy to warn us the incoming winds were so dire, they may not be able to dock at Tiree, and instead turn round and do another five hours back to Oban. “Great” I thought. Ten hours on a bloody cold ferry that smelt vaguely of the cooked breakfast coming up from the deck below.
Poking around at some luke warm baked beans, and tasting the local cuisine of potato scones (which I later learnt when done properly are actually v nice and up there with the humble crumpet in ratings of tasty treats), myself and Sam felt it was time for some sleep.
We swayed our way up the stairs like two drunk men coming out of a branch of Ladbrokes after the Grand National, as the boat ran over waves aggressively. The mist and the fog was so thick I couldn’t make out any of the surrounding islands, said to be beautiful and breathtaking. So with lack of things do to and severe lethargy I curled up into the foetal position on a cold fake leather seat, trying to huddle myself warm.
The boat was full of those cheery types you see that actively try and peruse holidays that are damp, outdoorsy, and freezing, as they sit there in their The North Face or Jack Wolfskin jackets, cheeks rosey from all the wind and cold weather they’ve exposed themselves to over the years, grinning mildly at the thought of hiking over a bog and swimming through a marsh in Baltic conditions, only to build a shelter out of cow turd in order to spot a rare bird before going back to their homes in the Cotswolds.
These types kept leaving the “lounge area” to get out their binoculars on the deck and see what they could see through the gale force winds and and lashing rain. That’s fine. They can do that. But for heavens sake would it kill them to shut the damn door behind them?? Recognising my internal anger rising, and wanting to keep poised and calm and not a total bitch, I gently walked over the the open door and shut it, so that the howling winds would stay outside, and hopefully I could have some sleep. However, returning to Sam, (who was contently curled in his own foetal position, breathing heavily and looking v peaceful) I found that in my 30 second absence a little old lady with a Peter Storm waterproof and heavy duty walking boots had taken my place, leaving me with no room for a lay down and a snooze.
Again, taking a deep breath and and smiling to myself, I rose above it, and took myself back downstairs to buy a cup of tea to warm me up. I spent the remainder of that journey clutching onto that tea, trying to make it last as long as possible and to keep my body temperature just above freezing, whilst eating my “Mutiny Slice” and trying to think of jokes surrounded said boat bought snack.
After 5 hours, on came the tannoy announcement, like the voice of God himself telling us we had reached Tiree, and as the predicted storm hadn’t hit just yet, we were able to dock and to access the island – hurrah!
I woke up Sam and we sleepily headed back to the car deck, where we switched that heating on full pelt, sitting and warming up, waiting to be beckoned off the boat by a ferry staff member.
I’m happy to say that all my melodrama and misery was probably mainly due to the fact that I was tired and cold; as my trip to Tiree turned out to be two amazing weeks.
So, to the set the scene, Scottish Sam, has an older brother, Marti, who runs a small business on Tiree, with his wife Iona. The business is called Blackhouse Watersports, and together they offer lessons in surfing and kite surfing, as well as equipment rental for both sports, as well as kayaking and bike hire.
My plan was to spend a couple of weeks on Tiree, getting to know the family and then on top of that enjoying the delights of a small island with the population of less that 1,000.
During this time, Blackhouse Watersports were also running a Surf and Yoga retreat, meaning there were a good few beginners who I could join in with when learning to surf, in attempt to disguise how terrible I actually am.
But before I even managed to join in a surf class and hide myself, Sam was asking me if I fancied going, just me him, and his ten year old nephew, at one of the beaches; Crossapol.
The weather was howling, the air had an edge of ice to it, and all I wanted to do was lay on a sofa and eat disgusting amounts of cheese on toast on my own. But hey, if I’m getting myself into a relationship with a guy who lives, breathes and would quite possibly eat surf if he could, I must endeavour to be really optimistic about it. Must keep telling self; today freezing nipples off in bitterly cold Atlantic Ocean, tomorrow perhaps catching waves in Costa Rica. Sure.
Sam got out out the car, easily gliding himself into his perfectly fitting wetsuit, fresh from the internet. I was thrown an old wetsuit, handed down through previous ex girlfriends as if some Olympic torch that must keep burning. I jumped out of my clothes, trying to be as enthusiastic as possible, wondering how my ass may look in this wetsuit compared to its previous owners. As it turns out, I needn’t have worried about that part. What became more of an issue was how I was looking just trying to get the damned thing on.
The legs seemed to be ok; it was when we got to the arse / hips vicinity things started to go down hill. My new boyfriend had to hold the folded up material, as I proceeded to jump into it, hoping with each extra bit of force, a butt cheek would slither its way slightly further into the wetsuit. He then tried to help with my arms, and they slowly went in through the holes, and needed peeling up towards my shoulders. At one point halfway, I was stuck, arms outstretched and crossed over, rather similar to a straight jacket, with the zip still wide open at the back, with my two ass cheeks being pushing up and together rather like an ass cleavage, if you will, with the wetsuit doing a great job of acting like a Wonderbra for the buttocks.
After more struggles and unntractive groanings, and mental notes to go on v quick blitz diet, I was finally in the wetsuit. And it fit! Hurrah!! Thoughts of having to swap said wetsuit for XL men’s suit gladly diminished quickly, and I picked up a surfboard, thrust it under my arm, pretended to myself I looked like some kind of surf chic pro, and strutted my foamed neoprene bottom down to the sea.
And cor blimey I was awful. Thankfully though the sea temperature was actually quite bearable on the majority of my body, and my wetsuit was the thickest you can buy, or so I believe. It was just when the water went in my ears, I got flashbacks of drinking Slush Puppies too fast as a child and in turn getting awful brain freeze. However this just felt like somebody had just taken a Slush Puppy and poured it directly into my ears.
After an hour or so of frantically trying to get up on the board, and instead just falling off repeatedly, I thanked Sam for all his teaching help (which in all honesty was really useful, I just so happen to have all the grace of Bambi having done a tab of acid) and let him enjoy some time with his nephew, who was absolutely owning this whole surfing thing, as I returned the car, and gracefully (NOT) removed my wetsuit in the privacy of myself and a very cheery Boarder Collie I found in the car park.
Over the next few days, the winds started to drop and the sun began to shine a little more. Some of the guests from the Surf and Yoga retreat went swimming by the pier and collected a whole load of mussels to bring back for our dinner that night.
Myself, Marti, Iona and Sam, and the River Cottage chef, also called Sam, who was responsible for all the amazing food served at the retreat, spent the afternoon sat in the sun, cleaning the muscles and putting them in fresh water to purge them for the evenings supper. After an hour and a half yoga session, we returned to the accommodation, Island House, where the mussels had been cooked up in a bloody delicious white white and cream sauce, with fresh bread to dip in, heaps of butter and of course heaps of wine.
It was also (my) Sam’s 30th birthday, so his parents came down to the house, along with the nieces and nephew, and we all ate, laughed and drank, until it was time to watch the incredible sunset at the back of the house, over the lake, as swans (quite possibly were ducks but poetic license etc) and their cygnets glided through the glass like water, and a little otter rose its silly little head, and then disappeared again without a trace.
After some awesome views, everyone decided to call it a night, bar myself and Sam, who instead grabbed a bottle of wine and a half finished bottle of whisky and head to the beach, where Sam built a massive bonfire, and we got stupidly drunk and talked absolute rubbish until the early hours. This also led to setting my bag on fire, and not noticing this for a good few minutes.
The thing about Tiree is that it hardly ever gets dark in the Summer. In fact, it has even coined the nickname of “The Sunshine Isle” as it is so far north, it shares the same latitude as Southern Alaska. So it wasn’t until about 2am it finally felt like bedtime, and then unfortunately you want to get up again at about 6 because of the glorious sunshine. However, when it shines there, it really shines, and I managed to achieve one of the best tans of my life, without even trying.
I spent the next few days trying more surfing, going on long walks around the many beautiful white sanded beaches, one of which I was dive bombed at due to angry gulls protecting freshly layed eggs (fair play), and sitting at more campfires on the beaches, drinking port and appreciating the beauty of not being in a God damned city.
Regardless of my first miserable impressions, I loved my two weeks there. I loved the beauty and the simplistic way of life; the fact there were no high streets trying to tempt me out of my money, only one pub and a very basic petrol station to fill up at.
Blackhouse Watersports are running a fantastic business with huts at both Gott Bay and Balevullin to cater for different water activities. We spent the majority of the time down at Balevullin, as a shed has been recently contructed there, creating such a nice focal point to spend the day at the beach at. Its natural materials means it just sits, perfectly blending into place by the sand dunes, and importantly means that there’s some privacy for when I next get into my wetsuit, and don’t want to display the Wonderbra-for-the-Butt idea to the whole island.
Most importantly though, Blackhouse Watersports is a great way for the kids to become more active and to get involved in sports, with free board rental to all children there. The business is an incredible asset to the island, and this combined with about a million and one other reasons, is why I have decided to call it my new home as of next week…