I found great hospitality in Scotland. I had the chance to visit family near Glasgow and was so well looked after, with great generosity and kindness. It was a rare chance to spend time with and catch up on the arrival of babies and an imminent wedding.
I then headed for the journey North via train and boat to Mull, a beautiful island off the west coast of Scotland in the Hebrides.
I had signed up as a volunteer to offer practical help at an outdoor centre working on their vegetable garden. The centre is called Camas and is run by the Iona Community to offer a safe haven for individuals to experience community and the beauty of nature in this part of the world.
The adventure started with an amazing bus ride from the ferry for an hour through stunning scenery of wild moorland and mountains, where I hopped from one seat to the next taking photos.
I arrived slightly dazed at a small lay-by in, what seemed, the middle of nowhere where I was greeted with a welcoming hand shake from Jon the site manager and other staff waiting with wheelbarrows – the journey had not quite ended!
What amazed me was the number of people that were starting to congregate. Along with 4 fellow coach travellers, a bright yellow minibus screeched to a halt and out poured another 20 or so people who would be volunteering, some wearing kilts and others with blue hair. A little daunted at first, I realised this was going to be a memorable week!
After loading bags onto wheelbarrows we trekked and trundled along a narrow wooden track across boggy ground for around a mile away from the road and arrived at a remote bay with several stone quarry men’s houses. This is where the name Camas came from, meaning North Bay in Scottish Gaelic.
The accommodation was totally off grid. We had hot water if it was windy and the only lighting other than in the kitchen was by candlelight. This was the start of a great chance to get back to basics and enjoy fresh air, forging new friendships and having a lot of fun.
The set up was simple, every meal was homemade using local produce and vegetables from the garden where possible. Proper Scottish porridge and warm scones for breakfast, soup and hand made bread for lunch. All vegetarian and totally delicious.
The signal to gather was the clanging of metal on a large land-bound anchor. Everyone ate together, which was such a fantastic way to talk and meet one another. Each meal began with a small pause – it could be simply a great stretch in the morning, or a minute to admire the sunrise.
The day then got started with a range of tasks – from daily chores such as washing up to music to constructing a boulder wall to prevent erosion of the garden to getting thoroughly wet and muddy digging ditches or working in the vegetable garden weeding or collecting seaweed as a mulch to put goodness back into the soil.
It’s incredible how much work was achieved working as a team with
so many willing people. It was really satisfying and brought people together.
Along with working hard there was also time to play. We had the opportunity to abseil and rock climb. It was brilliant to watch a Glasweigan roofer called Davey climb with such finesse and skill and reach the top of a very tricky bit of rock. We also got to walk or splash our way over the moor and discover Market Bay in the sunshine, a beautiful secluded sandy beach. I paddled whilst several hardier people stripped down and ran and surfed in the freezing Scottish waves. These people are tough! We played football and frisbee, chased by Chilli – the Staffordshire bull terrier and generally soaked up the wonder of the place.
We were also treated to a day trip to Iona, the sister island to Mull. From the isolation of Camas this place felt like a metropolis with a handful of tourists and locals busying themselves. A group of us walked to Iona Abbey which was restored and now has a thriving Celtic Christian community. I soaked in the peace and atmosphere. We then headed to the beach and were greeted with a scene that felt like it should be in a travel brochure. The sky and sea were soft blue and the sand pure white. It was hot enough to sunbathe in a bikini, Scotland is amazing in all weathers, but especially in the sun.
The people I met at Camas, their stories and the sense of community we forged will be the memory that remains with me. It was a privilege. It also taught me to go beyond appearances and background and give people a chance. We were such an eclectic mix but somehow we became family by sharing life, work and laughter together.
I met a singing bus conductor with big hair, Glasweigans from the Gorbals who were so lovely and taught me plenty of new swear words, a gorgeous couple and student from Edinburgh, a wonderful pastor from Chicago on sabbatical, a nurse from Italy, a carer from Germany….so many wonderful people from around the world and all walks of life.
The last night ended with a meal, entertainment and room decoration prepared by us all. The whole evening had a pirate theme and included a game called “the black spot”, where a forfeit was given to the person in possession of a black piece of paper. We all attempted sneaky moves to pass it on to someone else. I ended up with it and put it in a ladle used for dishing out dessert. My plan worked and an unsuspecting victim got more than just chocolate sauce! The night ended with jokes being told around a campfire on the beach. Fantastic.
The same sense of community and camaraderie on Mull I was soon to find later in my travels walking on the Camino de Santiago…but that is for another post.