NIKKI KANE: Self-Directed Residency, 2014

I think it began with departure, not arrival. I arrive on the Eigg after a beautiful train journey from Glasgow to Mallaig the day before, and a couple of hours on the ferry over. After a warm welcome from Eddie and Lucy, I finally carry my enormous bag to the bothy. It has been so thoughtfully designed and feels like grown-up den, cosy and with an incredible view across the water to Rum.


My first full day on Eigg takes on a few surprises. Deciding to take advantage of the unexpected sunshine, I walk down to Laig Bay to read on the beach, but instead of the peaceful afternoon I planned, I am asked to clear the beach by someone from the Royal Navy Bomb Disposal Unit. It turns out that an old World War II mine has been buried on the beach with some recent weather washing away some sand to make its shape more visible and these guys had travelled over to dismantle it. I wander off, hearing explosions echoing around the rocks.

Later, after bumping into Lucy, we drive over to the tearoom at the pier for a large community meal with a seven course taster menu of local food for Hebridean Larder. I meet some lovely people and hear stories of how people came to live on Eigg, and eat delicious small plates of mussels, spoots and rabbit.

I settle into my own bothy routines, filling flasks with boiled water, showering quickly when there are glimpses of morning sun, and cooking in the fire. Everything slows down – there is no sense of urgency or commitments, building the fire and cooking dinner is slow, and I stop looking at clocks altogether to try and shake my usual markers. I enjoy the openness this presents but realise just how much the obligation of busy-ness and of productivity is ingrained – I just can’t quite rest. Even in the middle of reading from Dee’s wonderful Walking Library I feel the need to do something and find myself checking on the fire again, re-arranging kindling to dry, re-filling flasks.

But I also manage to do some ‘brain dumping’, considering ideas and scribbles, and tape up sheets of paper to the bothy walls to write out notes and see things in front of me and am able to make connections between things that were jumbled before. I also spend a lot of time reflecting on some of my thoughts on experiences and layers of landscape, and of space and place. In the bothy and while walking on Eigg I consider the shapes and patterns of these layers, noting these and tracing shapes from the landscapes, maps, and walks.

My week on Eigg was dry and fair and I was lucky to miss the rain and mud previous dwellers experienced. I pay Laig Bay another visit, enjoying the peaceful, empty beach and collecting views across the water, and patterns and formations in the sand, and colour in rock and moss. During the week, the balance of conversations and encounters with others on the island and the quiet time on my own seem to just fit. The bothy feels private and comfortable sheltered in the landscape and I enjoy feeling a bit remote. I am reminded of this one night in bed when i wake briefly in the middle of the night. Looking out the of window next to the mezzanine bed and in my half-asleep state I get a bit of a fright and think I am seeing things when I see the clear sky cluttered with stars. As I happily remember where I am in my little bothy far away from the city, I fall back asleep.

I like to think about the bothy as home to many different artists, and to think about how it gathers these experiences and the traces that each dweller leaves. It also seems like each bothy visitor left much in the wayof food supplies – and I think that are probably enough porridge oats to feed the whole island for a while. I decide to extend an invitation for breakfast in the bothy and on my second last day cook a large pot of porridge for a morning round the table with stories over a bowl. We chat about breakfast toppings, airports and stories of secret-keeping on an island with porridge spiked with homemade Bailey’s, kindly made that morning and brought along by Ben.

When it is time to leave the bothy and catch the boat back to the mainland for the journey home, I have that mixed feeling of being ready to return and wanting to stay for just a bit longer, but I feel like I got what I needed from my time on Eigg and am already planning to return before I even leave.