Iona 2018 Highlights...

I have just come home very inspired from my latest IONA Writers’ Retreat. What a fantastic group! I felt so lucky to be there with them on that magical island. What is it that brings out such amazing writing, prose and poetry, from beginners, and those who have been writing for many years? One writer just began from a standing start, pretty well, and astonished us all with her work. Maybe we plumb into some deep spring of creativity which the island brings us as a gift, or maybe the companionship of like-minded souls, in such a setting of beauty, lifts us all to new heights. Or maybe it is all that and more. In twenty years, I have never yet worked it out, but it is wonderful to be there and to share it with such a great company.

Here you can enjoy some of the work and some great photographs from the group attending this May’s IONA Retreat. We have another Retreat happening in September (1st-6th) which is pretty full, but if you are prepared to stay out of the hotel, you are welcome to come. See my brochure on the website...


In they fly, wing-heavy

with cloud, salt

and storm: corncrakes,

swift and swallows

drawn back, following

the old ways to this island –

their nesting ground.

Generations of pilgrims

have journeyed

to this sacred place,

like the visitors I see now

swarming off the ferry, bowed

down, pulling suitcases,

burdens too heavy.

Iona opens her arms,

nourishes, answers their prayers

in a whisper of waves, skin-

smooth pebbles, ever-changing sky,

then casts her spell,

sets them free,

light as fledglings.

Kerry Darbishire

A Million Years Beneath my Feet

Cumbria to Iona

Safely in my seat, the train pulls out across Cumbria: Whinfell sitting back, Howgill’s proud shoulders, Eden valley soaked in early morning mist. I pity the trees, cold, swaying their stark bones, and hedges unbudded, daffodils losing their blooms to May. From my window, drear meadows lie in wait, towns pass a-blur, light switches from sad to happy to sad. How only last week I lost a friend and never said goodbye. Silver-threaded rivers flicker like the underbellies of swallows weaving in and out of coppices. I change easily at Glasgow for Oban. At Dalmally the train stops. Fort William passengers disembark. The sky has opened to zircon blue.

Station of flowers gingham-laid tables and chairs

a dog sleeps in sun.

My weary body could stay right here dreaming of gardens and tea, but the train growls and windows blink once more at houses, wood-smoke, lambs just born. I buy biscuits and coffee, read Mary Oliver. Sap is rising. A hillside of trees

wild women at their losses wrists bearing lichen

As if wearing amulets will hold back neighbouring gangs of blackthorn bearing down like the night-dark thickets I feared as a child. I wish I could lose these old shadows, this seat, I wish I could fly, skim lochs towards the sea, to my destination like a migrating bird. Corncrakes will already be there.

Connections are smooth

Glasgow through to Oban bay

the ferry, the bus

The ferry is on time to catch the Mull double-decker. I choose to sit upstairs because I haven’t done this for years. Crags rise like cloaks. Hard to tell sheep from boulders, hunched between gorse – bright cadmium against a Payne’s grey mizzle. I imagine the distant scent of coconut. In another life I pressed my nose into gorse sweet as a pudding.

Through hamlet and hill, bracken fronds will soon unfurl like snakes from stone. There’s trepidation – thoughts of sickness, wanting the loo. The bus swerves gently, narrowly over bridges, draws in at passing places for vans lurching with food and building supplies. Today I leave the past behind.

Ramson bluebells primrose shine in dells like moons and stars in a highland sky

Rain sleets the window, mountains slur to rivers of lead. Snow clings in silent patches to corries unwilling to let go. Today would have been my mother’s birthday. I see Iona ahead, dancing, singing her story, drawing me to her shore.

Kerry Darbishire


This morning I spoke to sheep and seagulls.

Sparrows snatched my words like tail hairs, winged them homeward to weave into nests.

Nests of words to hatch a story, hatchlings of down to sing my song.

The birds of my feather have flown the coop, riding the winds from Iona.

Pens sit idle by the butter, fingers tuning the pegs of life.

Sharp, flat, sharp, flat, will we find our notes?

Will the sparrows call us back, to gather the broken shells,

Of our orphaned words?

Maclaren Scott

In The Arghyll Kitchen Garden – Iona

where the view is clear all the way to the sea,

and a wooden bench sinks into fresh grass,

and new-turned earth lies dark as a ghyll,

we watch blackbirds and swallows skim over

and under the fence like jet planes threading

lemon balm edges embroidered with lime

and yellow. And between the rows of fennel –

purple softening to green, feverfew conjuring

white flowers and sage the colour of distant fells

on a damp day, a song thrush opens her throat

to the island’s ear, sings out her heart, repeats

a chorus crisp as an easterly on a May morning,

and we listen

as if we’ve never heard spring before.

Kerry Darbishire

Leaving Iona

In the time it takes to remember

your warmth on my neck,

the horizon floats in mist

and is gone.

Islands crouch

blue grey lip-sealed

as if at any moment the sun

will strike up conversations

release scents fastened long ago.

Silver thread cuts land from sea

catches a few sails –

shavings in sunlight.

Music spills in a wake of notes

I know, furrows white keys

to black, and there you lean,

eyes closed

melting into the dusk hour

thinking no one’s listening,

but I hear your rocky shore clear

as the moon tide’s rise and fall

reeling us out of the bay.

Kerry Darbishire