Retreat to the remote Scottish Highlands island of Eilean Shona – a seashore hideaway to recalibrate your life to rest a tired mind and body. By Jacob Little

Nestled in the mouth of Loch Moidart in the Highlands, on Scotland’s West Coast, Eilean Shona (pronounced il-lan show-na, after the Old Norse for ‘sea island’) is situated in a hidden inlet. To the north and west lie Skye and the Hebridean islands, while to the south, on a small piece of rock, sits ruined Castle Tioram, home of the Clanranalds. Scotland is no stranger to isolation, but Shona, an island just two and a half miles long and one a half miles wide, feels truly tucked away in a dreamy landscape of its own.

Like many Scottish islands Eilean Shona has been, and still is, a privately owned holiday hideaway, which is currently owned by the Devereux-Branson family. Its focus is on retreats, with an 18th-century manor house catering for groups, a communal village hall with books, maps, board games, table tennis and WiFi, plus eight small rental cottages that are available on a weekly basis for individual experiences. I’m here on my own to explore a greater connection to the natural world and to discover the mental benefits of slowing right down. I want to establish a relationship with this small, isolated island and its landscape, while consciously, mindfully listening to the environment around me. 

Leaving my car behind on the mainland I step onto the boat at Dorlin Pier to take the five-minute crossing to this secluded space. We dock at the small pier on the south side of the island, the area most protected from the wild Atlantic weather and my journey begins, rucksack on back. A small track ambles past the manor house and its associated boat sheds, outbuildings and dry stores towards a tree-lined dirt road that provides access to the rest of the island.

Purposefully, I begin walking the winding path. My senses are filled with the distant chorus of sea birds and the slow dripping of moisture-laden birch trees, their scent carried on the breeze. I walk to my off-grid accommodation for the weekend, Shepherd’s Cottage, accompanied only by the smoky tang of the coal fires that heat the majority of properties here. It helps to give the whole island a feeling of days gone by – a place unaffected by the pace of the modern world.

The 40-minute walk builds my anticipation for what is to come. The path to Shepherd’s Cottage hugs the coastline and every so often I glimpse other cottages at the water’s edge. There are no signs of people, only the sound of waves lapping the shore and the rumble of distant Highland waterfalls accompany the thudding of my walking boots. As I turn into the nook of a small bay, with a sailing yacht anchored serenely offshore, I spot the Old 
School House. It’s reassuringly remote. JM Barrie rented it in the 1920s while writing Peter Pan, and I instantly see parallels between Eilean Shona and the magical, fictional world of Neverland. Smoke rising over the crest of the next hill, I’ve reached my refuge and am glad of the opportunity to shed my rucksack.

Shepherd’s Cottage looks like the most perfectly placed bothy. It holds commanding views over the western stretches of Shona and on to the Inner Hebridean islands of Muck, Rum and Eigg. A small outdoor seating area is set up around a fire-pit. Inside, the cottage is already warm thanks to the continually burning coal fire and I make myself at home by lighting the paraffin lamps that are the only source of light in the building. 
As you’d expect, the décor is minimal but classically presented, with the Devereux-Bransons’ interest in art is clear, with a number of contemporary pieces on display around the cottage. The three rooms are generously sized, and I’m surprised by how many amenities are available. Cooking takes place on a gas fire and oven, and there is a gas-powered fridge too. I was advised to bring food with me; the cottages are self-catering only and despite there being a small shop on the island, it’s open just two mornings a week and sells very basic provisions only. If cooking isn’t your bag, chef Jill Gosney is based in the nearby mainland village of Acharacle and can deliver homemade dishes to Dorlin Pier each day.

It is already getting dark and the isolation becomes even more apparent. There are no signs of anything that don’t belong to the natural world. It dawns on me that aside from the cottages and the scant infrastructure that has been created here, I am experiencing this island in the most untouched state possible. It must have looked like this for thousands, if not millions of years. I sense the smell, sound and presence of water all around, much more so than on a larger island. Shona’s diminutive size provides constant exposure to the sea.

Shona’s immersive experiences focus on this rare connection to the water, encouraging guests to simply stop, listen and watch, and it’s not long before I’m held captive by this calming principle. There are no cars here, with transport by foot or water the only way to get around. This in itself brings people together as they make the most of the wild. Should you choose to be part of an organised retreat, which run a couple of times a year, you’ll be greeted by experienced guides who curate a course agenda with activities such as guided walks, wildlife- spotting, paddle-boarding, yoga and meditation sessions. Although I’m here on Shona on my own steam, I have access to yoga and meditation books in the village hall, while paddleboards, canoes and boats are available for individual hire. Thoughtfully, each cottage also has a pair of binoculars, meaning it’s easy to head out for a spot of solo wildlife-watching.

Before I do anything else though, my first day is largely a practical exercise in ensuring that the cottage stays warm. The fire needs feeding with coal, the usage of hot water needs to be measured, the paraffin lamps observed to ensure they stay burning brightly, and all doors and windows insulated against the weather. Every action is considered and deliberate and helps clear my head of outside worry and fleeting thoughts. Just keeping the fire warm enough to be comfortable is a calming and liberating experience, and allows me to focus on the reasons for being here, switching off and focussing on the moment. 

The next morning brings grey skies and the calming patter of rain, but familiar with Scotland’s constantly changing weather I tell myself it’ll pass and strike out on a walk around the island. Shona’s only perimeter path is not long but it winds and climbs across every crevice, so it’s a full day out. Clambering past ancient bracken forests and windswept hill-tops, I reach the only sandy beach at Shoe Bay, with its sheltered inlets and gleaming sands. Having walked for a couple of hours, I am happy stopping here. I take out my sketchbook and draw for a while, read my book, then strip off and plunge into the ice-cold sea for a short, breathtaking swim. Afterwards, I sit and watch dark clouds roll past the hills and mountains beyond, a vertical divider between rain and sun. I can’t think of many better places to take a dip.

The next day, I’m told that the best way to appreciate the island’s remoteness is to see it from the water. So I paddle out in a Canadian canoe and get to experience Shona’s peace from a different perspective. It allows me to watch wildlife up close, with herons taking off, seals relaxing on rocks and cormorants hunting for fish. Out on the water, the sense of space and silence is remarkable. The view from the water puts the whole area into perspective. It allows me to be fully within the landscape and in the moment. I reflect on the fact that in our busy lives, this ability to just ‘be in the moment’ is hard to achieve and I resolve to take more time each day to appreciate the space around me.  

At the end of my weekend stay, I walk along the path the other way, back from Shepherd’s Cottage to the pier, ready to be picked up by boat and taken to the mainland. I feel like I’ve left a part of me in the cottage, knowing that the ‘outside world’ awaits me. On the other hand, I’ve developed a new appreciation for just how little I need to be fully content in the landscape. My phone has been switched off, there’s been no television, and I’m blissfully unaware of the latest news. My days have been spent walking, listening, watching and hearing everything around me on the island, and they’ve been all the better for it. I’ve also read an entire book and needed nothing else to be happy. Spending time by and on the sea has been simply enough. 

A meditative walk on Eileen Shona

  • Take a small hand-drawn map with you. From the manor house at the pier, walk the coast path to the right, uphill past the reservoir. As the path winds down to the shoreline and along the north side of the island, stop on the rocks to watch seals and herons and listen to the sounds around you – waterfalls, dripping water and the movement of the sea. 
  • Past Shepherd’s Cottage, take the path uphill and stop here to view the island from its highest point, before wandering down to Shoe Bay beach. It’s easy to lose track of time here. Relax on the white sands before edging back towards where you started. At this point, the path meanders through dense, prehistoric woodland. Again, stop and consider the changing landscape and its wildlife. This is the perfect time to find a quiet spot in the shoreline woodland and swim in sheltered inlets. 
  • On the way back, seek out the village hall for some respite – there is a comfortable seat and an array of both maps and books that will give context to where you’ve walked and what you’ve seen. 


  • The cottage season on Eilean Shona is from March to October; cottages from £950 per week. Call 01967 431249 to book, or go to
  • Organised retreats are held in the Manor House – food and a choice of accommodation options included – from £900. Book at


  • BY CAR. Allow four hours from Glasgow, past Glencoe and into the highlands towards Skye, to reach Dorlin Pier (PH36 4LR). Park on the mainland near the ruin of Castle Tioram, then catch the ferry to the Eilean Shona pontoon – a 15-minute journey – where you will be met and your luggage transported by quad trailer. A free ferry runs on Wednesdays, leaving at 9am, returning at 5pm, if you want to go off-island during your stay.
  • BY AIR or RAIL. Fly to Glasgow from all major airports. The Caledonian Sleeper runs from London Euston to Fort William six nights a week, return ticket on a reclining seat around £100 (twin en suite or double en suite rooms also available). It leaves London at 9pm, arriving the next morning at 10am ( From Fort William it’s an hour’s taxi ride to Dorlin Pier.

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