the enchanted isles
The Shiant Isles are a constant in my day, when the Minch mists allow. When I look out through any of my windows, my eyes are drawn to the far distance and the Shiants are always there, an enigmatic, yet compelling outline on the horizon. Often, they are merely a darker silhouette, delineated against the further, hazier Isles of Harris and Lewis, behind them. But their presence, steady and true, on that baseline of the horizon, is what my eyes seek first thing in the morning, as I wonder what the day might hold.
Their name apparently derives from the Irish Gaelic ‘séanta’, meaning ‘consecrated’, ‘hallowed’ or ‘charmed’, and in Scottish Gaelic are Na h-Eileanan Seunta, meaning ‘holy’ or ‘enchanted isles’.
All of these islands, just off-shore, encourage the interplay of light and water as, most days, sunshine melts into mists and cloudbursts, with slivers of light slicing through the air onto the shimmery water below.
Some days, the form of the Shiants can barely be discerned through veils of mist which part from time to time, allowing only glimpses of a bleak, grey outline, above very little detail. There is a dance of light and vapour over sea, constantly folding, unfolding, forever teasing the eye that it will soon reveal mysteries, then withdrawing, withholding once again… cajoling you into believing that if you just looked for long enough….
But on a bright, clear morning, you can sense the power of this island fortress - it reveals its strength and forceful mass as the sunlight articulates the impressive curtain of giant columns five hundred feet high and half a mile long, on its easterly side.
This place by the sea is about horizontals. The horizon. That baseline is rarely obscured by man up here, his presence, his vertical structures…. and it is always low, and the skies vast, here, on the coast. The Shiants, in their rugged, fierce isolation are like a defiant rocky fist of an islet thrusting its way up through the waves, interrupting that visual plane.