Let’s escape to Neverland. “A wild rocky romantic island it is too”, J.M Barrie wrote of it. “it almost taketh the breath away to find so perfectly appointed a retreat on these wild shores.”
Eilean Shona review, Loch Moidart, Scotland
Peter Pan’s fictional island home, inhabited by mermaids and threatened by pirates, may only be reachable in your imagination, but you can come pretty close to finding Neverland on Eilean Shona, the small Scottis/h island that inspired Barrie’s story of the Boy Who Never Grew Up. This tiny, car-free slice of land sits off the west coast of Scotland – and this was where Barrie spent a balmy summer in the 1920s writing and exploring, and where he found the inspiration for Peter Pan as he wandered the island’s pine groves and rocky coast with Michael Llewelyn Davies and his brothers, the original Lost Boys. These days, anyone can journey to Eilean Shona by boat to stay off-grid and reconnect with the wilder world. I travelled to Neverland to see if escaping the madding wifi signal is really the route to mindfulness.
Eight cottages are hidden away on Eilean Shona, all in their own glades or little valleys, their windows facing the mercurial ocean. They may have magical views, coal fires and big cosy beds, but most don’t have electricity or heating, let alone wifi and Netflix accounts. You feel you’ve arrived in a simpler time when you step onto Eilean Shona (the island’s name means Sea Island). Seals loll on rocks, red deer hide in bracken and eagles circle in the distance. And once you’ve stepped off the boat from the mainland, there’s no return – you’re on the island until the return journey in a week’s time. There are no vehicles or proper roads here – to reach your cottage, you follow grassy tracks and coastal paths that snake around the island’s hidden corners and rocky coves.
When we arrive at the Shepherd’s Cottage, once a crofter’s home, it feels cold and dark – we’re so unused to houses where the heating doesn’t instantly click on and electric lights don’t illuminate all corners. But soon we get used to how things work on Eilean Shona. Gas lamps cast a cosy warm glow in the sitting room and the wood stove, fed often with logs, soon warms up the little cottage’s four rooms. By nightfall, the fire has been burning long enough that it heats the pipes, and we can have candlelit baths in warm(ish) water coloured caramel by the peaty soil it runs through. That night, in the pitch-black, a stag makes bizarre deep bellowing calls outside our bedroom window.
It’s amazing how quickly you can succumb to a slower pace of life. Once we’ve been for a walk around the island, my first feeling is a strange wave of boredom – I’m so used to checking my phone, tapping on my laptop or making to-do lists that I feel rudderless without wires and cables. But instead, I read books, tend to the fire, cook on the gas stove, go on more hikes in the fresh cold air. My body finally gives in – and as my shoulders unclench and my mind clears, I realise how much tension I’ve been carrying around with me in daily life.
Living off-grid forces you to slow down and makes each day simpler, but somehow fuller. There’s a calming routine to feeding a fire, eating by candlelight, patiently waiting for the reward of a hot bath, going to sleep soon after it gets dark and being woken by the morning light. And exploring the island – packing a flask and walking the coast path, or just sitting on the jetty looking out at sea – is endlessly rewarding. One morning we pull a canoe down to the water and paddle so silently that we suddenly come across a colony of seals. They dive off their rocks and pop up close to our canoe to see what creatures we might be. As we watch them swim lazily around our boat, I realise that since we arrived on the island that these seals call home, we’ve been living in the moment almost as much as they do.
You can’t stay on Neverland forever, of course. But escaping to Barrie’s favourite island has made me realise that time away from screens and deadlines can be a real balm for the soul.
Stay there: A week’s stay in a cottage on Eilean Shona costs from £375 per person, including transport to and from the island by boat.