Argyll Hotel Retreats Iona
The Argyll Hotel is a beautifully decorated and welcoming small owner operated hotel on the tiny Isle of Iona. Many of the rooms enjoy wonderful sea views due to its location, overlooking the Sound of Iona. So what better place to hold retreats. This blog looks at what the Argyll Hotel Retreats Iona has to offer.
Iona is a tiny island that is accessible by ferry from the Isle of Mull and does not allow cars. Free from pollution and traffic it is idyllic for those wanting to get away from it all and nurture the spirit and the soul. Iona’s history is steeped in spiritual visitors and was once a hub for Christian pilgrims and travellers.
Welcoming guests from all over the world the Argyll Hotel caters for groups, retreats, weddings, individuals and provides wonderful food, much of which is grown in the gardens in the hotel’s grounds.
Wendy from the Argyll Hotel took some time to speak with us about the hotel, some of the guests they welcome, how they have coped with the events of 2020 and plans for next year and beyond.
Argyll Hotel’s Horticultural Heritage
An organic garden has been part of the Argyll Hotel’s heritage for 200 years! Two centuries of fine horticulture have meant that they have been accredited by the Soil Association. The garden itself is a bit of a local attraction as it is adjacent to the Nunnery and visible from the ‘Road of the Dead’ on the way to the abbey.
Iona is fortunate to be blessed with soils rich in basalt soils, which when fertilised by the abundance of seaweed that washes up locally, makes for fine growing conditions for the fruit and vegetables that are served in the restaurant. The gardens are also ablaze with colour and filled with a beautiful aroma from the flowers that are grown to sustain the local bee population, also attracting birds, insects frogs and toads.
The Chefs at the Argyll Hotel are key in deciding what is planted in the gardens. This means that menus are planned well in advance so that during the height of the season the dishes include at least one home grown item.
Argyll Hotel Cuisine
To reduce food miles much of the food served is sourced as locally as possible to be able to serve fresh, organic cuisine. This may limit menu choices as the chefs work only with what is in season, meat and fish are provided by local, ethical suppliers. Baking is done on site also using organic ingredients.
Iona is a dream location for getting married and lends itself beautifully to other family celebrations. The Argyll Hotel will work closely with you to make arrangements with local suppliers and make sure your event goes without a hitch, whilst also providing accommodation for those wishing to stay for a few days.
Argyll Hotel Retreats Iona
The Argyll Hotel is ideally placed for those who wish to participate in more soulful pursuits. There is a regular calendar of retreats on offer satisfying a multitude of interests. Poetry, writing, history, art, painting, photography, yoga, spirituality, reflexology are just some of the activities that can be enjoyed with guidance from qualified and passionate mentors.
Here at Positive Hotels, we were so intrigued by this concept of Argyll Hotel Retreats Iona, that we contacted a couple of the organisers to find out more about these events.
Salt and Light Retreat
Salt and Light, an exploration of Celtic Christianity with Kenneth Steven and Kristina Hayward https://kennethsteven.co.uk/
Salt and Light is a 6-night retreat held at the Argyll Hotel on Iona Scotland. It is organised and facilitated by Kenneth Steven and his partner Kristina Hayward. Kenneth is a poet, author and painter who originally hails from Perthshire. Kristina is a passionate photographer documenting Scottish landscape and Kenneth’s work. Together they lovingly plan, shape and deliver the creative pursuits of the week.
Kenneth is a poet who writes prose on his beloved Scottish landscapes and its Celtic Christianity history, Iona being one of his most favourite places.
He has penned a collection of stories, Letting in the Light which is dedicated to his beloved little girl Willow, and many of the poems in its pages were written for her.
Kenneth is also a novelist and painter. His most recent books are Glen Lyon and The Well of the North Wind. Similar to his writing, Kenneth’s paintings are inspired by the wilds of Scotland https://kennethsteven.co.uk/paintings/
Kristina is a keen photographer who is inspired daily by the beauty of Argyll where they reside. Ever changing light that casts new personality to the static landscape every hour of every day leaves no shortage of subject matter.
Travelling with Kenneth as he tours his poetry and novels, Kristina documents their lives for both professional and personal record. Hailing from Sweden, Kristina settled in Berkshire for 29 years before moving to Scotland.
The Iona Retreat
Kristina kindly took some time to talk to me about their Argyll Hotel Iona retreats, before they set off for a much-needed break on the Isle of Gigha. It was quite sad timing really, as Kenneth and Kristina had literally just had to cancel their 2020 stay on Iona due to take place in October, in light of the new rules that had just come into play. This year would have been their 4th year.
Kenneth is somewhat a prophet himself. In 2015 he penned his tale of dystopian Britain after a terrorist attack, entitled 2020. He clearly foresaw this as being a major year for humanity and the backlash a major event would have against politicians and their policies. Eerily accurate.
Salt and Light at the Argyll Hotel Iona
Iona is dear to Kenneth. He has released a book of poetry about the island, along with an accompanying cd soundtrack.
For the last three years Kenneth and Kristina have held the Salt and Light retreat each October at the Argyll Hotel Iona. The retreat welcomes people from all over the world including Canada, America and France, to come together to share their love of history, spirituality and creativity.
The Argyll Hotel has been their venue of choice because of how wonderfully they look after their group and the hotels own guests all at the same time.
Kristina enthuses, “The hotel is wonderful, it is so nice. The food is so good and the staff and owners are absolutely lovely, they really look after us. One year we had been for a walk in the most awful downpour of rain. To come back and have a hot shower, followed by a lovely cup of tea in front of the fire was fantastic. It is a truly special place,” she added, “They manage their own guests alongside us so well, we don’t overshadow their stay and it all blends together.”
Salt and Light Followers
I was interested to find out about the type of people Kenneth and Kristina attract each year.
Kristina recalls “Over the years we have attracted those who are intrigued by Iona from a historic point of view.”
Iona is steeped in history and was a hub for academia, research and Christianity. Kristina told me “Ironically Iona is now a place of tranquillity and peace, but many centuries ago it was quite a busy hub. It was a central stopping point for Christian travellers on their way to Iceland, Ireland and Greenland.”
These tales of ancient travellers are the subject of many of Kenneth’s poems and the time on Iona allows Kenneth and Kristina to enrapture their guests by bringing these tales to life in provenance.
Interestingly Kristina informed me that Iona had been blessed by the introduction of the harp and illuminated manuscripts by travellers from Alexandria. Iona was a magnet for artists, astronomers, druids and had strong links with many Eastern cultures, so many wonderful artefacts would have passed through these shores.
As well as prose, Kristina revealed that Salt and Light also encouraged creativity. “We encourage people to express their creativity in any way they wish. In the past we have made mini prayer books that the monks used to put in their pockets and have made cards from shells collected from the beaches.”
Taking time away from their daily routine is also a major attraction for their attendees. The itinerary is quite informal and includes walks, morning prayer at the Abbey, talks about St Columba and attending the Sunday service. There are also opportunities for solitude and doing their own thing.
Why a Retreat?
I wondered what Kristina’s view of why the Argyll Hotel retreats Iona were so popular was and why many people re-booked with them every year. She told me, “It’s because no-one cares what we do or who we are in terms of education, jobs or status. We are just people who come together and form instant friendships and stay in contact with each other throughout the year.”
There is no denying that Iona has a magical quality about it. Attending a retreat with like- minded people, finding out about its history and culture in such an interactive way, whilst forming bonds and going back to the simplicity of yesteryear for a week is truly nurturing the soul and the spirit. Kenneth’s passion for Iona, its history and Christian heritage are at the heart of his work, what better way to experience this wonderful place than in the company of inspiring and creative individuals Kenneth and Kristina.
Kenneth is due to release his latest book ‘Out of the Ordinary’ any time soon, so keep an eye out for it.
Kenneth has also collaborated with another wonderful writer, Roselle Angwin delivering retreats at the Argyll Hotel in the past. Nowadays Roselle has a fabulous programme that she delivers online and across the UK and Europe.
Roselle Angwin’s Islands of the Heart Writing Retreat
Roselle Angwin lives in Devon and France and is a poet, author, painter, psychotherapist, workshop facilitator and mythologian. Some of her fine work can be found on one of her websites The Wild Ways.
Roselle runs the Islands of the Heart writing Argyll Hotel retreats Iona, which in 2019 was listed in the Telegraph as one of the world’s ten best creative writing holidays.
Roselle brings together her love of creative writing with her training in Transpersonal Psychotherapy (based on Jungian/archetypal thinking) to offer a wonderful fusion of mindfulness, spirituality and creativity.
Roselle explains her ethos thus:
“I believe that the writing process is as much a passionate journey into inner space as it is about reaching an outer creative destination. I believe in the alchemical power of words to forge connection: to oneself, to each other, to the natural world, to creative consciousness and the human potential movement, and to the silence from which words grow; and if these things interest you too, then welcome, friend.”
Testomonials from her participants show that this approach, really shifts individuals creatively and etherally :
Roselle Angwin is a beautiful and caring facilitator, full of good words, for others’ work and her own poetry. I recommend her ability to listen and to relate.’ (Online and Iona course participant; 2018)
…[Your style] was a masterclass in grace, dignity and warmth. Thank you for your alchemy… and for your gold dust, as well as your golden nuggets.’
(Newcomer on ISLANDS OF THE HEART 3 new week in September, Iona, 2019)
The story behind Islands of the Heart
I contacted Roselle to find out more about her Iona retreats and this is what she told me:
“My first visit to Iona was a day trip in the 1980s with a friend, at a time of crisis in my own life. Even though it was only hours, I was certain I’d be back, one day. The friend has since died in an accident; and it was therefore doubly poignant when another friend, author and poet Kenneth Steven, 20 years later, asked if I’d like to co-lead writing workshops on Iona, a place he’d known all his life.
That was 20 years ago now, and Ken and I are still leading writing retreats on the island, though separately now. We both have ‘core’ participants who return year after year, and both of us have new participants each year, too. It seems that people the world over have heard of this tiny island – 3 miles long by one-and-a-half wide – a mere speck in the Atlantic, though also composed of some of the oldest rock on the planet. It is also home to the famous green stones: semi-opaque or translucent serpentine, the search for which becomes a bit obsessive on our ‘silent walking’ day to St Columba’s Bay on the southwest tip of Iona. In towns and cities all over the world, people carry a tiny sliver of Iona about with them in their pocket or bag.
The Thin Place
It’s hard to say what it is about the island. It is what the Celts call a ‘thin place’, where other worlds seem just a step away. It has a long history: with Christianity as the place where St Columba came ashore in the sixth century, though some say it was a Druid teaching centre before that. It was, extraordinarily enough, a stop-off on a major Atlantic seaboard trading route between the Mediterranean and the northern isles in the Bronze Age and likely the Neolithic too. It has a sometimes-turbulent history (with various Viking invasions). It is, of course, the clear air and white sand that means that the ocean is so often lucent turquoise. it’s the abundance of wildlife: gannets, seals, dolphins, otters, occasional sea eagles. It’s the aura of story and poetry that seems to surround the island.
And it catalyses change in people. Somehow, even if you’re not looking, you seem to stumble over the soul’s dwelling place here. I find that people shed a layer of skin – and make a new one. And they write, and write, and write – from the heart.”
Roselle describes the island in such a beautiful way. It is easy to see why her inspirational courses are such a huge hit because the setting and the techniques Roselle employs, really stimulate creativity, kick start ideas and allow participants to surprise themselves what they are capable of achieving. Quite life changing.
Pick Up Your Pen
Here is a list of Roselle’s retreats on Iona for next year
April 12th-19th Poetry (Core Group)
April 21st-28th Poetry and Prose (More Group Poetry and Prose)
1st-8th May Explore, Reflect and Create (Opening up Space Group)
Kenneth and Roselle are certainly inspirational people. So passionate about Iona, spirituality, wellbeing and creativity.
Taking time away from daily life to reflect, develop and learn, particularly after the tough year 2020 has been, seems more important than ever.
2020 has not all been bad, what I have noticed is that a lot of teachers, writers and creatives are turning to the internet to deliver courses, which is a fantastic opportunity for more people to enjoy learning who may not be able to participate in a retreat.
If you are not quite ready to head for a retreat and want to visit Iona for an individual spiritual experience, here are some of the highlights Iona has to offer independent travellers. Also remember to check out the Argyll Hotel as their service is second to none. They really look after their guests all year round.
- Famous beaches with white sand and clear water
- Wildlife such as dolphins, porpoises, otters, corncrake
- No cars so travel by foot and bike in peace
- First fair trade island
- Key component in the history of Christianity when Columba settled there – visit St Columba’s Bay, see relics, stone crosses, paintings by the creatives.
- St Oran’s Chapel
- Iona Nunnery
- Staffa – visit Fingal’s Cave – a hexagonal basalt rock formation similar to Giant’s Causeway
Argyll Hotel Iona Future Plans
Finally, Wendy spoke to me about how they have found the tumultuous 2020 season. Wendy told me that it has been quiet as they had to close for many weeks. Since re-opening they have had to adapt quickly to the ever-changing rules that Covid-19 has brought to the industry. They have been busy when they have taken guests as they have had to multi-task more than ever due to being short staffed.
Wendy and the team are not being downhearted though and are already planning 2021. Wendy is keen to be able to facilitate more events locally by making use of the soon to be re-opened Iona Village Hall which is undergoing a state-of-the-art refurbishment. They would also like to extend their retreat offerings.
If you are a therapist, artist, writer, spiritual teacher then call Wendy at the Argyll Hotel as they are keen to put on more inspirational and creative events.
Phone 01681 700334, Wendy will be able to advise you if you are new to holding retreats or it is a new direction for your creative business.