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More notes from Iona


Kate Walters


During 2015-2016 Kate Walters had a residency on Iona, spread over three separate visits. Some of the notes she made there are in the Guillemot Press publication 'Iona Notebooks'. Others are featured below.





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In the old days they would swim horses across the sound to Iona. Men in boats urged them to cross the watery pass. 

Maybe basking sharks circled slowly, wide-mouthed dusky horses of the dreamÖ

Iíve not seen a horse on Iona during my visits. 

I've walked the narrow roads silently, softly shod, listening for their hoof beat, a magical inner call. 

Horses were dream visitors to me, and I found mention of one in a book on St. Columba. Near the end of his life, a grey horse came to St. Columba and pressed its head against his chest, and wept bitter tears, knowing he would soon die. The horse had knowing which the Saint recognised, but other humans did not.

Most days when I stayed on Iona I would walk to the North beach. I'd heard a seal pup had been seen down there. I went to look for it, and I found it amongst the rocks, dry on one side, wet on the other as the tide lapped against its flank. I kept my distance and watched it, but I was worried that no parent seemed to be around, or any other seals at all.

A few days later I went to the beach and spied an unusual shape near the rocks. A sickening knowing washed over me:  down on the sand a gathering of hooded crows flopped up and down around the shining white body, like a dark grey wave.

As I grew closer the circling birds flapped away. Their feet had made a sort of agitated halo around the slight, scrawny seal pup.  I had gone down to the beach with baskets and a fork to gather seaweed for the garden. I abandoned my task for an hour to attend to the seal. I sat beside it and wrote for it:


Little slim skull

Speckled grey babe

Silver black and senseless

The crows make sky of your eyes,

and dance a halo for your organs.

I sit hunched in the cold wind and weep for you

Morsel of life

how tenderly you lie

Gentle palm limp on sand - flat, shining, pearly claws empty,

flippers folded flat,

Skull a tiny cathedral, a pink Heaven.




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Most evenings - which began at 4 pm Ė I would walk or cycle to the church where I sat in darkness writing and drawing...with closed eyes and my left handÖ.Iíd have to dress in waterproofs from head to toe, and Iíd often stop at the only place you could get a signal, and have conversations overheard by sheep and fuchsia, looking over silver water to purple mountains, watching great geese coming into land, silently.


Vessels glide

Ice and blood

Stone juice

Touches me,

Palm of my hand.



Throat song

Filigree washes of saliva

Iím bone bird blowing,

Bud breathing sea -



But listening ears

Walk the shore,

bring it closer.

My hearing travels,

flies over grass to the edge.


Carry it here, even to the chapel floor, dark tide, salt-scented, birdy.






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One day a man brought a plastic tray of fish for supper. I watched as women gathered in a circle around the fish. Amazed at the beauty and strangeness of the lobsters (which I have only eaten once, my father bought one just before he died)   Ö..I wrote about the lobsters.

When blue legs tap

which world responds?

Your ultramarine pins are thin, hard, cool.

Blue legs little tubes of night sky, deep sea darkness you rattle in my world

A visitor you, one afternoon amongst womenís voices, a manís hands and pale sun.

Strapped here in a plastic tray,

With your barrel-red body and your knowing of other worlds, I am sad for you.





Words written on the North beach just before dusk, January.


Sun teat failing

cloud wrapping dark sea


Heart Tree has sandy veins, is loveless.


Mountain thread beyond, hints of aeons woven in light



Sun tower strikes sea


White bird swallows eye, swallows me;

Rain taps, taps

Sea sucks, roars;               


Curling wing

                     saluting violet

                                    Indigo balm

Pink stream

                   Yellow song

I missed you


Central stem, queen of moss and planting

My feet are in touch.









All Saint's Day


Bud kite-like holds fast,

wind arm guiding Motherly flight.

Walking across empty stretch of bog, otterís place,

I find a duck skull from an eider; 


Sun tongue warms  mountain

black eagle gathers stones and shells for me.


Feathery channel

Guide my feet to river web, body mouth

In cups I walk on stones.


Heron asleep in the West

At the beach 

At the back of the ocean.



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Seal woman. Sketchbook drawing.






Of a very loving little brown dog, young; I felt intense love for him

and I was flying high up along a woody path, outside a town, and then I turned around and flew back, and lots of other people, souls, unseeing, were flying past me going the other way - to the land of the dead?



Of an old lover, we found each other. My parents were there with objects like bone china and smoke, sage, drum; and a very large grey cat, and he lay on me, and spoke of his children, his wife. His face was pale, his eyes orange. Spirit Lover for the night. He looked into my eyes.



Of a man on a hill with golden hands. He was standing like a sentinel at the croft, the hollow of the otter.



Of the man who made soup of stones gathered from the beach on Iona. The soup was for the world. I had some, it was like milk.