Magical Moniack Mohr – a writing retreat sent from Heaven!

Blogpost from a busy Manx songstress

When last we met fair reader, I was chugging across a very calm and sparkling Irish Sea, heading for Cardiff and a spot of rehearsal with Sir Roblet of the Cross (That’s my lovely guitarist for those who have no idea what I’m talking about), all in aid of a one-off concert just outside Stavanger, Norway – about which we were both very excited. We spent a delightful couple of very hot and sunny days, (inside mostly!) feverishly remembering what it was we used to do. Well at the very least, we were trying to remember the songs from our last tour which was distressingly, well over a year ago! Eek! We were pleasantly surprised to find that only a light jogging of our memory banks was all it took to release those pesky songs back into our strange, often sticky, brain retrieval systems. It’s never less than a mystery to me every time I come to re-member my musical adventures but somehow it works.

All the while a groundswell of nervous tension began to build, though I can say, with some alacrity, I managed to quell my natural fears relatively well, with full immersion therapy … into Series Three of Game of Thrones! There’s nothing quite like a bit of sword slashing, bodice ripping and dragon scorching to take your mind off scary things. The source of this rising tension oh wise reader? Fear of the unknown! No, not some existential angst-ridden soul search but a simple invitation received last June from Monicak Mhor Writers Centre, in the Scottish Highlands. Steve Tilston (yes really, the man, the musical legend!) and myself were asked to co-host a five day (f.i.v.e. days!) residential Songwriting Retreat at this magical centre, nestled beautifully in breath taking countryside just 15 miles outside Inverness.

When the invitation came I think we both thought: “Oh yeh that’ll be fine. We’ve got loads of time to prepare.” It turned out our preparation became several panicked Skype sessions with me in LA and Steve in Hebden Bridge with less than three weeks to go … muttering: “Erm … well what if we …?” Followed by numerous typing sessions to pool our creative but scattered thoughts. Turns out that’s a perfectly good, dare I say legitimate way (?) of getting these things together.

Before facing one of my darkest fears, (one of my inner tapes/taunts has been: But I don’t know anything!) I had to somehow get myself from Cardiff to Inverness by train – on a Sunday 😦 In the end I booked a train at silly O’clock from Cardiff Central, followed by a taxi ride from Paddington to King’s Cross and a fairly civilised 8 hour jaunt straight through to the Highlands. I was so relieved not to have to change trains seven times (that was the only option the train website had churned up for me!) once we left King’s Cross, that the 8 hour east coast schlepp was almost fun.


To end this rather lengthy journey, I was met at Inverness train station by a delightful taxi driver named Gordon. He kept me, weary though I was, highly entertained  all the way to Moniak Mhor’s lovely doors. I was the first to arrive and the only one staying at the little cottage that night though I wasn’t entirely alone. Paraded below my bedroom windows were a scattered patchwork of yurts and tents all gathered round the footings of an eco friendly soon-to-be Writer’s Roundhouse. It looked like a tiny Festival site, complete with long-haired, colourfully clad, very friendly hippies. I was glad of their presence but too tired to even think of joining them for a “wee dram” before bed though I was grateful for the invitation. When complete, it will look wonderful and would-be writers will be graced with spectacular, uninterrupted, views, of  lush landscape and distant misty mountains. It certainly will be an exciting and inspiring addition to the Centre.

I slept. Hurrah. I didn’t think I would! And met some of the Centre’s lovely organisers the following morning round the kitchen table in the main building a few short steps from the cottage Steve and I occupied for the duration of our stay. The main house was a once rickety, single-story cowshed-turned-substantial-two-story building, complete with gorgeous work-space-cum-dining-room and enough bedrooms to comfortably house 14 students. I was made to feel immediately at home and given such kindness and respect that I totally forgot to be scared.

Students began to appear after 2pm and Steve arrived around 3.30pm – and I was very glad to see him! It seems almost laughable now, after a week of working so well together but apart from a very brief introduction at the end of a charity concert we both performed at 15 years ago, we were relative strangers before that 3.30pm moment! Life can be fabulously weird and wonderful at times – n’est pas?

I won’t go into great detail about the daily three hour workshops, private one-to-ones, creative adventures and attack of the horse-flies (only I was bitten mercilessly by the way!); or wax lyrical about our diligent, inspiring, motivated, courageous students; nor mention the fabulous food, camaraderie, wilderness walks, nightly sing-along sessions and awe inspiring star filled northern skies, which only gave into full darkness after 11pm. But will say that it was one of the most inventive, confidence building, memorable weeks of my life. I learnt so much and will continue to do so long after the farewells and joy of new friendship has faded.

Bob came to Moniack Mhor for the last evening’s festivities and slotted right into the bad joke telling and bawdy banter as if he’d been there

The gang and me!

the whole time! That’s my Bobby 🙂

After many hugs and tears, smiles and reminders to keep in touch, Bob and I finally drove off towards Aberdeen, happy to be reunited and full of gratitude for the life we live.

As if all this wasn’t exciting enough I still had a gig to do in NORWAY! But that dear reader is another post yet to be writ.

For now I’ll say au revoir and thanks for dropping by. Your patience, time and enthusiasm is always much appreciated.

    Till next time …
Love and light
Christine x

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