THE PRIVATE Scottish island of Eilean Shona on the west coast of Scotland – the inspiration for Neverland in JM Barrie’s Peter Pan – is opening the newly converted Old Schoolhouse to its first guests from Easter 2016.
Now a boutique, two-bedroom idyll, it was originally the long-gone island community’s school. It is here, during summer holidays taken on the island in the 1920s, that JM Barrie took inspiration from the magical surroundings to create the screen adaptation of Peter Pan. Following a full year’s restoration, the much-loved derelict outpost on the remote north shore has been transformed into an uber-romantic bolthole for two (or four) by the hotelier and founder of the Marrakech Biennale, Vanessa Branson (sister to Richard) and philanthropist Robert Devereux. The result is a jaw-dropping hideaway, completely off-grid – there is no electricity, Wi-Fi or mobile phone signal – which combines splendid isolation with no-expense-spared comfort.
The peaceful location of the Old Schoolhouse is wonderfully isolated, over a mile along the North Channel coast path and a 45-minute walk from the jetty where guests disembark. Nestled in a valley with a secluded bay, it has glorious views out to sea. Reputedly frequented by the island owner’s wife in the 19th Century as a sanctuary from her children, the house retains its form as an adult-only escape where couples can unwind and absorb themselves in each other and the natural surroundings.
It was only through chance correspondence with the prodigious film director/producer Joel Coen that the current owners came to appreciate that the Old Schoolhouse is in fact a design classic by the hand of acclaimed Highlands architect, Alexander Ross, and worthy of painstaking renovation. It has taken over a year to refit the house, requiring transportation of building materials on to the island by barge, the nearest hardware shop being 47 miles away, across the sea. The fruit of this labour is brand new floorboards, tongue and groove panelling, skylights cut into the south facing roof, and contemporary glass doors which flood the interior with natural, draught-proof light. Two ‘wet backed’ wood burning stoves keep the open-plan sitting room/kitchen warm and provide lashings of hot water for the double-ended, roll top Victorian bath, while the outdoor shower is ideal for hearty swimmers.
As with the six other cottages and the main house, all available for rentals, the interiors are an utter delight: Vanessa Branson has used her design flair to create a living space which is both chic and welcoming. Rugs, throws, baskets, pottery, handmade hooks and bathroom fittings have been sourced from Marrakech, where Vanessa owns luxury boutique hotel El Fenn, while John Lewis has been raided for its gorgeous retro kitchenware and Loaf for its contemporary beds (complete with Egyptian cotton bed linen and towels), desks, tables and leather chesterfield sofas; the rest is down to antique shops in Bath. The result is a super-stylish, calming space that mixes the best of contemporary chic with naturally pared-back surrounds.
The five-mile long island boasts 1,300 acres of pristine moor, wild open hills, secluded paths and woodland, and invites visitors to disconnect from the outside world and turn back the clock to a slower, gentler pace of life. Ipads, tablets and TVs are substituted by the stunning natural environment and a wooden games hut stocked with ping-pong, board games and books, plus a tally of recent wildlife spotting, with sea eagles, otters, pine martins and seals commonly seen (there is typically more animal than human life on Shona). Dolphins, seals, minke whales and basking sharks can all be seen in the surrounding waters and if, in the unlikely event cabin fever strikes, there is a regular boat to the main land. A local cook can provide hearty dinners to order, and this, alongside the tiny island shop which stocks essentials, will ensure nobody goes hungry.
Eilean Shona is reached either by air or rail from Glasgow, which is a three-hour drive through the Highlands to Dorlin Pier where the island boat will pick guests up for the five-minute crossing. Alternatively, arrive by sleeper to Fort William, which is an hour’s drive away or, for a more dramatic entrance, by helicopter.
Prices: One week’s rental of the Old Schoolhouse costs £1,250 including return transfers to the mainland. Available from 26 March to the end of October.
One week’s rental of the main Eilean Shona House costs between £8,000 to £10,000, depending upon season, including return transfers to the mainland (under occupancy reductions are available, so too are three-night short breaks in low season).
For more information and bookings contact Eilean Shona eileanshona.com, +44 (0)1967 431249.