Skye Bridge Studios 123

Arts & Learning Centre | Kyle of Lochalsh

Part of the Skye Bridge Experience

After the team at Skye Bridge Studios invited me to write a blog on an inspiring local woman, following the event I attended there for International Women’s Day,  I knew I wanted to write about Lis Phillips as I’m a keen kayaker and fiddle player like her and have been inspired by her throughout the years. 


I went to see Lis in March, at her house in Breakish. It was the perfect place to be as we were surrounded by nearly all the things we spoke about! Her polytunnel and garden were just across from us, we were close to the sea where she kayaks, her bee hives were further down the garden. The only thing we weren’t close to was the hospital where she worked… 


Lis recently retired from being a nurse in Broadford hospital. She trained in Glasgow, after doing an undergraduate degree in Gaelic and History in Aberdeen. One of her first experiences of the profession was as an auxiliary nurse in an operating theatre in Aberdeen. She thought she would be somewhere in the distant background but, on her first day, was instead in the operating theatre handing the surgeon equipment! However, that didn’t put her off and she decided to do a postgraduate nursing course in Glasgow. The degree was shortened so they didn’t get as much practical experience but she’s certainly made up for it since then, working with organisations from Crossroads Care to the NHS to Marie Curie.


Before Lis moved away to Aberdeen, she lived with her parents and four siblings on the Isle of Mull. It was here where she first discovered her love of kayaking. ‘There’s something about that perspective you get being so low down on the water, isn’t there? It’s really special. That ability to creep along the coast and get into places nobody else can get.’ But it wasn’t always so peaceful! Lis used to go out fishing in the Sound of Mull with her brother on the family’s double kayak. ‘The boat always used to leak, so if you put a fish in the bottom of the boat, they sometimes came alive again and started flopping about!’ On her return to the Western Isles, she began to kayak again and is now an instructor for the South Skye & Lochalsh Kayak Club.


‘I found an ancient diary recently and it said I wanted to be a nurse and live on the west coast of Scotland on five acres of land.’ We looked around us… This was it! Lis moved up to Skye in the mid 1990’s with her husband, John, and their three children after having lived in and around Glasgow for years. Both she and John already knew they liked the Hebrides, Lis’s sister already lived here and John had recently got a job as a ranger with the Highland Council, so the move just made sense. One of the benefits of living on Skye was the ability to become a crofter and have a big garden like she did growing up on Mull. ‘In the summer I’ve got carrots, beetroot, tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, asparagus, raspberries, blackcurrants…’ However, she told me that sometimes in the winter she wonders why they even have the garden - it’s so much work and they could just cover it up with gravel! ‘Then it’s almost a physical thing. Like sap rising within you. The notion that you have to sow some seeds comes back…’  They also have seventeen Hebridean sheep (kept mostly for wool) and a brood of chickens as well as two hives of native black bees - given to Lis by a neighbour. In the middle of summer, there are around 50-60,000 bees in each hive! I know nothing about bees so Lis shared some of her bee-keeping knowledge with me… Did you know that the queen bee can lay up to 1000 eggs per day in the summer!? After we spoke about this newer interest of Lis’s, we discussed something that has been part of her life for much longer… playing the fiddle.


Lis has been playing the fiddle since she was seven - when she began getting lessons in school. Her practice slowed down as a teenager but she was inspired later on by trips to Shetland to visit her sister. She’s now part of the folk club and the Breakish band. ‘It’s amazing to think, when you’re sitting in the house with ten incredible musicians that they’re all from the same village!’


Finally, I asked Lis who has been an inspiration to her in life so far. To begin with, she told me that musicians have been a great inspiration to her and she’d love to be certain musicians (like Louis Armstrong) for a day ‘Just to get inside their head and feel how their fingers work…’ Another great inspiration has been her parents who ‘created an amazingly happy home; full of ridiculous adventures!’ She told me how they used to go on camping holidays in their land rover - the seven of them, with two cats, two dogs, and once even a sparrow! Her parents had been missionaries in Madagascar before Lis was born and took their four children under the age of six on a boat to Madagascar. They were very adventurous and ‘can-do’. ‘Dad always used to say he learnt far more from the Madagascan people than he ever taught them - he was hugely respectful of their culture and belief system.’ Finally, she told me how legions of her patients as a nurse were incredibly inspiring - especially how families knitted together and coped with the situation. ‘I was meeting people, sometimes young people, whose lives were suddenly drawing to a close. I think seeing how they dealt with that and what was meaningful to them has made me just want to appreciate every day.’

Annie Wilson

Annie Wilson is a keen young writer who aspires to be a published author one day. She is studying at Portree High School and hopes to read English at University.  She believes strongly in equality and loves the idea of a blog to highlight local inspirational women, feeling it’s important to look to inspiring role models in our own community.

Registered Charity : SKYE BRIDGE STUDIOS 123. SC051841

Sign up to our newsletter to keep up to date and hear about our events.

Sign Up