Design Thinking Life

Creating community around coffee and art

There are times when you stumble across something really quite special.

In the middle of a break on the Isle of Skye, Avril and I rounded a corner on a single track road in  and instantly recognised a wooden house which was featured on the TV show Grand Designs.  I’m going to try to explain what happened next…


The house is stunning but our attention was drawn to the small studio behind the main house and the sign on the fence… Single Track Art & Espresso.  It was that time of the day when a coffee seems like the best idea in the world but art and coffee in a brilliantly designed building…  what’s not to like?

single track 2

As we entered the cafe we immediately felt really welcome.  It’s hard to explain why.  The space is relaxed with a counter to sit at around two sides and four tables together in the centre of the room.  There are no separate tables so the people who were there, both locals and tourists, were chatting about where to go, what to see and where they had come from.  Indi, the owner/barista, was making coffee and drawing people gently into the conversation.

Single Track(Photo from

People were just leaving when we arrived.  We were guided through the menu of coffee, hot chocolate (no ordinary chocolate!) and teas.  Tea was only added to the menu when the tea shop along the road decided not to open.  Complementary not competition was the motivation here.

We ordered a flat white for me and a hot chocolate with chilli and stuff for Avril and cake.  As Indi made our drinks she told us that Single Track had only been open for a couple of weeks.  It was an experiment that had grown organically out of a couple of gatherings of friends and wondering how this space could add something special to an already special place.  Artisan coffee and chocolate was the answer.

A young couple arrived and ordered takeaway coffee, just at the time the bank was due.  In island communities the bank comes to you, in a van, with a man in a suit and everything.

The bank and the couple left leaving us to chat more with Indi about art, coffee and Moleskine notebooks.  She’s a big fan of my favourite notebooks so we chatted about evernote, the mobile app which can link to your notebook using smart stickers.  Anyone who has a Moleskine catalogue as part of the reading material in a cafe has life sussed as far as I’m concerned!

The drinks were fantastic and the view…

single track 1

Well, the view is something else.

We chatted and drank and looked out the window and chatted some more.  Then we left with cakes.  The bank coming had interrupted the cake serving but it really didn’t matter.  We would be back.  We tweeted @singletrackskye to say so.

In fact we ended up back the very next day.  It was the first thing we said in the morning… ‘Let’s go back there today.’

But why?  Sure, the coffee is better than great and the hot chocolate is pretty special, but why drive 12 miles for a drink?  Because we weren’t going there for the drinks, or even the cakes.

We were going for the community.

I’m still trying to work out what it is about this small space that is so special.  It could be the design, the view, the cups, the art, the coffee, the host, the way the tables encourage conversation or allow you just to stare out the window, the Moleskine notebooks, pencils and pens, the yellow chairs…

Perhaps it’s just the sum of its parts.

I think it is more likely that all of this is deliberate.  Creating this kind of community is never accidental.  It takes work, persistence, design and vision.  And it works.

Single Track Art & Espresso is more than a coffee shop.  It’s a community centre that brings together the local people of Skye and those who come to this amazing island to visit.  It creates a space where everyone is part of the same community for a while, where stories of travels are encouraged, where advice is shared and coffee and hot chocolate are elevated to the same artistic expression as the paintings on the wall.

It is special.

Go there.  And tell Indi we sent you.




Church of Scotland Society Theology

All is not yet said and done…

Last night’s decision by the General Assembly was only the first of two crucial discussions to be had this week.  The Overture from the Presbytery of Lochcarron and Skye is still before the Assembly and has been moved from last night to Monday at 4pm due to the length of time the Assembly took to hear the case against Aberdeen Presbytery last night.

Today’s headlines proclaiming that the Kirk has welcomed a gay minister are potentially misleading.  Last night the General Assembly upheld the Presbytery of Aberdeen but also added a caveat.

The following motion was agreed by the Assembly:

a) refuse the dissent and complaint of Aitken and others and sustain the decision of the Presbytery of Aberdeen on the basis that the Presbytery followed the vacancy procedure correctly in Act VIII 2003.

b) affirm for the avoidance of doubt that this decision does not alter the Church’s standards of ministerial conduct.

The complaint was that the Presbytery had not followed the vacancy procedure.  The Assembly disagreed…

However, what the decision did not do was preempt the discussion of the overture which will decide who can and can’t be ordained.  It remains to be seen how the Assembly will decide on the issue of homosexual ministers and elders.

“That this Church shall not accept for training, ordain, admit, re-admit, induct or introduce to any ministry of the Church anyone involved in a sexual relationship outside of faithful marriage between a man and a woman”

There are a number of notices of motion which will suggest alterations to this motion, including one to add ‘or civil partnership’ to the end.  In many ways that would make sense of the decision last night, both to uphold the Presbytery of Aberdeen and also fulfil the second part of the motion reaffirming that the Church still has agreed ministerial standards.  That gay ministers would be expected not to engage in sexual relationships outside a civil partnerships would seem to be the most appropriate addition to those standards, but the General Assembly doesn’t always agree to things which might seem obvious!

What was obvious was that the discussions last night were conducted in a spirit of gracious understanding and patience.  I pray that the same spirit continues on Monday.

Life Photography Travel

God’s Own Land – Skye

We have just spent a weekend in Skye.  Words cannot describe the rugged beauty of the Island, photos don’t come close to capturing the magnificent landscape but I’ll try.

We set off, Avril and I never having been to Skye, with our companion for the trip Harry, Avril’s father.  He’s been a few times but was keen to go back.  Now I know why.

The journey from home takes us past Stirling, through the Trossachs, Glen Coe where the Campbells murdered the MacDonalds as they slept, past Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest peak (still with snow on it) and on through Lochcarron to Skye.  It is simply one of the most amazing journeys in the world.

We drove through Skye and arrived at the Darnbrook Guest House on the Waternish Peninsula to find this view…

We could see all the way out to North Uist!  It is stunning.  We sat at our window and just looked and looked.  Such an awesome view.

Our hosts Caryl and Duncan recommended the Stein Inn for a meal and Skye’s oldest inn didn’t disappoint!  Full and happy, Harry went off to bed while Avril and I ventured along to the end of the peninsula to watch the sunset over Harris.  We joined the other people, all huddled in ourcars as we watched the sun go down over the Hebrides.  It was glorious.

Next morning breakfast was superb (try the haggis!!!) and full to bursting we set off to drive round the Trotternish Peninsula in the North East of Skye.  We passed through Uig and on to Kilmuir Cemetery where Flora MacDonald, the woman who helped Bonnie Prince Charlie escape after the failed Jacobite Rebellion in 1745, is buried.

Just along the coast is Duntlum Castle, once the home of the Lord of the Isles. Next door is the only place we recommend you don’t visit (Duntlum Castle Hotel – YUCK!!!). The rest of the Peninsula is a geological marvel with sheer volcanic cliffs towering over the landscape and waterfalls cascading into the sea.  The Old Man of Storr is stunning.  A quick stop for afternoon tea in Portree and on to our final stop was Dunvegan Castle, home of the Chiefs of the Clan McLeod, before returning to the Stein Inn for another great meal.

Unfortunately we had to come home today but the journey, though long, was breathtaking.  We took the west coast road round Skye passing some serious mountains, the Cuillin Ridge (WOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and Balven (WOW!!!!!!!!!!!), and back the way we came.

You must go to Skye at least once in your life, and when you do make sure you drive around and see it, don’t just stay in Portree or Broadford.  Lots of photos at Flickr in the Skye set.