Iona – and a ‘Sense of Place’

I’d been to Iona once before. It was a bit of a stressful day as I remember it! We were on a family holiday north of Oban and decided to ‘do the tour’ from Oban over to Mull, then Iona. I recall that we all felt like cattle being herded from one form of transport to another, then another and so on all day long.

The ferry over to Mull was ‘ok’, if very packed (I’ve mostly visited Mull in the winter when you can be the only passenger braving the outer deck!), and we’d already had a very early start to get to Oban. So we had fifty minutes of ‘down time’ as we sailed past Lismore lighthouse and one of the most photographed sites in the whole of Scotland, Duart Castle. We were then hastily transferred to one of the red and white ‘West Coast Motors’ coaches that plough through Glen More before reaching Fionphort, the furthest point on the south west of Mull.

Our three kids on the white sands of Iona in 2000
Duart Castle – One of the most photographed castles in Scotland
Lismore lighthouse

Then on to another smaller ferry to Iona, giving us about an hour on the island, before being whisked back to Fionphort and repeating the whole saga again back to Oban.

A long tiring day for us all, but one that has stayed in our memory and the kids’ too – seeing the clear turquoise waters of St. Ronan’s Bay and the Abbey, with its pivotal place in the history of Christianity, was a seminal moment for us all.

Leaving Oban in 1966 on board the King George V heading to Staffa – Photo taken by dad

With the kids, back in 2014, we sadly didn’t have time to visit the iconic island of Staffa, but I’d first experienced it, however, as an eight year old when we visited as a family with mum and dad back in the sixties and I’d never forgotten it. Walking into the cave was like entering the pages of a fairytale and I wanted to pass on this ‘sense of place’ to my kids. So on our next Scottish family holiday we managed a trip out past Staffa and Fingal’s Cave as well as to the Correvreckan Whirlpool on our way over to Colonsay.

The remarkable and unforgettable Fingal’s Cave

Fingal’s Cave entices you in with stories of giants and a land bridge that connected the Giant’s Causeway off the coast of Antrim, Ireland to the basalt columns of Staffa. The causeway was said to have linked the two Kingdoms and facilitated the fight between the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill and Scottish giant Fingal. The rock formations found in both Antrim and Staffa are indeed part of the same geological formation and would have been created by the same lava flow!

The world famous Correvreckan whirlpool
The basalt columns that make up Staffa and emerge again at the Giant’s Causeway in Antrim off the coast of Northern Ireland.

I visited Staffa again about ten years ago and the abiding memories of that visit were not only the basalt columns, but also the numerous bottle-nosed dolphins we encountered on our way both to the Treshnish Islands and Staffa itself. On this occasion though we didn’t manage to get over to Iona, so now to have a full week on the island was a really magical experience. We would have it virtually to ourselves after the tourists (the majority seemed to be American) had been ushered back to Mull and the mainland. We would experience real solitude and peace in the Abbey at the end of the day and early morning, empty beaches on all sides of the island and some fine birds too! We walked it north, south, east and west.

Bottle-nosed dolphin on our trip in 2014 over to the Treshnish Islands
A bottle-nosed Dolphin scythes through the water with Staffa in the background

The next posts will look our day to day travels and experiences on the island.





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