Island Hopping

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July 31st 2016
Published: October 4th 2016
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Island Hopping near Oban

Today is Sunday, which means everything is either closed or opens late. I had decided to take a tour that does island hopping, and the earliest tour starts at 10am.

I had leisurely breakfast at my B&B - it was a feast, prepared by the hostess. The choices were either a full Scottish breakfast (Sausage, Bacon, Eggs, Tomato, Black Pudding, Mushrooms, Potato Scone) or, in my case, an extended continental breakfast, which included Scots Porridge with honey and heavy cream, 2 croissants with butter and jam, a very large platter of fruits, veggies, and various types of cheeses. Of course, a choice of 3 cereals, toast, orange juice, choice of coffee or tea goes without saying. I loved the porridge, but I could only sample the fruits and cheese platter as it was so big. I took the croissants and cheese and wrapped it up in a napkin and put it in my backpack as a snack for later. As I am very particular about coffee, I usually drink tea when I am travelling.

I was happy to leave my car at the B&B and walked the 20 minutes it took to get to the ferry terminal. I bought a ticket for 3 Island Tour: Mull, Staffa and Iona. By now it was about 9:25am. The customer service lady said that I could buy the electrical pin adapter at the local grocery store, but I had to be back by 9:45am to board the ferry to Mull. Since it would be 8pm by the time I got back, I had to go to the store before I got on the ferry. I literally ran to the grocery store, bought the adapter and hoped it would work later on tonight.

It was a nice day, in the 60s, and partly sunny - for now. As I would come to know, Scottish weather is highly changeable. It was a large ferry, as it was very windy out on the deck, I sat inside with picture windows. Once we docked on Mull, there were several buses waiting for various tours. Tourism is the biggest economy here, and that too mostly in July and August. I found my bus that went across the southern end of Mull to Fionnphort, since this was a tour bus, we had running commentary on the things we were seeing as we passed. At Fionnphort, I boarded another boat to Staffa. This crossing was even more choppy and windy. Staffa's claim to fame are 2 things: puffins (birds) and basalt columns of Fingal's Cave. I especially wanted to see the basalt columns - hexagonal shaped columns of various heights. Several years ago, I visited Northern Ireland and Gaint's Causeway, which also had the basalt columns. So, these columns in Staffa are the other end from Gaint's Causeway. We had about 1 hour to see both. I first went along the columns to Fingal's Cave. The walk was very slippery, as these columns are always wet and there is algae on the stones, at times only a rope is provided for balance.

Then I hiked along the grassy top to see the puffins, but I didn't see any because I turned back too soon, I was afraid of missing the boat that would pick us up. As this is Sunday, this was the only boat back - any other day, there would have been more. As it turned out, I had every reason to be afraid of missing the boat. As we all boarded and the boat got ready to pull out, we saw a woman rushing along the basalt columns toward the boat. If she wasn't so close to the dock and visible, we would have completely missed her.

Our next stop was Iona. This is considered the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland. St. Columba, who left Ireland, established an abbey in year 563. It is said that the "Book of Kells" (in Dublin), made in the 8th century, was done here. From the ferry dock, I made my way to the abbey, visiting the ruins of a Nunnery on the way. Although the abbey goes back to the 13th century, much of it was destroyed, due to Viking raids, Scottish Reformation, etc. The present abbey was rebuilt in the 20th century. There are 2 Celtic crosses on the front of the abbey, these crosses are replicas. The originals, believed to be from St. Columba's time, are in the abbey's museum. According to my guide book, it is also believed that the distinctive shape of the Celtic crosses originated here on Iona. The included guided tour in the price of admission to the abbey was very informative.

In a small way, this island reminded me of the village where my grandfather used to live in India. Maybe it was the quietness, the car-free roads, the small community where everyone knows each other, of time when life was simple.

Before I knew it, it was time to get back on the ferry, which would take us back to Fionnphort, then back on the bus to drive across Mull to board the ferry back to Oban. I did not have time to visit Mull, perhaps next time. Once I was back on Oban, I got some Indian takeway and walked back to my B&B. Thankfully, the adapter worked and I could charge my smartphone and camera battery.

Since I wanted to get an earlier start, initially, I planned on taking my car on to the ferry and driving on Mull. But, I decided not to for two reasons: one, the earliest ferry was at 10am (which defeats the purpose) and two, the roads on Mull are single track. From what I can see, the single track roads are driven by polite (honor?) system. When drivers see oncoming traffic, the one closest to the pull off curve, pulls off the road and lets the other car go. I am soooooooo glad I decided not to drive. It would have been nerve wracking, I would have been too busy driving and not cause an accident to see any sights.

Additional photos below
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This image is not mine, since I turned back too soon to see the puffins

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