A day of pilgrimage to the Isle of Iona

United Kingdom's flag
Europe » United Kingdom » Scotland » The Highlands » Glencoe
September 26th 2013
Published: October 2nd 2013
Edit Blog Post

Total Distance: 0 miles / 0 kmMouse: 0,0

Many people have bucket lists of places or things you want to see or do before you die and we are no different.

For Gretchen, the Isle of Iona has been up on her list for some time and we were sorry we didn’t make it to the tiny island 4 years ago.

Like yesterday we had two options of roads to get to the ferry that takes you across from Fionnphort on a 5 minute ride. We could take the A849 which was the principal road that travelled back towards Loch Linnhe and then down the middle of Mull or we could take the more circuitous route around the western coastline from Tobermory. The second option was a skinny red road as marked on the atlas although that often didn’t mean it was any narrower or in lesser condition than the main road in these out of the way locations.

For the first time since we arrived in the UK the sky above was totally blue this morning and there was an amazing sunrise over the sound. This was putting things to right after Team NZ last night for us, lost the last race in the series to try and take the Americas Cup in San Francisco. We can imagine that it will have been a cloudy day in New Zealand today.

Before we started the skinny red road we called in at Tobermory, the principal town at the western end of Mull, with its brightly painted shops and seaside atmosphere. We called into the Co-Op supermarket to buy our sandwiches for lunch. I am getting addicted to the tasty cheese and onion while Gretchen looks for the bacon and egg.

The red skinny road wasn’t any narrower than the main road and the only difference was that there was even less traffic which was understandable as there was much less habitaence on the more exposed coastline.

Although the road was windier then what the main route might have been its isolation and path down the western side of the island offered more varied scenic views of both the hills and the seascape.

We passed through three or four small villages and the reached Knock where we had been told there might be an opportunity to spot a white tail eagle. We took a stop on the windswept grassed area above the white sandy beach and got the binoculars out. However we needed more time and patience and eventually we moved on not seeing any of the illusive birds.

After leaving Loch na Keal the road headed inland and over a small hill to come down to Loch Scridain where we joined the major road (still a Noddy track) the A849 for the run down the Loch to Fionnphort.

The route became much easier down to the small ferry that takes 5 minutes to cross the narrow channel of water to the Isle of Iona and the location of Iona Abbey which was founded in 563 as a monastery by Columba who was exiled from his native Ireland.

It was a bit surprising to find that to park our car close to the ferry that there was a pay and display machine considering the village of Fionnphort was no more than a dozen houses.However, we guess the local council see it as a good way to raise some money and they have a captive audience with so many pilgrims such as us coming to look over the abbey considered to be the place where Christianity started to spread in this part of the world converting the pagans who lived here.

There were about half a dozen buses lined up closest to the ferry and it soon became evident why. The ferry had just arrived in and all the passengers who disembarked and were walking up to their bus looked like they were on an old age outing, there wasn’t anyone under 70 amongst them.

We joined the ferry for the next sailing (the ferry sort of goes on demand) and within 5 minutes we were nudging onto the concrete slipway and walking off.

The island is 6km long by 2km wide with its highest point at 100 metres. There is a small population of 125 who live on the island and those that work are either at the abbey, in the small hotel & B&B’s and the few shops all devoted to the thousands of tourists that make the journey here each year.

The abbey is a short walk from the slipway and we spent an hour exploring the grounds and the reconstructed abbey building as well as checking out where some of St Columba’s bones are buried.

The island has been the burial ground of many ancient Kings of Scotland as well as from Norway and Ireland although none of the graves are identifiable today. Macbeth, who was King of Scotland from 1040 until his death in 1077 is reputed to be buried under a flagstone in an adjoining small chapel although there is nothing there to confirm this.

The place oozes history and it would have been very easy to stay longer except that we had to drive back to the ferry at Fishnish and then onto Glencoe on the mainland where our overnight accommodation was.

However, the time we had was very memorable and Gretchen can now tick the visit off her bucket list.

We took the more direct route of the A849 back to Fishnish and made it there with just a quarter of an hour to wait for the next ferry across to the mainland and Lochaline.

On the ferry were 4 vintage cars including a Porsche Carrera and a sports car where the driver and passenger had to endure the cold breeze as they had the roof off. Mind you they were rugged up for it.

We followed the 4 cars off the ferry and for a few kilometres kept up with them as we tagged on behind as at each passing bay when there was opposing traffic we all got through together. Then eventually they got away on us and we lost them although we did notice they turned off the A884 before we moved onto the A861 for the run into Carran where we decided to take the 5 minute ferry ride across Loch Linnhe to Onich, where we had stayed two nights ago.

We had to made the short drive up to Fort William to buy some dinner to cook at the hostel we were heading for at Glencoe and also to fill up with petrol as there weren’t a lot of petrol stations on the way up to the Highlands.

By the time we arrived at the Youth Hostel we were fairly well pooped and we were not encouraged by the standard of our overnight accommodation. Trying to find somewhere in the area at a reasonable price had not been easy and we had left booking this particular night a little late and all that was left was the Youth Hostel. So shared bathroom and toilet and a small twin bedded room was going to be our lot for the night. Even the kitchen and dining room was uninviting as those staying there all seemed to keep to themselves.

We had to keep telling ourselves that it was only one night and we should just suck it up knowing that for the next two nights we will be staying with second cousin Aileen in far more luxurious surroundings in her home in Montrose.

Additional photos below
Photos: 9, Displayed: 9


6th October 2013

Any chance of a high resolution photo of this church being emailed to us so we can complete our pictorial coverage of our stay on Mull.
6th October 2013

Will work on that tomorrow when we have full internet time available

Tot: 2.558s; Tpl: 0.049s; cc: 23; qc: 100; dbt: 0.0726s; 2; m:saturn w:www (; sld: 1; ; mem: 1.6mb