One of the locations in Scotland that I had dreamed about visiting for much of my life was the near mythical Isle of Iona. The resting place of the Scottish kings from the time of Kenneth, who was long thought of as man to unite Scotland into a nation; To Macbeth, one of Scotland’s more famous monarchs.
Around the age of thirteen I read “Macbeth, the king” by Nigel Tranter which I found to be fascinating and it led to a a passion of his take on the history of Scotland told through historical fiction. I remember feeling deeply insulted when I was forced to read Shakespeare’s Macbeth which I referred in class to as a “load of horse shit”. Now I know of the complexities that William Shakespeare had to deal with in writing about Macbeth considering the real villain, Malcolm Canmore, was the great ancestor of the current monarch Queen Elizabeth I. I still stand by my original assessment of shakespeare’s historical accuracy.
I started my tour in the town of Oban, with a tour operator called Staffa Tours which still exists. We took a ferry to the Isle of Mull where we caught a bus which took us across the island to our boat tour. The first stop was a little island which was also quite stunning called Staffa.
Staffa was an Island which has sharp cliffs that rise out of the sea crowned on top by a carpet of crisp green grass. We were allowed to disembark onto the island to walk into the edge of the cave and on top of the island to take in the view. “Fingal’s Cave” named after its famous monk was special to experience and explore; seeing the stark environment the monk subjected himself to in his pursuit of his maker. The water rushes up into the cave with the tide and would have both hidden and restricted its inhabitant. The isle is also home to a large puffin population and a community of seals as well. I was told that basking sharks were also seen regularly but unfortunately not on that visit.
The Isle of Iona was a breath taking view as we approached and I managed to capture one of my favourite photos thus far as we came up to the dock. The pink stone glowed in the sunlight and gave the landscape an other worldly feel. There is a small town on the island maintained by the local community. Facilities and B&B’s are available for visitors staying for more then a few hours.
The Iona Abbey was established by St. Columba, another of the figures I had read about courtesy of Nigel Tranter. He was the original patron saint of scotland before St. Andrew was adopted and myths tell of his battle of wills with the Loch Ness monster. St. Columba established the original abbey in 563 though the current abbey was built around 1200 by Reginald, King of the Isles. It was in use until the reformation in 1560, after which it sat relatively unused until the Iona Cathedral Trust began restoring it in the early 20th century. The work was continued by the Iona community starting in 1938 and is currently under the care of Historic Scotland.
The nunnery next to the abbey was founded by the sister of Reginald and though it is ruins now; the stonework and gardens that are maintained there are some of the more beautiful scenery I have come across in my travels. The photos I took turned out well, but do not give it proper justice compared to viewing the isle on a sunny day in person.
Reilig Odhrain or St. Oran’s Graveyard, is the burial place of the Scottish kings and one of the main reasons I travelled to the island. The graveyard itself is to the side of the abbey, but the head stones which are so worn with age that they cannot be read were moved into the abbey to help protect them.