Hebrides: Island 16 of 51: Isle of Iona

Isle of Iona: Population 177 (2011), Mull Group, Inner Hebrides
Isle of Mull: Population 2990 (2011), Inner Hebrides (3rd visit)


As with my last blog, today’s trip to Iona was on a tour organised by Caledonian MacBrayne from Oban.

Mull continued to tease and torment me with it’s changeable weather, which seems to be a recurring theme throughout this project!

The forecast right up until the night before the visit was “sunny spells and light cloud” for western Mull and Iona.
I woke at 5am to heavy rain, left around 6am and drove through Glasgow and north along the shores of Loch Lomond towards Oban in a constant downpour.
“Iona has it’s own micro climate and the weather here on the mainland is usually nothing like what it is out on the island” I overheard a tour operator calmly reassure a visitor at the Oban ferry terminal before we sailed…

We boarded the MV Isle of Mull and made straight for the restaurant.  The early start had meant no breakfast and with it being a non-stop tour the prospect of nothing else to eat until at least 6pm when we returned to the mainland, meant food was needed!

After a hearty breakfast I headed out on deck to see if I could grab some shots through the rain, but, the visibility was so poor I could hardly make out the mainland so I decided instead to head back inside and attempt whatever the opposite of a rain-dance is!

It didn’t work.

We still had some light drizzle when we arrived at Craignure and made our way off the ferry towards the bus stops and onto the coach for the next leg of the trip.
We handed over our tickets for the journey and settled down for the 1hr trip across the Ross of Mull to Fionnphort and the ferry to Iona.

Iona, or to use its Gaelic name, “I Chaluim Cille” (Iona of Saint Columba), lies just 10 minutes from Fionnphort at the end of the Ross of Mull.

insta_3W2A0146(above: The ferry at Iona, with Mull in the background)

Iona is a beautiful island; just 4 miles long by 1 mile wide, and steeped in history.

If you read my first Hebrides blog (Gigha – blog 1) you’ll have read that Columba, an Irish monk, established a monastery here around 563AD after being exiled from his native land as a result of his involvement in the battle of Cúl Dreimhne (Battle of the Book), thought to be one of the earliest conflicts over copyright theft in history.
In short: Columba copied a manuscript with the intention of keeping the copy – but the original manuscript’s owner, Saint Finnian, argued that as he owned the original, he also owned the copy.   When King Diarmait ruled in favour of Saint Finnian – “to every cow belongs her calf; therefore to every book belongs it’s copy” – Columba started a rebelion against the king, which resulted in more than 3000 casualties, and ultimately to Columba’s exile from Ireland. (who said copyright isn’t important!?).

Once part of the ancient kingdom of “Dal Riata”, then part of the Norse “Kingdom of the Isles”, before being restored to the Kingdom of Scotland in 1266, Iona has enjoyed / endured many cultural influences over the years.  It has held many names: Ioua, Hii, Eoa, I Cholaim Cille, Hi, Eo, Ioua Insula, as well as the modern, Iona.

insta_3W2A0151(above: the view north towards the Abbey from the ferry port)
insta_IMG_9731(above: the same view, on a previous visit – in better weather!)

From the ferry port we wandered west, past the post office and turned right into the remains of the old Nunnery, before continuing north past the Heritage Centre to the Abbey and the ancient burial ground of Rèilig Odhrain.  This burial site is believed to contain the remains of 48 Scottish Kings, 8 Norwegian Kings and 4 Kings from Ireland.
Probably most notable are the graves of the real MacBeth, Duncan and Malcolm.

Sadly the precise locations of these graves have been lost in time as the inscriptions have been worn away by the elements, but, these royal graves, together with those of several saints and at least one modern day politician make Rèilig Odhrain an important historical site.


I’d visited the Abbey on a previous trip (well worth a visit if you’re on your first trip to the island) so decided to walk further afield and continued past the Abbey and out towards the northern tip of the island.

insta_IMG_9650(above: the tomb of the 8th Duke of Argyll and his wife, from a previous visit)

We passed the path to Dun I, an ancient hill fort on top of the highest point on the island, and continued north to the beautiful beach of Traigh an t-Suidhe (Beach of the seat), a beautiful beach with views north towards Staffa and the Treshnish isles.

insta_3W2A0208(above: the Isle of Staffa on the horizon as seen from Iona)
insta_3W2A0214(the beach at Traigh an t-Suidhe, with Dun I in the background)

I spent some time at the beach, shooting video mainly, then after a while made my way back to the ferry port for the return trip over to Mull.

The weather had improved somewhat for the return trip to Craignure, so I used the trip back through Glen More to do some location scouting for my next visit to Mull, which hopefully will be in the next few weeks.

Once on board the ferry we had time for an overdue cold beer before we arrived back in Oban and set off once more on the 120 mile drive home.

I still have another 2 satellite islands to do in the Mull group, possibly 3 if I decide to include Lunga which, like Staffa, is uninhabited but seriously photogenic, so I’ll definitely need to return to Mull at least another once, twice if I include Lunga.

Hopefully the weather will have improved by then!

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