Day 118 Pilgrimage to Iona

Saturday 1 August 2015

Tobermory to Craignure, driving anti-clockwise around Mull

Driving tour, 4 miles walked

Craignure Bunkhouse

Sharing a room with 5 strangers meant I woke early. Unsurprisingly the sky was dark grey and it was pouring with rain but I decided to get going anyway. I wanted to visit Iona and had decided to drive a long, circuitous route around Mull to get there.  

Sheep stranded at high tide
 The drive along the South side of Loch Na Keal and then around Loch Scridain was on a road that pretty much bordered each loch. I kept my eyes peeled for otters but no such luck. I saw lots of herons and a few other birds but not a lot else. I think most of the wildlife was sheltering from the bad weather.  

The view along the Ardmeanach coastline
 The drive was scenic, with water on one side and mountains on the other. I couldn’t see Ben More, Mull’s Munro, through the clag but it was nice driving the windy, up and down roads. I was reminded of the Lake District, which I think was because of the trees. On any other day there would also be stunning views to Coll and Tiree.  

Waterfalls everywhere coming off the mountains…in summer!
 I arrived at Fionnphort, the tip of Ross of Mull, in time for the 9.55 am ferry across the Sound of Iona. 

Looking out of the ferry window to Iona
 The sky was very dark and the short 10 minute crossing was surprisingly rough. Having seen the influence of St Columba in Lindisfarne and around N Scotland I thought I ought to visit the island where his legend started.  

That’s a very dark sky over Iona!
 St Columba was from Ireland but arrived on Iona and founded the Iona Abbey in 563. This small island still attracts pilgrims and has its own Christian community (the Iona Community) who fervently believe in pacifism and go on peace marches so I didn’t mention I am ex-RAF. 

The sea around Iona has some fantastic colours: green through to black. It is pretty impressive, as is the sound the sea makes. Some people say it’s all quite spiritual; I thought the water was quite shallow and sandy, hence the wonderful green colour, and the large amounts of seaweed accounted for the darkness.  

The sun came out and look at the colour of the sea
Upon arriving on Iona I walked through the ruins of the old nunnery. I was fascinated to learn that buildings like this often had a carving of a naked woman with her legs apart, called a Sheena-Na-Gig, to ward off evil. Fortunately this carving was worn away so no eyes can be offended! (The information board was more graphic.)
The Sheena-Na-Gig at the Nunnery
 The sky was so black that I went into the Heritage Centre next and enjoyed an hour reading about Iona’s history while the rain bucketed down. I emerged into a flash flood along the road, but I was dry. That was £2.50 well spent! 

The Iona Nunnery
 I was going to go to the Abbey next but all of a sudden there was blue sky and sunshine so instead I walked across the island to the West side (it’s a good 15 minute walk from one side of the island to the other) to the famous St Columba’s Bay. First I had to cross the Iona golf course – definitely not worth a trip to play on this course! 

Approaching St Columba’s Bay across Iona’s golf course
 St Columba’s Bay was quite nice. I think I was expecting too much and have seen too many great beaches to be blown away by it. It’s mostly a stony beach with some white sand and the sea has lots of rocks and seaweed in it. The sound of the sea is supposed to be amazing?! 

St Columba’s Bay
 Just a bit further on from St Columba’s Bay is Port Ban, a smaller bay and this one has beautiful white sand and the sea looks amazing.  

Port Ban
 There was a woman in swimming but I didn’t feel like it. Although the view was wonderful, the sea had a lot is seaweed in it and the burn running into it was red with iron and that gave the sea a reddish tinge. Beautiful to look at but it didn’t call me for a swim.  

Port Ban
 After sitting on a high rock overlooking Port Ban for an hour I walked back across the saturated golf course and headed for the Abbey. It was early afternoon and more people were arriving with every ferry; it reminded me of my trip to Lindisfarne.  

The red burn running down to Port Ban
 The Abbey is the main draw on Iona and also houses people on Iona Community courses. It is not the original Abbey that St Columba founded in 563 but is the 1900s version. It is still clearly a place that is venerated by many people but I was just interested in the history, not the spirituality. 

Iona’s Abbey
  Just as I was thinking I’d had enough I saw a ferry coming in so I hurried down to the quayside to get on it. This time the water was calmer and I could see the sand beneath and some fantastic hues of green and blue.   

A cross in the primary school playground
  Once back on Mull I headed a bit further South to look at a couple of beaches shown on my map. I had been told the beaches at Ross of Mull were fantastic so I diverted to take a look and this one was rather nice. Behind the beach was Machair grassland, which is a protected habitat and gives the beach a sheltered feel thanks to the grassland and dunes.  
A beautiful beach – Ardalanish Bay with views South to Colonsay, Islay and Jura
  I think the beaches on the West coast of Arisaig, Ardnamurchan and Mull are all quite similar, it’s just that some are bigger and more remote. 
Looking the other way along Ardalanish beach
  The cloud was coming back as I drove across the Island, along Glen More to Craignure. I would definitely like to come back to Mull. I reckon this would be a great island to walk around and perhaps then I would see some of the wildlife that eluded me this time, including otters, red deer and eagles.  

The majestic Glen More
 Craignure Bunkhouse was a nice surprise as it was modern, clean and hospitable, and I was able to do some much needed laundry. I was sharing a room with 2 old ladies, Jean and Rosemary, as well as another lady. Two French girls turned up late having missed their bus connecting so, in the absence of the warden, we found them some bedding and fixed them up in our room for the night as we couldn’t just turf them out. 

Jean and Rosemary were a hoot and Jean was telling stories late into the night. She has been hostelling for 61 years (she’s 77 years old) and seems to take all her holidays in hostels, sometimes with her children and grandchildren as well. She was a fascinating lady. I fell asleep to her stories and woke up to her snoring!

Around the Southern part of Mull (and Iona) many of the locals have put out ‘scarecrows’. These were two of the best.  

A sunbather on the way to St Columba’s Beach
The Bunessan police have a sense of humour

3 thoughts on “Day 118 Pilgrimage to Iona

  1. Val K August 18, 2015 / 3:46 pm

    Good to hear from you again, missed you Luc. I’m in Minorca at the moment and the Wifi in
    Villa a bit unpredictable. I hope you come into some good weather. Val x


  2. Zephyrine August 18, 2015 / 4:34 pm

    Randomly, I was sent another photo of Port Ban today! Synchronicity – & all that… – I spent a week in a primitive bothy on Iona in about 1973: a wonderful chance to acquaint myself with the island, long before the tourists heard of it… Loved reading about your travels on Day 118.


  3. chris frazer August 18, 2015 / 6:00 pm

    Yay…Juicy is back….Now get you boots on, set your compass to 180 or 3200 and start walking……..SOUTH! Port Ban looked beautiful. Oh yes point of order….. you are not Ex RAF you are RAF (Retd) there is a difference…..on on Marshal of the Air!!!!!


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