It was a sunny day when we arrived on Iona, which you must reach from Edinburgh by taking:
the train to Glasgow (50 minutes)
the train to Oban (3 1/2 hours)
the ferry to the island of Mull (40 minutes)
a bus across Mull on single-track roads, to the ferry at Fionnphort (1 hour)
the final ferry from Fionnphort – 10-15 minutes.
It takes, with transfer and waiting times, roughly a whole day. As the crow flies, the distance between Edinburgh and Iona is only 126 miles . Here’s our journey across Iona on the first day:
As you might know, Iona was the first place Christianity came to Scotland, in the late 500s, through the exploits of St Columba, or Colm Cille in Irish. He seemed an interesting, magnetic figure – his name means ‘church dove’ but he also led an army against some Irish princes and the resulting slaughter by his group may have been the reason he fled Ireland forever. He supposedly settled with his 12 followers on Iona after climbing a hill to determine whether or not he could still see Ireland – when the answer was no, he was happy to set up his religious community there. Under his tenure, the island flourished as a centre for learning as well as religious thought. My favourite exploit of his was the ‘proofreading miracle’ he performed – he correctly predicted that a monk writing a text would make only one mistake, and that it was changing an uppercase I to a lowercase i. St Columba – saint of proofreaders? I’m not sure. There may be a few more contending for that, given that the monks so liked to write and copy great texts. It’s also believed now that the famous Book of Kells was at the very least begun on Iona, and taken to Kells to protect it from the frequent Viking invasions of the island.
This is the youth hostel where we stayed – lovely owner, and perhaps one of the best settings for a youth hostel anywhere in the world –
(these last photos were taken about 10pm)
That’s probably enough for today. As you can see, the island was very photogenic. In the 19th and 20th centuries, it was a huge draw for the Colourists, a group of Scottish artists whose work revels in the chalky white and turquoise blue palette the island provides. Tomorrow I’ll post some pictures from Staffa, a tiny, mysterious island that influenced Mendelsohn in his Hebridean Overture. The sea fog came in, as I said, on the last day we were there, so I hope to add more images of the machair disappearing into the coolness.