A small island off the coast of Mull, Staffa was named by the Vikings – ‘Staffa’ meaning stave, or pillar. It’s easy to see why – Staffa is a basalt outcrop, a bloom of lava that came in three stages – the second of which provided the island with the great black pillars that give it its name.
We had about an hour on the island, just about enough time to see everything. By everything, I mean a landscape similar to Salisbury Crags in Edinburgh – a volcanic plateau studded with low, alpine-like wildflowers and grasses, the only difference being the small coves, the abundance of seabirds, and the ever-present sea sparkling below.
But the biggest draw to Staffa has to be Fingal’s Cave.
It’s not a deep cave, nor the biggest in the world. But there is something very moving in the turquoise colour of the water, the sound in the air as you stand inside on the narrow black ledge, staring down at the bobbing white jellyfish coming and going with the low surge.
The cave has been a mystery and an inspiration for centuries. James MacPherson’s Ossian poems popularised the name Fingal’s Cave, after the legendary builder of the Giant’s Causeway, a similar stepped Basalt formation in Northern Ireland. The cave also inspired Mendelssohn’s Hebridean Overture, which some kind soul has uploaded to Youtube with a video of the ferry crossing to the island. In the piece you can hear the surging of the waves – when he visited it was apparently a rougher day than when we did. It would be an amazing, if cramped, space to put on a small concert. I wonder if it’s ever been done?
I’d happily go back to Staffa, and perhaps from there on to Lunga, one of the Treshnish islands where thousands of Puffins make their nests in season. Perhaps I will get the chance some time later. Though there are many more islands that pull me towards them.
That’s all for today. Tomorrow – Iona Abbey, bees, and the graveyard of the great and the good.