Iona Duart Oban

Aug 10, 2017 - Lord of the Glens

Our wake-up call this morning was the sound of the engines stirring the ship into sail as we started our journey to Iona and Duart Castle. The boat put in at the pier on the southwest coast of the Isle of Mull at Craignure, where we boarded a bus to cross the island. From Craignure to Fionnphort we enjoyed an informative and entertaining commentary from our bus driver Adrian, who told us about everything from Mull’s white-tailed eagles to how peat is collected for burning by at least one Mull resident – and a lot more in between! We arrived at the small village of Fionnphort to jump from bus to ferry, crossing the channel to the smaller island of Iona.

Iona became a center of Celtic Christianity when Saint Columba arrived there from Ireland in 563 A.D., coming to spread the Christian faith across Scotland. Ever since, Iona has been a spiritual center and a pilgrimage destination for many people across the globe. In the Middle Ages, Iona became the site of a Benedictine abbey and nunnery. The nunnery ruins are a peaceful place to wander, with rock walls decorated with ferns and flowers. The living quarters of the abbey were restored in the 1930s by the Iona Community, which sought to retain the monastic feel of the place while creating a community organization that continues on, with many people coming to stay in the historic setting, contributing their time to the daily chores of the Abbey. We had the chance to spend time in the Abbey and surrounds, including the King’s Graveyard where Scottish, Irish, and Norwegian kings have been buried over the centuries, including Duncan and Macbeth.

From Iona, it was off to Duart Castle, re-tracing our bus route back across Mull. Duart Castle, the 13th century seat of Clan Maclean, is a big block of a building set on the coastline, its stone walls rising up from the rocky cliffs. Originally constructed in the mid-13th century, the castle fell to ruins after the Maclean’s lost it following the first Jacobite uprisings of the 17th century. Restored in the early 1900s, the castle now functions both as a museum and a residence, with exhibits and displays for visitors. We explored the castle with its narrow, spiral staircases, then it was back to the Lord of the Glens.

From Craignure to Oban made for a pleasant evening sail, and we arrived in Oban just before Recap. The evening included a presentation from Stewart on digital photography, covering technicalities and how to capture sense of place, and more. Robin shared the call of the threatened corncrake who resides on Iona, a raspy call that qualifies the bird as the “world’s worst singer.” Carol wrapped up Recap with information on Saint Columba, Iona, and the Book of Kells. It was a full day and a good one – not one raindrop in sight!

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About the Author

Robin Patten


The natural world has always been central to Robin’s life. At an early age, she was out exploring the Montana backcountry, learning natural history through experience. She went on to earn a Ph.D. in landscape ecology from Colorado State University, followed by an M.S. in Environmental Writing from the University of Montana and a Post-Graduate Diploma from Scotland’s Centre for Mountain Studies. Her studies included environmental history and cultural geography, and her work often focuses on the interactions between cultures and landscapes. Robin still lives in Montana, writing and working from a small cabin near Yellowstone National Park.

About the Photographer

Stewart Aitchison

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Trained as zoologist and geologist, Stewart 's passion is the natural world. He has been exploring, photographing, teaching, and writing about biodiversity, geology, and the American Southwest for forty years and has worked with Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic since 1981.  Stewart also spent ten years as a field biologist for the Museum of Northern Arizona, a nonprofit institution dedicated to preserving the Colorado Plateau's natural and cultural heritage.

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