Iona and Duart Castle, Isle of Mull, Scotland

Aug 24, 2017 - Lord of the Glens


All was still and calm as we stole away from our berth at Tobermory at 6 a.m. this morning, heading down the Sound of Mull to Craignure, where we boarded our bus to take us to the sacred island of Iona. Traversing Mull on narrow single-track roads in our comfortable bus brought memorable views of the villages, lochs, mountains and moorlands of the island. Shaggy Highland cattle in all colors from black to golden were a bit of a showstopper, some placidly sitting at the roadside watching the world go by. Gannets were demonstrating their spectacular plunge diving in Loch Scridain, fishing for mackerel and sand eels, and a white-tailed eagle was also spotted soaring over the scene. Arriving at Fionnphort at the far end of Mull, we boarded the local ferry for the short hop across the Sound of Iona to our morning destination.

The role of Iona, this tiny island, in the development of the Scottish identity is huge. St. Columba came here from Ireland about the year 563 A.D. and founded a Celtic monastery that would change the religion, arts and monarchy of the nation and beyond down the centuries. Today the high carved stone cross of St Martin is the most prominent reminder of those early days, and the surviving ruins of the nunnery and the restored abbey speak of the continuing prominence of its institutions under the Lordship of the Isles until the reformation in the 16th century.

On our return journey the ubiquitous Highland cattle, with their long hairy coats and even longer horns, delighted us once again and there were even glimpses of red deer among the bracken. Our next objective was Duart Castle, a monumental stronghold set high on a rock overlooking the Sound of Mull, which had been the seat of the Clan MacLean since the 14th century. It had been taken from the MacLean’s and allowed to fall into ruins, but was lovingly restored more than a century ago by Sir Fitzroy MacLean and is now once again the spiritual home of the Clan.

Lord of the Glens then set sail for Oban, a bustling town of about 8,000 people set in a beautiful bay sheltered by the island of Kerrera. As the dusk fell, all the harbor lights twinkled and music and dancing beckoned in the town as we joined the locals and their visitors for a convivial cèilidh to the music of the pipes and accordion. 

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About the Author

Carol Knott

Expedition Leader

Carol studied archaeology, history and philosophy at the University of Glasgow, her native city. She spent many years as an archaeologist in the southeast of England, specializing in medieval ceramics and the conservation of historic houses and gardens. Since 1988 she has worked as an archaeologist in the Outer Hebrides of Scotland, living in a crofting village on the Isle of Lewis, and was formerly archaeologist for the National Trust for Scotland for their World Heritage site of St Kilda. Her great pleasure is to explore the cultures of Scotland, Europe and the north Atlantic, and to bring them to life for a modern audience. 

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