Iona and Isle of Mull, Inner Hebrides

Aug 02, 2018 - Lord of the Glens


Mull, the third largest island of the Scottish Hebrides, has a population of 3,000 people whose lifestyle is shaped by the sea, the weather, and the geology of their beautiful environment. We departed our ship at Craignure and drove westward to the little settlement of Fionnphort. Our delightful local driver, Sheila, filled the journey with stories, songs, and anecdotes about the lives and times of the islanders. Soon we were on the little ferry across the narrow (and shallow) Sound of Iona to begin our exploration of that famous yet tiny island.

Iona burst onto the pages of history around 563 AD with the arrival of St. Columba, who founded a great Celtic monastery and lit the torch of Christianity in much of Scotland and far beyond. Superb works of insular art—such as the Book of Kells that now resides in Trinity College, Dublin—were produced here. The great stone crosses from the 8th century, such as St. Martin’s cross and St. John’s cross, still stand as a reminder of those ancient days. Our group was fascinated by the nunnery and abbey, dating from the early 13th century. After our history lesson, some of us hiked to the glorious sandy beaches of the north shore where we admired red granite outcrops, polished by nature, and spotted sanderlings dabbling about at the water’s edge.

The star attraction on the return drive was the herds of Highland cattle which stopped our bus more than once as we poured forth with our cameras at the ready. The bemused beasts with their long, curving horns gazed at us from the hillside, the bracken, and the road itself. We caught glimpses of red deer that followed us as we made our way to Duart Castle, an impressive stronghold dominating the Sound of Mull from a high rock. The castle has been the seat of the clan Maclean since the 14th century and is still the chief’s family home today. 

We rounded off our full day with a convivial evening of whiskey tasting with local expert Frances MacMillan onboard Lord of the Glens. We tried a 15-year-old Dalwhinnie, a 14-year-old Oban, and a smoky, peaty 16-year-old Lagavulin with great delight before retiring, filled with thoughts of malted barley, oak casks, and angel’s shares.

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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. 

About the Photographer

Eric Kruszewski

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

An editorial photographer and videographer based in Washington, D.C., Eric Kruszewski's multimedia work focuses on reportage and travel. His work is represented by National Geographic Creative, and he is a regular contributor to National Geographic's Image Collection.

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