Iona and the Isle of Mull

Aug 30, 2018 - Lord of the Glens


We slipped away from the quay in Tobermory early in the morning and made our way through the Sound of Mull to the ferry port of Craignure. From there a bus took us on single track roads the length of the island to a local ferry to the island of Iona. We passed numerous folds of Highland cattle grazing in the bracken or paddling in the shallows. Grey herons and oystercatchers dabbled along the edge of the sea-lochs as we traveled westwards over impossibly narrow humpbacked stone bridges and through picturesque coastal fishing villages.

The beautiful island of Iona is small in size but immense in historical significance. Columcille (St. Columba) came here from Ireland in the 560s A.D. to found a great Celtic teaching monastery which lasted for a thousand years until the Reformation in the 1560s. The famous Book of Kells was created in the scriptorium, and magnificent stone-carved high crosses from the 8th century A.D. added splendour to the landscape. Iona was the religious heart of early Scotland and later the Lordship of the Isles where all the early Scottish kings were buried. After the depredations of the Vikings, the monastery was re-founded as a Benedictine abbey by the sons of mighty Somerled in the early 1200s, along with an Augustinian nunnery. Today Iona is a delightful, peaceful haven fringed with sandy beaches where the modern-day ecumenical Iona community maintains a presence in the restored abbey buildings.

Later, back on Mull we visited Duart Castle, the seat of the clan Maclean since the 14th century. It stands stark on its dark rock promontory dominating the Sound of Mull, a strategic waterway in medieval times, and today offers a perfect platform to look for porpoises and waterfowl that thrive in the area. The flag flying over the great tower indicted that Sir Lachlan Maclean himself was in residence, along with his West Highland terrier Tillie.

Soon we arrived at Oban, a busy fishing port on the west coast of the Scottish mainland in time to see the sun setting over the Hebridean Islands in the west. The day concluded after dinner with a bespoke whisky tasting led by local expert Frances Macmillan. Frances introduced us to the nuances of lowland, Speyside, West Highland and peaty island whiskies, demonstrated by a 14-year-old Oban, a 15-year-old Dalwhinnie and a smoky 16-year-old Lagavulin malt from Islay, while darkness fell gently over the twinkling bay.

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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

Brenda Tharp

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

For over 20 years, Brenda has used her photographs of the world to celebrate its beauty, and inspire others to protect what we have. Brenda grew up exploring the woods, lakes, and coastlines of New Jersey and New England and her family traveled regularly throughout the eastern U.S., camping, hiking, backpacking, and canoeing. She spent most of her childhood engaging with nature in some form or another and learning about animal behavior. When her father taught her some photography at 13, Brenda soon combined her love for nature with her newfound passion, and several years later her adventure began as a freelance photographer, teacher, and writer.

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