Iona

Aug 28, 2019 - Lord of the Glens


We enjoyed true Scottish liquid sunshine—hey, things could only improve!—as we slipped our moorings in Tobermory at dawn and set course for Craignure along the Sound of Mull, the second largest of the Hebridean islands with some 300 miles of highly indented coastline. It is an island celebrated for its wildlife—golden- and white-tailed eagles, shorebirds, and marine life, including the minke whales we observed yesterday, on orca pod, and seasonal basking sharks. From Craignure, we drove in a long diagonal across the island, along a single-track road with passing places, to Fionnphort where we met the ferry for Iona.

Iona has emblematic significance in northwest Europe. It was here in 563 AD that Columba arrived on a mission to bring Celtic Christianity to Scotland from Ireland. He established a monastic community on the island that was famed for its learning and its craftsmanship. The Book of Kells, one the treasures of modern Ireland that is today housed in the library of Dublin’s Trinity College, was produced on Iona. It was taken to Kells Abbey in Ireland to prevent it from Viking raids in the eighth century. We walked to the restored Benedictine abbey, passing one of Britain’s best-preserved medieval nunneries and one of Thomas Telford’s “Parliamentary Kirks” on the way to view St Martin’s Cross, still in situ since the eighth century. It is the original Celtic cross, from which all others derived their distinctive design. The abbey, its cloister, a museum of high crosses and numerous craft shops were enjoyed by all. 

After a wholesome lunch at the St. Columba Hotel, we took the ferry back to Fionnphort and returned to the Isle of Mull, passing the island’s two munroes, Ben Talla and Ben Mhor, both meeting the requirement of being more than 4,000 feet tall. By this time the weather had improved dramatically with warm sunshine lighting up the purple heather and the bright rowan berries of the mountain ash bushes. Detouring to Duart, we visited the ancestral pile of the Clan Maclean, a film set of a Scottish castle perched on a rocky crag, strategically situated overlooking the Sound of Mull. A tour of the castle, complete with a prisoner in the dungeon and a stroll around the site that includes a burial ground for Hanoverian soldiers billeted at Duart after the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion, rounded off the day. We drove to Tobermory to rejoin the ship.

Back on board at Craignure, we sailed for Oban, enjoying perfect sailing conditions. We viewed Duart Castle from the seaward side, a Stevenson lighthouse on the tip of Lismore, the MacBrayne monument on Kerrera, and the full sweep of the bay at Oban, the self-proclaimed “Seafood Capital of Scotland.” After dinner we had an informative presentation on whisky to prepare us for our tour of the Oban Distillery the following day.

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About the Author

David Barnes

Expedition Leader

David studied history at the University of York in England and theology at the University of Wales. Research in the field of religious history (at Cardiff) followed on naturally. He has spent most of his professional life teaching history, most recently in adult education departments within the University of Wales where he has taught a wide variety of courses pertinent to the wider Atlantic world. In 1988, he made his first lecture-tour of the U.S. for the English Speaking Union. He has published extensively on Welsh history and topography–his most recent book being the Companion Guide to Wales (2005)–and is a frequent contributor of articles and reviews to Welsh cultural and literary journals. In the1990s, David was active in the field of international education, traveling worldwide and spending a year in the U.S. (in Atlanta and New York City). He speaks English and French in addition to his native Welsh.

About the Photographer

Erika Skogg

National Geographic Photographer

Erika Skogg is a photographer, educator, and National Geographic Explorer with experience documenting cultural stories from the United States to Morocco, Greenland, Iceland, Colombia, and beyond. Born and raised in Wisconsin, Erika’s photographic research and storytelling ideas are driven by the desire to immerse, understand, and visually preserve the region’s local Nordic culture, and in 2018, Erika received a National Geographic Early Career Grant for her project “Scandinavian American.” Erika travels to Scandinavia regularly in search of the cultural connections to our emigrant history and promote an interest in one’s own genealogy to foster a respect for the continued immigration of today.

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