Iona

Sep 05, 2019 - Lord of the Glens


The high winds of yesterday that had led to widespread ferry cancelations in the Hebrides had died away, enabling us to venture out of the sheltered anchorage of Oban bay to make for the Isle of Mull, the second largest of the Inner Hebridean islands and one with an exceptionally long, highly indented coastline. It is an island celebrated for its wildlife, golden and white-tailed eagles, shorebirds, and rich marine life, including minke whales, orcas, and seasonal basking sharks. We disembarked at Craignure and 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 there in 563AD that Columba brought 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 and taken to Kells Abbey in Ireland to preserve it from Viking raids in the eigth century. We walked to the restored Benedictine abbey, passing one of Britain’s best-preserved mediaeval nunneries and one of Thomas Telford’s ‘Parliamentary Kirks’ on the way, to view St Martin’s Cross. In situ since the eighth century, this is the original Celtic Cross from which all others derived their distinctive design. We also explored the abbey, its cloister, a museum of high crosses, and numerous craft shops. A highlight of the day was a performance in the abbey by the Doric String Quartet, part of the 2019 Mendelssohn on Mull Festival.

After a hearty lunch at the St Columba Hotel, we took the ferry back to Fionnphort and recrossed the Isle of Mull, passing the island’s two munroes, Ben Talla and Ben Mhor, both meeting the requirement of being more than 3,000 feet tall. Detouring to Duart, we visited the ancestral pile of the Clan Maclean, a filmset of a Scottish castle perched on a rocky crag strategically situated overlooking the Sound of Mull. We took a tour of the castle, complete with a prisoner in the dungeon, sound effects, and a stroll around the site that includes a burial ground for Hanoverian soldiers billeted at Duart after the 1745 Jacobite Rebellion. Then we drove to Tobermory to rejoin the ship.

Before dinner, we heard a lively presentation from a member of staff of the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust.

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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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