National Geographic Endeavour
From a mooring in the Sound of Iona, Zodiacs landed us at the village pier with the silver sands of Iona in the foreground and the Abbey beyond. The sea was a clear blue-green. We were early visitors to the island, and the monuments were for us to enjoy alone. The island is multifaceted in its appeal, and from a stance on top of the rocky knoll, which is said to be where St. Columba had his small living cell, I could see naturalists of our party heading to the northern end of the island in search of corn crakes and meadow plants. Around the Abbey the more historically minded were photographing the Early Christian crosses and Romanesque doorway of St Oran's Chapel and wending their way to the small museum containing an amazing display of gravestones and memorials. Before the beginning of the morning service, candles were lit in many areas of the Abbey church. With the singing of the first hymn a truly medieval resonance had been created. The communion congregation included many members of the Caledonian Star as well as holidaymakers and island residents. An inspiring cantor led the musical praise. Other contemplative members enjoyed the peace of the cloister of the Nunnery, now planted with summer flowers including flaming peonies. The west front of the Abbey, with the Early Christian crosses in the foreground, evokes several aspects that combine to offer an exceptional sense of history. The crosses date to the high point of artistic endeavor within the monastic community in the mid-to-late eighth century AD. The impressive doorway of the Benedictine Abbey bears testimony not only to the skills of the original builders in the thirteenth century, but also to the dedication of the restorers who have brought the Abbey back to life. From Donegal to Iona, we have been learning about the famous Irish saint Columba, and marveling at his sea journey in a boat created from hide and wicker in AD 563. Columba founded a monastery on Tory Island, and last night we saw some of the early Christian remains on the island, including a round tower, crosses and a tiny church, before enjoying a memorable evening of island hospitality. After Iona, skillful navigation by the Captain took us to see the island of Staffa and Fingal's Cave from the best angle possible. The columnar basalt formation was clearly visible. Several of those on deck were audibly humming Mendelssohn! In the afternoon, Kinloch Castle on Rum could not have been more of a contrast. Built for a Lancashire industrialist in 1891, the Castle contains the original furniture and fittings, including period bathrooms of astonishing sophistication and a remarkable musical orchestrion.