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The Grey Nomad in Iona - Island Magic

It was September, 1996, but this wasn’t really the start. For those of you who haven’t read 'the History' page yet, it was the start of a promise I had made, with my husband, years earlier....

"You'll be going to Iona?"....

"Yes John, before the year is out next year".

It was on my birthday in June 1995 that the young consultant at Weston Hospital told me that John would have the summer but no longer.  We had always promised to tell each other if such a thing happened and John asked.

We were given the summer and lived within the sanctity of the cloak of love.

It was September in 1996 before I set out in my car from Northamptonshire for Iona in Scotland.

I had moved to Northamptonshire having sold the big old house in Somerset to be near to my daughter and her new baby.

So, I drove through Stoke-on-Trent and on to the M6 and then on up to Scotland. Once I reached Abington, in Lancashire I decided to take a break, staying overnight in a Travel Lodge there.

Sheep huddled together near the fences on a frosty morning in Abington, Lancashire.

I woke up refreshed after a pleasant night’s sleep. The first frost of the autumn made the fields white in the early morning. The sheep were huddled together near to the fences.

I drove around Glasgow on my way to Loch Lomond, the lock being pink and misty in the sun. I went for a trip on the Loch where the water sparkled in the sunshine.

After the diversion of the boat trip it was on to Oban where I stayed in a B&B. There were two other visitors staying there and so we all got talking. It was their third trip to the islands. They were on their way to the Western Isles, having met at a club for widows and widowers.  "We were ashamed." they said. "We didn't know our country. None of their members had been to the islands" and so they vowed to travel each year – for them, this year’s turn was to the Isle of Islay. I had told them that I knew the South of England like the back of my hand, and wanted to explore the northern areas of our island. I told them that I was going to get to know my whole country, and to travel the world as far as money would allow. And so, I have been and am still doing so now.

That morning the landlord took me to the boat, to sail to Craignure on Mull, about a 50 minute journey. From there I caught the Essbee coach to Fionnphort on the south of the island. Being an island coach it is not unusual to drop off produce to outlying areas en-route and so it was with my journey. We dropped off fresh vegetables, fruit and some chickens at various places. The journey took 1 hr 30mins to cross Mull, through some of the most beautiful scenery the island has to offer.The Abbey on the Isle of Iona.

When we finally arrived we were looking across the Sound of Iona, towards the Abbey that dominates everywhere on Iona. It has been there since before the birth of Christ and has been a Christian monastery since the time of St. Columba. A place holy; where the division between Earth and Heaven is thin. You can walk straight through.

The Atlantic Ocean as seen from the bay on Iona.

The light is different, the sounds wonderful and the silence loud.

The white, white sands, with the pure turquoise, blue, mauve and purple ocean of incredible beauty. The white sands of Iona.

The rocks, so compressed in volcanic times, that they have a life form of their own and yet there are no fossils.

John was waiting there for me...

... and I walked with him all of the week.

Sunrise on Iona.

I was taking part in a creative studies week.  I sang in the Abbey, danced in the open, wrote poems and essays on the sea shore, painted, Footsteps in the sand on a deserted beach on Iona.and went on a pilgrimage around the island.

I walked on empty beaches, leaving only my own footprints in the sand. The light was incredible.

12 monks had been murdered by the Vikings on the beaches at the northern end of Iona.

The bay on Iona with its back to the ocean.

The bay, with its back to the ocean, with its geyser is wonderful. The Iona ferry is anchored in the Sound every night. There are 3 farms on the island and seaweed is collected from some of the seashores to be used for manure on the fields and in the gardens. The hay is placed around poles (stooked) to stop it from blowing away. There are fishing boats and boats for trips to the islands.

There is a primary school on Iona, it has a mixed football team and the children travel by boat to various islands to play their matches. There are some lovely sheltered gardens with Hydrangeas.

Fuschia Trees on Iona.

There are trees of Fuchsia - incredible that these flowers should be growing so far North and becoming trees. There were painters, sculptors, weavers (I still have a soft rug). Many folks work there. I saw the stars at night - shooting stars dropping through the sky, the moon casting its shadow on the sea, a real world.

Sunset over Iona.

Sitting in St Columba's Chapel on the stone benches with our backs to the walls, we intoned our voices; the walls absorbed the sounds and the sounds became one sound. The Abbey was lit up at night, the altar of green serpentine from the quarry, gleaming, was the backdrop to fabulous music.

We did our tasks in the mornings. Edwina was a vicar's wife who lived in the mountains of the North of Scotland and refused to go south to England. She taught us to make paper twists with a knot in them, for fire lighting in the evenings. Some folks were on meal duty, including the washing up! We sat at the long tables that the monks used, and followed a monastic life. One afternoon I found myself in the herb garden, picking herbs for flavouring our food. We slept in bunk beds-showers were available in the mornings. There were cloisters and a small museum with intricate Celtic Crosses.

Stormclouds over Iona.

There were stormy days with great finger clouds moving across the sea and brilliant sunrises at 4.30 am.

There was one wonderful man who had escaped from a prison in Nigeria, leaving his friend there. He came straight to Iona for the care that he needed, which would carry on after the week finished.

A view of the entrance to Fingals Cave.


There was Olga who came with us to Fingals Cave. She had trekked across Sweden and Norway from Finland to the boat and then walked across Scotland to Iona. Such strong real human beings.


We went to Fingal's Cave on a choppy sea day. Saw seals basking on the rocks in the sun Cormorants were waiting on the rocks for fish.  Staffa means Pillar.  There is a very powerful force between Staffa, the cave and an off shore island. The sea churned and bubbled like a cauldron.

Hexagonal Pillars of Rock on Iona.


The hexagonal pillars of rock are amazing. It’s like the Giant's Causeway of Northern Ireland.  We climbed along a track into Fingal's Cave, it’s huge. You can walk right inside the cave (the sea was out) and hear your own music in the eternal surge of the sea. We then listened to Mendelssohn’s music when we returned to the Abbey.


Returning to the Isle of Mull.

I went to Tobmerory on the north eastern side of Mull, on the way home. The ferry stopped a while. Seeing this town from the sea is unforgettable. Each house is painted a different colour.

Glencoe, Scotland - Remote and Safe.

In Oban I stayed a while, visiting Lake Etive (the only lake in Scotland) - a freshwater lake that meets the sea. We chugged up the lake towards Glencoe, passing the mussel farms, set up by local people to earn a living. There were a pair of Golden Eagles soaring upwards on the thermals over the mountains. There is a colony of seals on an island in the lake that have been there forever. Many coves that we passed can only be reached by sea.

I bought a long tartan skirt in the factory shop in Oban, it is still in use today. I went to the distillery.

The hills had swathes of blue hydrangea in bloom, pink ones are prized and grown in tubs. Quite the reverse of the colours in the South of England.

Then I wended my way home.......

..... very happy after spending a week that was timeless. In all 518 miles.

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