At just three miles long and a mile and a half wide, on the tip of the west of Mull; it would be easy to overlook a visit to Iona when you’re touring Scotland’s Inner Hebrides.
But to miss this drop of paradise in Mull’s turquoise waters would be to miss experiencing arguably Scotland’s most important Hebridean island. For this is a unique place; the symbolic centre of Scottish Christianity, a thriving small community and a tranquil wildlife haven.
Your passage to Iona with Discover Scotland Tours winds you through the Ross of Mull. A rocky landscape of pink granite presided over by Ben More; the island’s only Munro (a Scottish mountain over 3000 feet). Single track roads weave south west; you’ll be feeling like you’re leaving much of civilisation behind and instead heightening your senses to the island’s breath-taking natural beauty.
At the road’s end is the tiny port of Fionnphort. On reaching the slipway, the sight of the sacred Isle of Iona and its Abbey fill your horizon.
The 10-minute crossing to Iona, over the Sound of Mull, is by small passenger ferry. Enveloping you in tranquillity as you arrive. This peaceful and quiet place has very little traffic. Therefore, we travel on foot, visitor vehicles are not allowed. Instead the main sound you hear is the call of seabirds.
Iona has been a place of Christian worship and pilgrimage ever since St Columba and his companions came from Ireland to establish a monastery here in 563 AD. Little remains of its monastic origins as the island suffered at the hands of the Vikings. The Iona Abbey of today was restored in the mid-20th century and is now cared for by Historic Scotland and a place of worship by the Iona Community, an ecumenical Christian organisation.
Whether you’re on pilgrimage or not, there’s lots of history and natural heritage to experience on Iona. It’s also easy to explore on foot. You can ramble up Torr an Aba, the little hill above the Abbey. Many believe the site of St Columba’s writing is here. Reilig Òdhrain – or St Oran’s Graveyard – is said to be the burial place of 48 ancient kings of Scotland, including Macbeth.
Dun I, Iona’s highest point, is 101 metres above sea level. Rewarding you with a vista over the whole island, with panoramic views to other Hebridean islands. Moreover, you can also sip from the Well of Eternal Youth; believed to hold the blessing of St Brigid of Ireland.
Listen out for terns and kittiwakes, and keep your eyes peeled for peregrine falcons, dolphins and even basking sharks. Additionally, from spring to autumn there’s an abundance of wildflowers, from primroses and wild hyacinths to wild iris, orchids and heather.
To visit Iona is a privilege. It leaves you with a sense of peace and restoration so, as you take a backward glance on the short ferry crossing back to Fionnphort, your mind will take a snapshot of this special island that you’ll wish to keep forever.
* Discover Scotland Tours takes you to Mull and Iona on our four day small group tours from Glasgow and Edinburgh.