A trip to Iona Abbey

July 21, 2016 - Oban, United Kingdom

Ah ha. Another day, another weather pattern. Before we went down to breakfast this morning the clouds looked higher and the waters of the bay were glassy smooth. Looks like Margaret has managed the weather and the travel schedule perfectly. We needed to be at the Ferry Terminal by 9:45am to begin our trip to Iona so we tucked a few things into our backpack. Things like nibbles, jackets, and cameras but no umbrella. Margaret is very pleased with her hooded rainjacket and was willing to leave her coat and umbrella behind.

After breakfast we had more than forty five minutes to stroll along the waterfront and we stopped to watch a group of black guillemots swimming around in one corner of the bay. One pair were flying up to a hole in the waterfront wall where there may have been a chick being fed. While we watched a local cat came down and showed a great, tail swishing interest in the noises. We waited and watched the cat try to work out how it could get down a near vertical concrete wall without ending up in the bay.

When we arrived at the terminal building there was a much larger crowd than normal waiting to board the ferry. It was only later on the trip that we learned that there was a Highland Games at Tobermory today. We were heading in the other direction; down to the south-east of Mull. A bit sorry to be missing the opportunity of seeing a Games but satisfied that we were heading for Iona on a perfect day.

When we were sold our tickets they wrote the ferry time on the ticket but there was no other indication of times, just a sheaf of tickets; Oban to Craignure Ferry, Craignure to Fionnphort Bus, Fionnphort to Iona Ferry and the same three in reverse. We had a timetable for buses and ferries that, like most timetables, needed some practice with the system, or blind luck, to be in the right place to make connections. During the fifty minute crossing to Mull I tried to work out which times would connect with the appropriate ferries and buses to get us home again.

As there were larger crowds expected there were many more buses waiting to meet the ferry today including coaches and THE double decker. Our tickets were checked by a guy from the bus company and we were directed to a particular bus. We chose what we thought were reasonable seats; no smeary window, no flapping curtain and on the left side. We weren't really sure which side would have the best views for the drive down so the left will do.

When the bus was full our driver introduced himself as Colin while he got us underway. He told us things about the island, stories about island life, tales of some of the characters on the island as well as muttering encouragement or curses at the other drivers as he negotiated the single lane road. There are frequent passing places on the road but even those are narrow when there is a bus and an inexperienced motorhome driver. Colin's commentary included some facts and figures, a bit about flora and fauna, a little geology, little things like mobile phone reception (impossible, except if you have one hand on one of the standing stones) and tales about characters like Carol, the duck lady, who has a small tea house and feeds the local ducks in the middle of the road to get cars to stop. Carol wants the coaches to stop but it is difficult for them to park and anyway she only has eleven cups.

Colin kept us amused for the full seventy minutes of the drive to Fionnphort and when he dropped us off at the ferry he said 'just go straight to the head of the line and tell them you are from Colin's bus'. He then reminded us that if we weren't on the 3:00pm ferry we would be spending the night on Iona. Can't be much clearer than that, but a night on Iona would probably be better than on one of the unpopulated islands.

From the ferry the sunshine highlighted the sand in the channel and gave the water a turquoise colour as we made the crossing. With the departure time in mind we decided there were about two and a half hours to explore before we needed to be back near to the settlement and the ferry. We would be able to see when the ferry began the trip from the Mull side and then rush to the embarkation point. As we waited at the Iona shore for the two cars to drive off we decided we would head directly up to the Abbey and look around there before stopping at the Nunnery ruins on the way back. We could then explore around the settlement at the ferry ramp if there was any time left over.

The audio guide for the Abbey was useful but seemed to concentrate on atmospheric sounds and music rather than expanding on the information on the display panels. I spent most of the time listening to the guide as background as I walked around looking here and there. As in most churches and cathedrals the abbey lighting inside was dim and made photography challenging. When we first arrived there was a choir going through final timing rehearsals for a performance tomorrow (damn) and there were notices about an instrumental performance today, but at 3pm (damn again).

Time slipped away as we explored the grounds, the cloisters and the church and we had to leave time to look around the Nunnery on our way back. Ruins always have a different kind of beauty and atmosphere and these were no exception. It must have been a cold existence for the Nuns as there was only one small room with a fireplace although I presume the kitchen would have fires and help warm the refectory.

We took a few final photos at the Nunnery and walked down to Martyrs' Bay for a quick look before going back to take our place on the embarkation queue just as the ferry began the trip over from Mull. We were at the head of the line and even with the choice of places to sit for the 10 minute crossing we just took a seat inside. Colin was waiting with his bus as promised and we chose virtually the same seats for the return journey, thus giving us a clear view of the other side of the road this time. Colin's running commentary on the island landmarks, characters and other drivers continued unabated and without repetition (except for comments on drivers' antic's) for the seventy minute return journey as well. We especially liked his tale about one of the other bus drivers who used to give a toot of the horn as he passed his lady friend's house. She would then put dinner on so it was ready when he dropped his passengers off and drove back home. Once the other drivers heard about this they would all toot as they passed. The other story we liked was about a newly erected bus shelter. None of the drivers had ever picked up or dropped passengers at the intersection but the council decided to build the bus shelter there anyway, and equipped it with solar panels to light it at night. The bus service stops at 5pm.

At Craignure we joined a huge crowd waiting to board for the 5:30pm departure, most from the Games at Tobermory. We chose to sit in the forward lounge near the bar. Not because we wanted a drink but rather to take advantage of the more comfortable seats. There were plenty of people returning from the highland games but we had seats and I dozed off on the journey. I was awoken by the sound of bagpipes very close by. In fact the drone pipes were just about in my ear. A number of young, kilted people from the games took turns to play the pipes for the second half of the journey. At least they could play fairly well.

It was ten past six when we docked and Margaret and I decided we would see if we could get a table at Coast Restaurant again. They managed to squeeze us in and we chose from the light menu again tonight. Cullen Skink followed by Salmon for me and Salmon Cakes for Margaret. Margaret also had meringue, berries and ice cream for dessert so I kept her company by having the Cheese Selection. It was another wonderful meal and eating early gave us a bit of a chance to walk slowly back to the hotel and let dinner settle. Back at the hotel we went through the photographs from today and relived our Iona visit while we chose a few photos for the journal.


There must be a bird down there
Safe from predators
Glaciated landscape on the Ross of Mull
Iona Abbey and the High Crosses
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