Previously, in Part 1, our journey took us from an early morning in Glasgow, across some wonderful roads, all the way to Oban. From there, we jumped on one of the most scenic ferry rides ever and at about 10am we touched down in Craignure, on the east side of Isle of Mull.
There is something different about being on an island. All of a sudden, you can’t help but feel like you are cut off from the rest of world. It is a strange yet exciting feeling of being on foreign land, uncannily similar to the normal surroundings on mainland. Architecture is almost non existent and instead, you are surrounded by hills and forests for as far as the eye can see. Cars and people become far scarcer and you are left feeling like a colossal stone was just lifted off your heart. You breathe in, relax and enjoy the view!
When getting off a ferry onto one of the Scottish Isles, I would recommend you wait just 5 minutes for all the ferry traffic to dissipate, at least if you want to enjoy an uninterrupted view of the road and scenery ahead, as well as if you want to make some considerable progress on the road!
We were now on the home stretch to Isle of Iona. The drive from Craignure to Fionnphort (ferry terminal for Iona) takes about an hour. The roads on isle of Mull are predominantly single track with designated bays for passing or meeting on coming traffic. For a driver, the first time being on this type of highway can be a bit daunting but once you get the hang of it, it becomes pretty easy.
Personally, I have driven plenty of single track roads around Scotland and the UK. My favorites are the ones on the North Cost 500 route. But the ones on Isle of Mull are pretty much right up there with those ones in terms of scenery, quality of pavement and driver engagement.
After a quick lunch stop at the Snack Bar in Fionnphort, and a quick ferry ride we are now finally one the sacred Isle of Iona.
It is safe to say this Isle is an unspoiled gem! Wherever you turn your head you will either see a beach which looks like it could belong in South-East Asia or a tranquil green hill with farm animals grazing away. There is no internet here, no phone signal, nothing of the modern conveniences to distract you from nature. You don’t hear the roar of cars and buses or the constant chatter of people and you don’t smell exhaust fumes or cheap greasy fast food. All you get is the fresh but crisp breeze from the sea and the smell of freshly cut grass. You can literally feel your body deflating as stress levels go down.
While there are many ways to explore the island, we chose to go clockwise, from the main village to the South End (St Columba’s Bay) and then back up to Traigh an t-Suidhe beach on the North End. Exploring Iona will take time and be prepared with water and food and great hiking boots as the majority of the time you will spend on footpaths.
If going clockwise, the first beach you will encounter is Martyr’s Bay. It is called Martyr’s Bay in the memory of 24 men lost in the First and Second World Wars. It is a stunning little beach with white sand and crystal clear blue waters and it looks over the west side of Isle of Mull. This beach is a great introduction to the stunning views that are about to come.
On our way towards the south of the Isle, the next beach is the Bay at the Back of the Ocean. Arguably, this is Iona’s biggest beach and it spans for almost a mile on the west side of the isle. It is rightfully named so because the closest mainland to the west is North America. As expected, this is a stunning beach and its sheer length allows for some amazing scenery. The openness of the Atlantic, the bright blue sky and hearing nothing but the sound of waves makes one question whether living in a densily populated area like Glasgow is worth the benefit.
This beach is also home to the local golf course. Luckily, we did not interrupt anyone playing, with the exception of sheep grazing away, keeping the course nice and tidy. This area is also home to a species of birds called Corncrakes, but since we were visiting in October, they had already flown down to Africa for some nicer weather.
After taking in all the beauty of the Bay, the path gets narrower and takes you through the hills, alongside tiny Loch Stanoig towards the South End beach, St Columba’s Bay. Unique on Iona, this beach is covered in teardrop pebbles, named St Columba’s Tears, as the eons have sculpted them into perfect elyptical shapes. Traditionally you would pick one representing all the negative aspects of your life and throw it in the sea and then a second one, representing all the good aspects of your life and take it home with you.
After having a bit of rest and taking in the scenery, we head back through the town towards the North End, home to Traigh Ban and Traigh an t-Suidhe beaches. To me, Traigh an t-Suidhe was the most beautiful place on the entire isle, mainly because on this side the wind was calmer and in the sunlinght, you could easily be fooled into thinking you were on a tropical island. The calmness of the ocean, its color and the warmth of the evening sun really makes you sit down, relax and enjoy the wonder that this place is. I cannot promise I won’t go back to Iona in the future, just to get a full day of relaxing on this beach alone.
There is more to Iona than just the beautiful nature scapes and the beaches. This isle is where Christianity in Scotland has its roots and therefore represents a great spiritual point for tourism.
Exiled from Ireland, St Columba came to Iona and founded what is now the isle’s greatest attraction, Iona Abbey. It is a feat of engineering for its time, as it was built in the 6th century, it still stands.
In keeping with the religios symbolism, other attractions on Iona include the ruins of the Nunnery, St Oran’s Chapel and Marble Quarry. Unfortunately we did not get to see the Quarry (maybe use it as an excuse for a future visit) but we did get to see the other two.
There is a strange feeling walking between the ruined walls of the Nunnery. All you can think about is how 800 years ago there were people living and breathing behind those walls and now what is left of them is nothing but a shadow of the Nunnery’s former glory. As you walk between the ruins, you can’t help but wonder what the future holds for one’s self and whether all that we build today will stand the tortures of time.
St Oran’s Chapel was built in the memory of St Oran who was burried alive as a sacrifice to prevent the walls of the first church from caving in. It is now the eternal resting place of Scottish, Irish and Norwegian kings.
To brighten up your day, if you’re feeling a bit nostalgic after visiting the historical attractions, all the farm animals (which probably outnumber the islanders 10 to 1) come to your rescue. There are plenty of coos, sheep and even a friendly ox which will come to you in need of petting. I have been up and down Scotland a lot but I have never met friendlier animals than the ones on Iona. I guess everything on this island is there to make you forget about everything and just relax and enjoy the beauty that this place is.
Iona, you are beautiful. From your history, to your amazing scenery and beaches you have been amazing and I can’t wait to come back. I cannot recommend this place enough.
On our final part of this series, Part 3, we will be experiencing what it’s like to drive on Isle of Mull to the fullest, rally stage style! Stay tuned, and let me know what you think so far!