The Holy Isle – Iona.
‘What year are we talking about, Richard?’ asks one of my fellow passengers on the Majestic Line cruise. We’re about to land on the place where Christianity first came to Scotland.
We agree it’s probably about the 13th century AD. We’re wrong – not even close, in fact.
St Columba founded an abbey on the Hebridean island of Iona and had time to get it well established before his death in 597 A.D. The Book of Kells is believed to have been written here around 800 A.D., then hidden and protected during various Viking invasions.
Rain is threatening as the Glen Tarsan approaches.
The sun is shining, however briefly.
Right through the middle ages Iona was a place of pilgrimage with the Abbey and St Columba’s grave drawing visitors from all over Europe. Now they come from all over the world.
Modern day pilgrims filing off the ferry from Mull.
There’s no place for our boat to berth and the wind is up. So we’re ferried ashore in the tender.
There’s not a lot going on in Iona’s main drag.
Our first stop is the nunnery, now in ruins but still attracting a small crowd.
Then it’s off along the road to the abbey – Abbey Road.
The Abbey is still in working order, and perhaps little changed over the centuries.
In 1979 Duke of Argyll sold Iona to Hugh Fraser, who donated the island to the nation. Here’s the seventh duke and his wife lying in state.
Detail from the cloister. Whose hands are they and what are they holding?
Our ship is waiting for us just offshore.
There’s some sound advice for cyclists. I’d dismount at this point too.
As well as the tourists, a few people still really live on Iona. We can see the appeal, at least when the rain stops.
The writer was the guest of The Majestic Line.