With my parents, a group from the Ashram Community (which they belong to), and other people, we stayed in Iona Abbey for a week run by the Iona Community. Alongside twice-daily services in the Abbey church, communal chores and various other things, there was plenty of time to go walking on the island and take pictures of stuff, so I did.


We set out from Glasgow, which already seemed like quite a long way from anywhere, to discover that it was possible to get much further away from anywhere. :) A bus journey through stunning (but rainy) Highland countryside took us to Oban, where we got a ferry to the Isle of Mull. Mull is a large island; Iona a much smaller island just off its western edge (although geologically unrelated, for confusing reasons).

A sailing boat braving the rain.
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The Oban ferry (left) in dock at Craigmuir, Mull.
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On the ferry we'd met several other Ashram members, but we weren't together when we got off. Long public-transport experience meant that my family were among the first off and to the next bus, which turned out to be lucky for us - there wasn't enough room on the bus, which meant several unfortunate people had to wait three hours in Craigmuir.

That bus journey took us through the equally impressive hills of Mull (the tops were hidden in cloud, and streams falling down precipitous slopes genuinely looked like veins of silver - wasn't there a metaphor about that?), until we arrived at Fionnphort at the other end of the island.

Our first sight of the abbey across the narrow stretch of sea. (Yes, it was still raining.)
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The ferry approaches from Iona.
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A squishy thing against the slipway.
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Once on Iona, we were led the short walk to the abbey and shown to our rooms. I was sharing with another Ashram member; our room was perfectly nice but the window was awesome. Looking at some of the plans, my roommate worked out that our room was directly on the reconstruction line, with half that window being original from the medieval abbey.

If you're staying in a restored medieval abbey, this is what you want your window to look like.
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The cloister.
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After settling in, we wandered southward along the road to have another look at the harbour and beyond.

Rocks off the island's southeastern corner.
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Channels dug by the retreating tide in implausibly-coloured sand.
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Rocks on the beach.
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A convenient bathtub.
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Looks like a fencepost. (We wondered if this area used to be a field or something...)
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Among other things, we climbed the highest hill on Iona (it isn't that high).

Vase of flowers in the refectory.
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White house and rocks, with sea and Mull in the background. (Notice how it's sunny on Iona and raining on Mull? That's how it was most of the week.)
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The cairn atop Dun I (tallest hill).
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Waves on a beach.
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We went to the western side of the island to see the Spouting Cave.

This green corrugated hut is in the (rather small) playing field of Iona Primary School, which is probably what the runes say.
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A western beach.
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Rock pattern 1...
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Some small birds. Chris Bullock (an Ashram member who'd joined us for this walk), told us they were 'turnstones', so-called because they turn over stones to look for food.
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And here's that cave! With each wave it throws water several metres upward like that, and a haze of mist hangs around for several seconds later. It was quite impressive, but we couldn't get very close to it.
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Looking back at the cave (just visible) from some distance.
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Rocks in the sea.
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...and finally, rock pattern 4.
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Eroded grassland edge.
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Another beach (featuring Mum).
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A headland - sort of. We tried to walk out on this but were foiled because it's actually in two parts with sea between.
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Another small island.
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Back to the Mull side of the island and looking at (in order) sky, cloud, Mull hills, Mull foreshore, and sea.
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Iona harbour.
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The cloisters at night in the rain.
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On Tuesdays there's an official 'pilgrimage' around the island, occasionally stopping at various points of interest for readings/a song/etc. So instead of walking as a family or with a few others, this walk was done as a large group (must have been thirty or so). With so many people, you'll notice how they show up in my photos for once! Maybe.

The ruined nunnery, built closer to the village than the abbey (probably figuratively as well as literally), and unrestored.
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Electricity pole and hills.
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Rusty barb near a fence.
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Rocks off Iona, with some other island(s) in the distance.
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The most exciting sight was, of course, abandoned machinery in the disused marble quarry. There had apparently been several attempts to quarry marble here; what's left is the remains of the most recent, which was still quite a while ago.

View down into the quarry.
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I guess this was a steam-powered something or other.
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Made by Fielding & Platt, Gloucester, England.
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And here's what they made. This is what steam-powered machinery should officially look like. (Although... could use less grass.)
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Apparently this was used for cutting marble. Somehow.
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Probably that was before the crosspieces had entirely rusted away.
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Discarded equipment and stones.
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The harbour at the bottom of the quarry where boats would come in to take the stone. Rather them than me.
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Mooring rings.
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We were then led across moorland to St. Columba's Bay, where we stopped for lunch on the shingle beach.

Sheep grazing in front of a narrow passage in the rocks.
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A 'door' in the hillside.
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Columba's Bay (I think).
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Then uphill and inland to the loch that until recently provided drinking water. Apparently it had been perfectly good but somewhat brown-coloured, and didn't meet EU standards, so an undersea pipe from Mull was laid instead.

The loch and the sea (distantly visible over the edge).
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Another view of part of the loch.
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Me looking down into a concrete cover, reflected on what would presumably once have been Iona drinking water.
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Our route then led to the 'Machair', which is a large area of grassland used for cattle and sheep grazing and a golf course (yes, in the same place). There we rendezvoused with the Abbey van, which provided an afternoon snack (flapjack, if I remember rightly).

After that break we continued across moorland to a high point near, but not actually on, Dun I. (They'd rerouted it because of erosion.) Then it was down into the ruins of the Hermit's Cell, basically a circle of dry-stone wall which had once, indeed, been used by a devout hermit. It is now used primarily by midges.

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View across the sea.
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The Hermit's Cell. You can't see the midges in this picture, but they're there.
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Finally back to St. Oran's Chapel, in the graveyard by the abbey. Scottish, Irish, and Norwegian kings were buried here.

Lamp and window in the chapel.
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A sunny day; I went for a brief walk on my own in the morning, climbing Dun I again.

Great view to wake up to...
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Ruined wall and modern footbridge seaward from the abbey.
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Looking across the sea to Mull. (I heavily increased contrast on this picture, but only to make it look like what it really looked like.)
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The southwestern tip of Mull and, beyond that, more Hebridean islands; I think those hills are the Paps of Jura. (Um, she had three breasts?)
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Iona is known for numerous Celtic crosses. Here's one of them, with an electrical cable in the background.
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The sacristry of the ruined nunnery...
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...and its roof.
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Nice windows, shame about the ceiling.
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In the afternoon, a boat trip took us to the Isle of Staffa, which is a pretty incredible uninhabited (but much-visited) island formed from basalt, which doesn't look remotely natural, but is.

That's part of a multi-storey car park abandoned ten thousand years ago, right? Apparently not.
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That's a shark. (We also saw seals, although from quite a distance.)
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Fingal's Cave from the boat (more later).
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Light aeroplane flypast.
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Narrow channel between island and a small pointy bit nextdoor.
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Tiled ground.
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By the entrance to Fingal's Cave.
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Inside the cave.
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Entrance arch again.
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Light on the cliff edges.
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Sea view from the plateau that forms the top of Staffa.
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Waves against the island's edge.
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Back on Iona, a Celtic cross in the abbey's manicured front lawn.
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In the morning I went for a walk again, most notable for the fact that I failed to climb to the supposed ancient fort (there's nothing left but earthworks) on the top of a hill in the northwest. This was mostly because it took me too long to get there and I was going to be late for lunch. :( So I didn't see that. Oh well.

Electrical cables. In the boat on Wednesday, we'd seen a sign marking the location of the undersea power cable from Mull.
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More cables.
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Abbey tower with scaffolding. The original restoration had used 'modern' mortar, which for some technical reason causes damp. They're gradually replacing it with traditional lime mortar.
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In the afternoon we joined a tour of the abbey (run by Historic Scotland, who now own it) which was moderately interesting.

Abbey roofs.
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One of the old grave-markers, removed indoors (into a museum in the old infirmary) to avoid further erosion.
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Door into the really neat watch-room at the western (entrance) end of the church.
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Mum in the watch-room. (She was looking the wrong way, though, so we could have been overcome by invaders at any moment.)
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The marble altar-table and curtain behind.
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Stairs up. I think this is the direct entrance from abbey living quarters to the church, if you're in a hurry and don't want to go via the cloisters, but I never actually went that way so I don't know for sure.
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After visiting the local museum as well, we took a brief walk before dinner.

Metal posts of some kind in the sea by what looks like a large boat repair shed.
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Rusty drum.
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Roof of shed.
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Because it was the last night we went for a walk at night too. I had hoped to see how many stars you can see (there are only about two streetlights on Iona, so should have been plenty) but the answer was sadly 'none, when it's cloudy'. We did see some lighthouses though.

One of those Celtic crosses, lit with Dad's torch/bike light. This picture is not exactly sharp but I thought it looked good anyway. (Note to self: camera has ISO 1600 for a reason, that reason being that you actually need it when taking handheld pictures of Celtic crosses in torchlight at eleven p.m.)
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The streetlight! On the ferry slipway.
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Rocky beach from slipway (and me holding the camera still).
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Friday was the day of leaving - right after the morning service. The Abbey staff/volunteers came to wave us off at the ferry, which was nice... Then began a rather gruelling day of travel back to our respective homes. I took a few pictures in the earlier part though.

Gull coasting in the wake of the ferry to Oban.
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Sailing boat near Oban.
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Ferry car door.
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Obelisk and radio mast.
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Oban town, from the ferry. For reasons best known to themselves, the townsfolk at some point appear to have decided that what a small Scottish port and trading town really needed was a Colosseum.
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The ferry, moored. ('Caledonian MacBrayne' is the company's name. It is painted in pleasingly large letters.)
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The bus from Oban to Glasgow stops midway at Inverary, on Loch Fyne. It looks like a pretty town. Here's the bridge.
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I did make it home, I think about 22:30 ish, so not too bad considering the number of different sections to the journey (two ferries, three buses, two trains). The end. :)

All images © Samuel Marshall. All rights reserved.