Twenty-five years ago, Rob and I got as close to Iona as the port city of Oban. We were poor graduate students at the time, traveling on a shoestring budget. As a young seminarian, I had a vague knowledge of the island – but not enough to know that spending the time and money to get from Oban to Iona was really important. I have regretted that decision ever since.
The journey from Oban to Iona is part of what makes it a pilgrimage. The Caledonian MacBrayne Ferry departs Oban every two hours. The journey by boat to Craignure on the Isle of Mull takes about 40 minutes. From there, you catch a bus from Craignure to Fionnphort – a journey of about an hour through extraordinary landscape on a single-lane road with occasional pull-over spots for passing vehicles. At Fionnphort, another ferry makes the ten-minute journey across the Sound of Iona where you will be deposited at the end of the pier in the village of Iona.
Three miles long and a mile and a half across, the rocky island of Iona lies off the west coast of Scotland, part of an archipelago called the Inner Hebrides. Much of the island is made up of ancient pink and grey rocks, which give off a warm, rosy glow – especially at sunset. The Abbey is built of these same rocks, as are many of the houses scattered across the island.
As the ferry made its across the Sound, it veered and slowed and — inasmuch as a ferry can stop, it stopped. There — gliding just beside the boat — was a huge Basking Shark, sieving its way through the primordial waters.
This a magical place — ancient and wild.