Travel Journal March 27, 1999
Iona and Mull: A Grand Day Out.


It was Saturday, and I had been told the previous day that there was no possibility of getting a tour of Iona until Tuesday. But if I wanted to, I could get a ferry to Mull, then take the bus across the island, and then another ferry to Iona, and explore by myself.

The weather, after having been bitchy all week, was just perfect - you couldn't have asked for better. There were just two short showers, of less than five minutes duration, and for the most part it was sunny and warm.

As I was taking the ferry to Mull, I encountered a group of university students who had organized their own tour. I asked the tour leader, Stewart North, if I could join up with them, and he said that I could.

I had also started up a conversation with the bus driver, Tony, who was actually a retired aeronautical engineer. We spent pretty much the entire day (other than when he was driving the bus) in conversation, talking about religion, philosophy, science, politics (both Scottish and American, including a comparison of political parties), botany, geology, birdwatching, and lots of other things I can't remember. It was great.

Now, these students were in fact touring all over Scotland, and for them this was only one stop on the tour. I asked Stewart if any of them knew the story of St. Columba and the founding of the Abbey at Iona, and mentioned that I would be happy to tell said story to the group if there was interest. As a result, I got to sit up at the front of the bus for about ten minutes and talk into the microphone, orating a highly condensed and colorful version of Thomas Cahill's "How the Irish Saved Civilization". I also mentioned that the first recorded account of the Loch Ness monster was in fact the story of how Columba drove a monster into the Loch and commanded it not to harm anyone (and, well, it hasn't, has it?)

Here's a shot of the Mull landscape.

This is the ferry point that takes you to Iona. Notice the opalescent colored water. Also notice the pink rocks in the background - Mull is famous for producing this particular shade of building stone.


The next set of pictures is of an old nunnery on Iona. I particularly like the way that different colored stones have been used (including the pink Mull granite), and layered with flat stones in between.


MacLean's cross.

Iona Abbey. If it looks like it's in remarkably good condition, that's because extensive restoration was done on it about 100 years ago.

A very nice-looking celtic cross. I don't know the particular details of this cross, but it's right in front of the Abbey.

The cloister.

Inside the abbey church.

One of the students on the tour, this young woman was from Greece.

After exploring the abbey, Tony and I took a walk to the north end of the island. I should mention that Iona is small enough that you could probably walk around it in a little over half a day.

These are all just random shots of Iona landscape.


Finally, a shot of one of Scotland's hairy cows (and no fences between me and it!)

I also took a look at the graveyard near the Abbey, but I couldn't find the grave of Macbeth. It seems that the old stones had been removed for some consevation work. However, there was a big, fat, shiny new gravestone of John Smith, the prominent labor party leader (which, interestingly enough, is facing the opposite direction from all of the other graves.)

The next set is back on Mull, on the way back to the ferry.


And on the ferry back to Oban.

While I was on this last leg of the day's tour, I ran into a group of about 10 drunken rugby fans, who wanted me to take a picture of them clowning around. I then made the mistake of complying with their wishes, and then answering their questions about where I was from, because they then decided, for some unfathomable reason, that I was their best friend in the world, and kept trying to give me either 1) drinks, 2) pieces of their official rugby clothing (like ties), and also kept singing (really loud and really badly) "Are you going to San Francisco". They insisted that I should pronounce "Glasgow" like "glasska", and engaged in numerous acts which would have gotten them "in trouble" had a ship's crew member been watching.

I eventually escaped, but it was a very uncomfortable situation for a while. Later, I walked around Oban and had a Kebab, which is really just a gyro, but with a sauce that's more like Thousand Island dressing.