Iona was founded by St Columba (or St Columcille as he is known in Ireland.) St Aidan then went from Iona to found the monastery on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne off Northumbria, which we visited on the way up the east coast (and on the way down in our 2007-8 round Britain cruise). So there was a sense of completeness in visiting Iona, after several attempts last year and one this year in May were thwarted by bad weather.
We went ashore by dinghy, spent an hour in the atmospheric little museum, which tells the story of Iona very well through artefacts and especially the carved crosses, and took a guided tour of the cathedral, where we were delayed by a singer and her piano accompanist, who were practising. It was one of the gentler songs from Jesus Christ Superstar rather than a monkish plainchant, but it was from a singer with a lovely husky voice, and nobody wanted her to stop.
The cathedral was restored so heavily that it was hard to find the old material, except inside. John Ruskin would have been appalled, because this was exactly the kind of excessive Victorian makeover of historic buildings which he campaigned against by founding the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.
We admired the kitchen garden and the flowers, walked a little along a shore path, saw many members of the Iona Community at work in the grounds, in conversation or walking silently in contemplation.
We went back to the boat and motored to Staffa to see Fingal’s Cave, made famous by the composer Felix Mendelson in his overture The Hebrides. Landing wasn’t possible because there was a low swell running, just enough to make it very difficult with a dinghy as small as ours, and anyway the pilot advises leaving a watch on board, so it would have been a risky solo landing. We took plenty of photos. There were lots of visitors, landed on a small jetty by excursion boats from Iona.
A busy day – went back south to Tinker’s Hole, a famous anchorage hidden inside the rocks near the entrance to the Sound of Iona. Felt pleased after piloting ourselves in but disappointed to find it was full of boats already. Given that the Iona anchorage is uncomfortable, it makes sense to overnight there and visit Iona by day, which is what the other boats must have been doing. We had wondered why we were the only ones anchored overnight at Iona.
Found a good empty space near the north entrance and anchored. Wonderful atmosphere, despite the crowd, hemmed in by rocks, with crystal clear water.
Passage notes: 17 miles Iona north to Staffa and back down to Tinker’s Hole, 4 hours, S 2-3, visibility moderate, no easy anchorage near Staffa, almost perfect shelter once into Tinker’s Hole