So after a reasonably early start it was load the car once more and head to the ferry for our journey to Iona via the Isle of Mull. The ferry over to Mull takes about an hour, then the drive across Mull to catch the Ferry to Iona takes about an hour. The scenery through Mull is stunning, the rolling mountains, the locks, the highland cows, the glaringly obvious isolation is breathtakingly beautiful. The tops of mountains disappeared into the clouds, no separation of earth and sky.
I have wanted to visit Iona for a number of years, so the moment we arrived at the foot ferry to cross and Iona was visible across the water there was a sense of wow. The ferry crossing from Mull takes all of about 10 minutes and then we stepped off, the sun was shining down upon us and an amazing sense of peace descends upon you, it’s quite hard to explain, but there is a real sense of peace.
Task 1 was find out hotel, we had booked into the St Columba Hotel, we had been told follow the signs to the Abbey and you can’t miss it, and that was good sound advice. We arrived and checked in, our room was cosy but comfortable and we had a view of the port so definitely no complaints here. It was then time for a little bit of exploration.
Stop 1 was the Iona shop from which I have added to my book collection, stop 2 was the Abbey, I was surprised to find a £7.10 entrance fee, we decided we would wait as we were attending worship for the 9pm service and all of us would be together. The next stop was the old graveyard and chapel. As I sat in the chapel alone, the silence was deafening, the cross central on the alter and the candles flickering in the corner, it almost stuns you into being still and silent, I sat for a while and just listened to the silence around me.
We wandered down the lane to the ruins of the old nunnery and as we wandered around the ruins it was hard not to imagine the women busily going about their day. Imagination begins to go wild as you think about the winters on such a remote island in the Inner Hebrides, I would imagine that in the depth of winter this island is a very harsh and unforgiving place.
We then wandered to the small beach near the boat ramp, we had a very classy sandwich from the nearby Spar and partook in a polystyrene cup of wine as we sat on the grassy rock. Children brazenly ran into the absolutely freezing cold water, but unlike myself and probably most adults were not perturbed by the icy waters, they went with it and just enjoyed. People were walking their dogs, throwing balls for them to retrive, others simply sat taking in the views of the bay and Mull across the water.
Rock pools were flourishing with life and the sun shone down, heating our bodies to a comfortable temperature. Again the sense of peace is amazing, almost tangible, we wondered whether part of it was the fact that there were no cars racing around. As you look back towards Mull, you could be on another planet, the clouds kissing the mountains, the water is crystal clear, the land upon which we were treading, steeped in a history of hundreds of years, people of faith and monarchy had tread upon this very site. Pilgrims have travelled to this place for, it’s suggested, 1400 years, since St Columba arrived.
We had dinner at the hotel and I must indeed share my dinner with any vegetarians reading this. A mix of ingredients I personally would never have thought of putting together in a tart, but absolutely amazing – strawberry and goats cheese tart! I kid you not it was absolutely phenomenal, the strawberries and cheese just worked perfectly together! Apparently the fish and chicken options were also good.
Anywho, 9pm was church time, we headed to the Abbey for the evening worship lead by John Bell. The Abbey is absolutely beautiful, there is a real sense of entering the sacred and stepping back in time. There was lots of chants (explained not particularly usual) but as we sang in rounds the abbey was filled with music, the drama of the reading brought the text to life, it was interspersed with the music making it quite reflective. The bottom line is I was just very content to know that I had attended a worship service at the Iona Abbey.
After the service it was off to the community hall for some Scottish dancing – no I didn’t! As we arrived the air was filled with the sound of the bagpipes, a sound in and of itself quite mystical, to sound travelled up the lanes of the island.
My Iona experience has been a peace filled one, a time of sitting and reflecting on the mystery of creation, looking at the land and seeking inspiration from creation itself, recognizing the mysterious presence of God in all that is around. Very profound and basically and experience that will remain with me when I leave the island in the morning.