Iona is a tiny island – only three and a half miles long by one and a half across – separated from Mull by about a mile of water. Regular visitors to Iona travel through Mull by car or coach and cross the Sound of Iona by ferry from Fionnphort. The landing point is the pier just to the south of the Iona Abbey, at the foot of a hill that leads up the school. On the right is the village, its picturesque cottages overlooking the shore. There are only about seventy houses on the island, and nearly twenty of them are here.

Climbing the hill directly from the jetty the visitor soon encounters the first of Iona’s ruins – the remains of the Benedictine Nunnery founded in 1203 by Reginald MacDonald of Islay, Lord of the Isles. At the top of the hill there is a junction. Visitors to the cathedral turn right here, while those who have time to explore more of the island could take the other turning which leads to the south and Port a’ Churaich, the Port of the Coracle, where Saint Columba first set foot on the island and later established his now famous monastery.

The Sacred Isle

Centuries before the arrival of St Columba on Iona in 563 the island had been adopted as a centre of religion by sun worshipping Druids. Like Columba, these priests of the Dark Ages must have sensed something unique in the atmosphere of Iona, a quality that still sets it apart as a spiritual oasis.

Perhaps it was the sparkling clarity of its light that appealed to these early mystics, for here the sky seems to open directly to Heaven not only as the sun goes down in comparable splendour, but throughout any sunny day when the cloud that hangs over the mainland and Mull miraculously breaks to bathe Iona in light that seems even brighter against the sombre unlit hills on the opposite shore.

Of course, it’s no use pretending that Iona escapes those days of unrelieved wetness that Western Scotland provides quite regularly, but it is true that Iona enjoys a substantial amount more sunshine than places to the east.