A fundamental aspect of pilgrimage is to engage the local culture of a site. It is paramount to experience with your senses the place where you are. This means intentionally involving the sight, sound, smell, savor and sensations of a place. It is advisable to not just find a McDonald’s or Starbucks when you are hungry or thirsty, but seek after local cuisine and appreciate it for the expanding understanding it gives you for a locale. It means taking out the earbuds and listening for the unique melodies that are native to a particular place; this could be the sounds of the sea, regional birdsong, or the lilt of a distinct accent. And it is certainly seeing the sights that enhance the definition of a place.
When one comes this far away to Iona, it is always recommended to try to get off and away for a boat tour to Staffa Island. Staffa Island is renowned for many features, one being its unique basalt columns; similar rock formations can be found in Northern Ireland’s Giant Causeway, which, between the two, legends of giants and hurling stones have emerged and been told for generations. This is also the summer breeding ground for the Atlantic Puffin, a clown-like looking bird that comes ashore to lay eggs in the island’s thrushy and rocky outcroppings. And lastly, there is the celebrated Fingal’s Cave, a notable cavern renowned for its unique structure, incredible acoustics and naturally formed rock walk way along the side of the of cave. It is here that Mendelssohn received the inspiration for the “Hebrides Overture (Fingal’s Cave}” that continues to provide the world a stirring reminder of this natural wonder of the world.
Our little group was very grateful to the elements for aligning, and to Gordon Grant Marine’s crew who delightfully navigated our boat, so that we could pull up alongside the small docking area and disembark. It was an absolute delight to walk up, down and around this small Hebridean island, watching the puffins swoop and swoon over their nests, and even be able to make our way far into the reaches of Fingal’s Cave.
“…one of the most extraordinary places I ever beheld. It exceeded, in my mind, every description I had heard of it …composed entirely of basaltic pillars as high as the roof of a cathedral, and running deep into the rock, eternally swept by a deep and swelling sea, and paved, as it were, with ruddy marble, baffles all description.”
–Sir Walter Scott