Islomania: an Adventure on the Isle of Iona
Then explore Iona with me.
There's something for everyone on this
spectacular, sacred island.
What is Islomania?
Islomania: “an obsessional enthusiasm or partiality for islands”
As a child it was such an adventure to cross the water to the Isle of Wight – like visiting a foreign country. And getting lost in an Anglesey forest, well, that was all the more exciting because we were cut off from ‘civilisation’ by a narrow strip of water. When we finally escaped the clutches of the dark scary trees it was as conquering heroes claiming the land as our own!
Islands so often bring out the adventurous spirit in us. Think of the children in Swallows and Amazons, sailing out to meet pirates and live off the land. And only venture to Fair Isle if you can outrun the dive bombing Bonxies (Skuas)!
This deep fascination with islands has existed for centuries. Just think of Plato’s legendary Atlantis sinking beneath the waves or Norse chieftans colonising Iceland in the 9th century. St. John even met God on the Greek island of Patmos and was inspired to write the Book of Revelation. This made me think. Do we seek out islands because we want to find inspiration? I know this was true for me on a recent trip to Iona.
As I loved it so much I decided to share some more of my Iona adventures with you.
Read on for inspiration!
Iona: Jewel of the Scottish Hebrides
1. The Cradle of Christianity
Iona. What can I say? Spectacular, sacred Island. As I approached this teeny tiny lump of rock (1.5 miles by 3 miles) the smell of the sea, the big skies, the white sandy bays and wild rugged landscapes caused my heart to skip a beat! What adventures lay ahead? And what would I discover here?
Iona is known as ‘The Cradle of Christianity’ in Scotland. The Irish monk Columba arrived by coracle in 563AD and with his 12 companions founded what is now known as Celtic Christianity. This spread from Iona through the Western Isles to NE parts of Scotland and ultimately to Northern England and continental Europe. Parts of Columba’s original settlement can be seen as an earth wall and ditch (boundary vallum) near the restored Benedictine Abbey.
Celtic Christianity is still centred on Iona today and many people visit from all over the world, drawn by its peace and tranquility and the opportunity for reflection and retreat - a major pull for me too.
2. Stonking Scenery and Beautiful Beaches!
So, on a pleasant sunny afternoon I set off on my own pilgrimage following in the footsteps of many to Columba’s Bay, alleged landing place of the saint and his twelve. The route crossed one of the most beautiful golf courses I’ve ever seen; walking along the edge of the ocean I was greeted by a sweeping panorama of turquoise water crashing against Lewisian rocks, rushing and roiling up the dazzling white sands. I don’t blame the cattle for enjoying the view!
On a bright sunny day like this you might think you were in the Caribbean; the pristine sandy bays are perfect for getting your toes wet. Or an invigorating swim if you dare!
And why not pick up a rock or two? Columba’s Bay is famous for its many coloured pebbles including Iona Greenstone, the marble that was quarried on the island. They’re so pretty I challenge you not to fill your pockets!
3. Dun I and the Well of Eternal Youth
But what about when the weather turns? What do you do then?
Walk up Dun I of course!!!
Nothing like climbing the island’s high point – 101m of wet slimy gneiss (that’s a type of rock) – in horizontal rain and gales just to get… wait for it… no views! I’m told that on a nice day however, you can see the whole of the island, the Treshnish Isles (including the marvellously named Dutchman’s Cap – it looks like one), Eigg, Rhum and Muck (mmm… tasty sounding cocktail), and if you’re lucky Ireland is visible to the south.
With a little exploration you'll find the Well of Eternal Youth, a place allegedly visited by St Brigid in the 6th century and blessed so that the waters have healing properties. Pilgrims often wash their faces in it or drink a sip. I didn’t look for it though – plenty of rain blowing straight in my face thanks!
4. Iona Abbey: Finding Calm During the Storm
On the same stormy day I also had a fantastic experience at the Abbey. You can’t visit Iona without going there and I highly recommend attending a service rather than just being a tourist.
That grey blustery morning with rain pelting down and wind howling in my ears I battled across field and through bog. I will get to the abbey… I will get to the abbey…
Phew, made it!
I yanked open the door and oh, what calm. Beautiful music was dancing down the aisles, candles gave out light in the darkness and there was peace. The strong granite walls gave refuge from the weather and I could not help but be reminded of the inner calm that Jesus provides through the storms of our lives (e.g. Luke 22-24).
And the service itself was just delightful. Taken by the Iona Community it was infused with references to nature and creation, both song and word, making tangible the Celtic belief in deep unity between Christ and creation.
Then, back into the weather, yay!
But this time carrying Christ’s peace in my heart and moving with a lighter step.
5. Bishop’s House: Island Hospitality
The icing on the cake for me was staying at Bishop’s House. Founded in 1894, it was originally built for prayer, study and Eucharist with St Columba’s chapel at its heart, but today takes in all sorts of guests. I thoroughly enjoyed the warm hospitality of the team, felt totally at home and was able to get a bit of calm and time for reflection. It was a peaceful bolthole, a refuge from a stressful life. Absolutely loved the library (yes, if you like book’s you’ll be okay) and they served some marvellous food. Discovered the best smoked cheese ever!
This was definitely a good base from which to explore the island. A simple yet comfortable place with welcoming staff for whom nothing was ever too much trouble. Their hospitality was second to none and I am blessed to have stayed at Bishop’s House.
So, if you feel a bit of islomania coming on I thoroughly recommend Iona.
There's something for everyone – a bit of history, rugged landscapes and beautiful beaches to explore, time and space for reflection, great hospitality – and I didn’t even mention the wildlife…
But there’s no shortage of islands to choose from. What island will you visit next?