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  • Writer's pictureJanetJoanouWeiner

Stupendous Scotland: Part 1

My recent journey to Scotland far exceeded expectations. Full of surprises, delights, revelations, and more. Each region we visited unveiled incredible history, natural beauty, and charm.

Come travel with me through one of the most unusually beautiful places I've ever been.

We started on Iona Island, off the west coast. Getting there required several modes of transportation once in Scotland. First, a three-hour train ride, then an hour on a ferry, and a two hour wait in a tiny port for the bus. The delicious ice cream (including a dairy free option for me! wohoo!) helped tremendously. Then an hour on the bus across the lovely island of Mull. Finally, another short ferry and voilà! The island of Iona.

Iona port

Every minute of travel was well worth it.

Our Bed and Breakfast, The Bishop's Walk

Our room at the far left end was available due to a last-minute cancelation. Apparently, one must secure lodgings on the tiny island up to a year in advance!

View from our room.

See those tiny dots on the top of the mountain? Our host's sheep grazing in the early morning! So entertaining to watch them follow each other up, then back down later. And did you know that when a flock of sheep grazes on grass, you can hear it? A ripping, chewing, munching sound. Very pleasant...

Our host, shepherdess Margaret, one of 170 permanent residents, lives in the home where her mother was born. Her grandfather first came to the island, swimming his horses and wagon across from Mull. Incredible!

Equally incredible were her daily Scottish breakfasts. Oh my goodness!

I think these photos speak for themselves. Eggs, bacon, sausage, grilled tomatoes and mushrooms, potato pancake, toast, and jam. Coffee and juice. Oh, but first, we started off with fresh strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries, with cereal, and yogurt. While all this is about five times as much as I normally eat in the morning, I had no problem polishing it off every day. Good thing I walked extensively, exploring much of the 3 mile long and 1.5 mile wide island.

Just down the road from us, the Iona Abbey dominates the landscape. Originally founded by a man named Columba and his 12 companions, after they rowed over from Ireland, in 563 AD, using a tiny round raft-like boat called a coracle. Considered the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland, the monastery they established became one of the most influential in Britain. As we run a small center, with some similar practices as those ancient monks, we found this encouraging.

During our trip, my husband discovered that one of his ancestors was the abbot (head monk) here in the 9th century. We had no idea!

Early on, zealous Iona monks were determined to build enormous stone crosses to aid in contemplation. Apparently thinking the bigger, the better, they made the horizontal arms quite wide. Alas, they broke off frequently. To solve the problem, they added the center circle, creating the first Celtic crosses.

This is a replica of what is thought to be the very first Celtic cross. It stands outside Columba's burial place next to the Abbey.

A little farther on is the graveyard, once a royal burial ground. Reportedly, the bones of sixty ancient Scottish kings, including Macbeth, are buried here.

It's difficult to describe the wild, open, peaceful beauty of this island. Quiet like I've never experienced. Islands small and large filling the bay and Atlantic ocean beyond. And sheep. So many fluffy sheep dotting the landscape.

Looking east to Mull

I walked up to the breathtaking northern tip of the island, under the unseasonably sunny blue skies. For most of it, I was entirely alone, and the peace was immense. Blessing upon blessing!

Vikings raided this and other islands frequently, and massacred sixty-eight monks here in 806 AD. Today, it's hard to picture such a thing, especially in this tranquil spot.

Martyrs' Bay

Scottish thistles

During these Viking raids, the monks of Iona moved themselves and precious items to Ireland for safety. One of these treasures was their Book of Kells, the lavishly illustrated gospel manuscript.

Quotes regarding Iona are inscribed on the walls of the Abbey's entryway. One spoke of Iona as a "thin place" where it's easy to connect with God. I believe we can fully experience the presence of God wherever we are, through belief in Jesus, and the Holy Spirit residing in us. But yes, the atmosphere in Iona definitely facilitates slowing down and contemplation.

I particularly loved this citation and hope it to be true:

I'd return in a heartbeat given the opportunity. For now, I'm extremely grateful for the experience of visiting this incredible island.

Au revoir Iona! View of Iona from Mull.

Stay tuned for Scotland: Part 2. We'll go to the Highlands, Glasgow, and Edinburgh. Different from Iona for sure, but equally fascinating.

La vie est belle!

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