Poor, Lonely Fingal

Well, the seas were too rough for my tour to land at Staffa so that I could see Fingal’s Cave1. The boat captain took us out past the shelter of Iona, and the seas pitched us around pretty well, so we all got the point about it not being safe. It reminds me a little of my attempt to visit the Skelligs in Ireland – one chance in an out-of-the-way village for a boat trip that is dependent on the weather. And the weather just didn’t co-operate.

So, Fingal got no visitors today.

Anyway, here are some pictures from the adventures I did have.

This is the view from the yard of my guesthouse. Almost makes climbing the steep streets worthwhile.
This is the view from the yard of my guesthouse. Almost makes climbing the steep streets worthwhile.
This is the waterfront of Oban as the ferry carries me away towards the island of Mull.
This is the waterfront of Oban as the ferry carries me away towards the island of Mull.
This is Duart Castle, the family seat of the MacLean clan. It's sitting on a very picturesque headland on Mull.
This is Duart Castle, the family seat of the MacLean clan. It’s sitting on a very picturesque headland on Mull.

The Mull portion of the Three Isles Excursion I was on was essentially riding on a bus for 70 minutes to get from the harbour nearest Oban to the harbour nearest Iona and Staffa. Some very pretty scenery and interesting bits2, but it was all through the windows of a bus.

The next stage was supposed to be the boat ride to Staffa, but we all know how that turned out. Instead, the boat took us across to Iona3, where we had a few hours before catching the ferry back to Mull. So, I went to look at the very cool stuff on Iona.

The Iona shore. It looks so nice and clear, but the wind out of the shelter of the island is fierce.
The Iona shore. It looks so nice and clear, but the wind out of the shelter of the island is fierce.

Iona is a special place in the history of Scotland and Ireland. St. Colomba built his abbey here, and this is where the Book of Kells was written, before it was moved to Ireland to keep it away from the Viking raiders.

In the village on Iona is a 13th century nunnery.
In the village on Iona is a 13th century nunnery.
The nunnery doesn't look pleased to see me.
The nunnery doesn’t look pleased to see me.
This is an interesting carving. It's pretty worn, and I've done some fiddling with contrast and stuff to make it show up clearly. It's a sheela-na-gig, a carving of a woman with her legs spread. It's supposed to chase away evil spirits. The origins of this belief and motif are unclear, but they're fairly common in Scotland, Ireland, and England on churches from the 13th and 14th centuries.
This is an interesting carving. It’s pretty worn, and I’ve done some fiddling with contrast and stuff to make it show up clearly. It’s a sheela-na-gig, a carving of a woman with her legs spread. It’s supposed to chase away evil spirits. The origins of this belief and motif are unclear, but they’re fairly common in Scotland, Ireland, and England on churches from the 13th and 14th centuries.
This is St. Colomba's abbey. It's the same site as the original abbey from the 6th century, but the current building is from around 1200.
This is St. Colomba’s abbey. It’s the same site as the original abbey from the 6th century, but the current building is from around 1200.
This is the Road of the Dead. It originally led from the Bay of Martyrs, back by the village, up to the abbey, and is the route that chieftains would be carried for burial at the abbey. Most of the road is underneath the current ground level, but this section, near the abbey, is all that remains above ground.
This is the Road of the Dead. It originally led from the Bay of Martyrs, back by the village, up to the abbey, and is the route that chieftains would be carried for burial at the abbey. Most of the road is underneath the current ground level, but this section, near the abbey, is all that remains above ground.
This is the interior of the abbey church. It's still used for services here on Iona, and is the site of pilgrimage.
This is the interior of the abbey church. It’s still used for services here on Iona, and is the site of pilgrimage.
Okay. This is another cool carving. It's called the Tormented Soul, and features in a number of churches. It's set at the point in the ceiling where the priest should direct his voice for the acoustics of the space to make it carry to the entire area.
Okay. This is another cool carving. It’s called the Tormented Soul, and features in a number of churches. It’s set at the point in the ceiling where the priest should direct his voice for the acoustics of the space to make it carry to the entire area.
The Ninth Duke of Argyll paid for restoring and repairing the abbey, on the condition that it be used for all Christian denominations. He died before it was complete, and is buried in his home tomb. His wife survived to see the work finished and, being from the islands herself, is interred here, next to a memorial for her husband. Note that the Duke's crown is below his feet, while the Duchess's crown is on her head; that's how you can distinguish between an actual burial and a memorial. I learned that today.
The Ninth Duke of Argyll paid for restoring and repairing the abbey, on the condition that it be used for all Christian denominations. He died before it was complete, and is buried in his home tomb. His wife survived to see the work finished and, being from the islands herself, is interred here, next to a memorial for her husband. Note that the Duke’s crown is below his feet, while the Duchess’s crown is on her head; that’s how you can distinguish between an actual burial and a memorial. I learned that today.
The walls surrounding the abbey cloister are lined with some of the many, many gravestones they've found on the site.
The walls surrounding the abbey cloister are lined with some of the many, many gravestones they’ve found on the site.
The two column sets in the foreground and the only original cloister columns that have survived. The rest have been recreated, and each set carved uniquely by a different stonemason while working on restoration of the abbey. They did these columns in their spare time, over the course of thirty years.
The two column sets in the foreground and the only original cloister columns that have survived. The rest have been recreated, and each set carved uniquely by a different stonemason while working on restoration of the abbey. They did these columns in their spare time, over the course of thirty years.

So, after the abbey, I caught the ferry back to Mull, and the bus back to the other ferry, which took me back to Oban. By the time we docked, it was pouring rain. I had a nice dinner at a restaurant called Piazza, then walked back up to the Old Manse. I took the less-steep way that Simon had told me about, and it was much better.

Iona was cool, and I’m glad I got to see it and spend the time there. I’m disappointed about not getting to see Staffa, but that’s the way it goes.

Since I didn’t get to see Fingal’s Cave, I’m leaving this here.

**EDIT**

The YouTube video I linked here doesn’t seem to be available outside of the UK. So, here’s an attempt at linking in an mp3 of the same tune. This is Natalie McMaster and The Chieftains playing a set that starts with Fingal’s Cave, an old Scottish tune, either a march or a strathspey depending who you ask and how it’s being played. It’s off the Fire in the Kitchen album.

  1. Listening to the folks on the tour, I was surprised to find that pretty much everyone else wanted to land at Staffa to see puffins. Only me and a music teacher from Washington really wanted to see Fingal’s Cave. []
  2. Okay. Our guide pointed out a standing stone in the middle of a cottage garden. He said that the power of this standing stone was to allow cell reception, which was otherwise lacking on the island. You had to stand out in the garden and touch the stone, and it only worked if you had a Vodafone contract. His delivery was so wonderfully deadpan that I actually heard some folks saying wow. []
  3. We were slated to visit Iona after Staffa, anyway. []

2 thoughts on “Poor, Lonely Fingal”

  1. Sorry you didn’t see Fingal’s Cave Rick, but what you did see looks like it was really neat, and interesting! Regretably the video you posted for Fingal’s Cave said “currently not available” so us at home didn’t get to see that either; too bad.
    All OK here, except weather is cold & windy, with a bit of snow last nite; hopefully it’ll melt today and warmer forecast as the week progresses.
    Enjoy this week; it’ll quickly pass!
    Popsy

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