20.08.10 – Isles of Mull, Staffa, Iona

Took the earliest ferry from Oban to Mull. The colossal vessel is disproportionately large compared to the small town of Oban and even more sparsely-populated Isle of Mull. Were more tourists expected? Doesn’t seem to be that many passengers judging by this morning’s first load.

Some drizzle while the ferry cruised. Reached Craignure – the main ferry port on Mull – still drizzling. Took the bus onwards to Fionnphort, traversing across uninhabited green valleys shrouded in a blanket of mist, and then onwards to the thin peninsula-like stretch of Ross of Mull. Not the most ideal weather condition but the rugged scenery outside the bus is starting to gel with my hazy romantic notion of the grey, windy and wet Scottish isles.

And then the boat trip to Staffa, that will prove to be a memorable (exhilarating? Depending on how you look at it) one: weather was bad, and there was a chance that the boat may not even make a landing. The boat ride was a roller-coaster one on choppy seas. Donned on a big yellow rubber jacket provided on board to protect from splashes of sea water while sitting out on the deck. Nearer Staffa, bottle-nosed dolphins sprung out of the forbidding waters, providing surprising playful relief to the otherwise nerve-wrecking boat ride.

Staffa is the famous little islet that houses one of the most unique natural wonders in the Hebrides: waves smash ashore this islet of rectanglar layered-up lava rocks, and the terrain proves to be even more fascinating once you walk past the lava rock causeway and into Fingal’s Cave, a cave with marvellous columns of basalt pillars, like pipe organs, rising from below the turquoise waters and stretching straight up to the stone ceiling. Of all the places I wanted to see in Scotland, this is the one I wanted to see the most, partly because I first heard of it through Felix Mendelssohn’s masterpiece, inspired by the composer’s visit to Fingal’s Cave (the music work is wholly another experience altogether). Given today’s somewhat adventurous journey, I wonder how in the old days did people manage to travel all the way just to see this natural wonder. Mendelssohn sure gave this little islet a further tourism boost.

I don’t know how the boatman did it, but we managed to dock at Staffa and were told to just see Fingal’s Cave and not stay longer than needed due to weather conditions. So much for my grand idea of staying on the islet longer and catch the next boat back, since I was told there wasn’t going to be more boats today. Walking on the wet slippery lava rocks while braving drizzle and strong winds was unnerving.

The return journey on the boat promised more choppy waters, wet splashes and drizzle, but the skies started to clear up, with more playful dolphins jumping alongside our boat.

By the time we reached Iona, the sky cleared up and while windy, the sun was out, the meadows were green and the skies clear blue. What a big difference from just a few hours ago!

After a hearty lunch, walked around the area near the pier, including the Nunnery (loved the cloisters with its pretty flowers a lot of which are in full bloom), a graveyard where some old Scots noblemen were buried (apparently including Macbeth but didn’t spot his grave) and Iona Abbey, the site from where Christianity spread through Scotland. Wasn’t keen on paying more money to Iona Abbey since I already splurged on the boat ride to Staffa (which costs a purse-breaking 25 pounds!) but instead sat on a bench taking in the sun and view of the emerald waters separating Mull and Iona, whilst behind me, some furry adorable Highland cows graze on green meadows, completing the pastoral picture.

Returned to Fionnphort on Mull by ferry and barely managed to catch the last bus back to Craignure. Soon I realise that on these isles, the weather changes every minute, from overcast to rays of light penetrating stubbornly through the clouds. This time, got to see the rugged dramatic wildernesss in the day of light. No photos can do justice to it.

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