May 06 2017
Mountains of Inspiration!
Scotland has always inspired artists, poets, historians and writers. The monumental mountains, glens and vast lochs, all with an abundance of wildlife and changeable weather are awe inspiring. I have always wanted to make a trip, to experience this magnificent country for myself and it was only this year I had the opportunity.
We were based in the village of Taynuilt in Argyll and Bute for the majority of our trip and spent lots of our time walking. Our first visit was to Kerrera which is an island in the Scottish Inner Hebrides, close to the town of Oban. The island is known for the ruined Gylen Castle, a small tower house built in 1582, which I photographed below. Crossing the blue water, to the island on the ferry really felt like an adventure.
May you have - Walls for the wind And a roof for the rain, And drinks bedside the fire,
Laughter to cheer you, And those you love near you, And all that your heart may desire.
The Sacred Isle.
The Island of Iona was definitely one the highlights of our visit to Scotland. It is such a beautiful place, with deep blue water, pink granite rocks on the beaches and fantastic views. The little island is also steeped in history and is a place of pilgrimage for Christians, who visit the abbey to worship or take a retreat. (see below)
The Abbey was founded by Saint Columba after he arrived on Iona, with 12 followers from Ireland in a wicker currach, covered with leather. Of all the Dark Age Scottish saints, Columba is the most spectacular: in 563 AD Columba left Ireland and settled with the Gaels of Dál Riata, where he was granted the Island of Iona to found his monastery.
The Irish monk converted most of pagan Scotland and northern England to the Christian faith. Iona, became a centre of outstanding learning and a sacred isle where the kings of Scotland, Ireland and Norway were buried.
Celtic Cross Designs
Whilst staying on Iona, we had the chance to visit the abbey. Outside the building in the grounds is St Martins stone cross which dates to about 800AD. It displays intricate Celtic snake and boss designs on one side and on the west side Biblical scenes carved into the granite.
The highly dense, interlaced designs, also known as 'Insular' or Island art in Latin, were taken from several earlier styles and was produced in the post-Roman period. Celtic designs have always held a mysterious fascination to me as they connect us to a rich cultural past. I decided to make my own design using the words from the Celtic blessing at the top of this article.
The Iona Community
It was Easter when we visited Iona and we were really fortunate to attend an evening and morning service during our visit. We sang hymns amongst the lit candles and the old stone walls and were able to get a rich sense of the place we were visiting. A place with a long history of worship and dedication.
The Iona community was founded by George MacLeod in 1938. He had the vision to rebuild the abbey with skilled craftsmen and young trainee clergy in context of the despair and poverty of the depression. Today the island has over 100 inhabitants, some from established island families and some who are part of the Iona community, both volunteers and staff. Visit the Iona Community website to find out more.
Our Top Ten Scottish Experiences.
1. The Island of Kerrera and the Gylen Castle. This was a fantastic walk that has got everything. The sea, the views, the history and my favourite an old wrecked fishing boat.
2. Steall Falls and the Nevis Gorge. The sign when you start the walk suggests adventure - 'danger of death', and the landscape was dark and brooding in April. You feel the mountains closing in around you and can see snow on the peaks. Amazing!
3. Ganavan Sands and Dunstaffnage Castle. Ganavan beach is beautiful and blue and on the day we went sunny and invigorating. The castle is full of great history and there is a shop too.
4. Cruachan, The Hollow Mountain. This is a power station, that is 1km under a mountain. You get a short tour inside, but will marvel at the astonishing engineering of this cavern that is big enough to hold the tower of London.
5. Inverawe Smokhouse. We walked here from our accommodation at Bonawe House and brought some kippers for our breakfast. They were absolutely yummy -give it a go if you have the chance.
6. The Bridge Over the Atlantic. There is beautiful arched stone bridge here that joins Scotland with the Island of Seil. We had the best pint ever in the pub here -'Tigh an Truish' translated from Gaelic ' House of the Trousers'.
7. Angus Gardens. Rhododendrons and azaleas galore! We were a bit early for this, but go at the right time and it will be stunning.
8. The Falls of Lora. The falls are generated when the tide level in the Firth of Lorn drops below the level of the water in Loch Etive.
9. Kilchurn Castle, Loch Awe. A fantastic ruin and one not to miss. It was a wet a rainy day when we visited, but that added to the atmosphere. Built in the mid-1400s by Sir Colin Campbell, 1st Lord of Glenorchy.
10. Island of Mull. We took the ferry to Mull and drove across to get to Iona. The views are breathtaking, and I loved taking photographs and spotting wrecked fishing boats. You can also see seals and lots of birds of prey, including eagles.