Iona Abbey from the Sound of Iona Ardoran House bed and breakfast, Iona Iona Ardoran House bed and breakfast, Iona Port Ban beach on the Isle of Iona Ardoran House B&B on the Isle of Iona

February 2019

Time flies when a lot is going on, and before we know it the hustle and bustle of the season has ground to a halt, it is winter, it is my time for travel, and now it is February. The thoughts of another season are now upon us. It doesn’t seem possible that a year has passed since the last blog post – once again, time has gone by in the blink of an eye. Reflection is a recurring theme for me on Iona, and when I look back at 2018, the resounding word ringing in my ears in ‘connectivity’. We lose various connections all the time on Iona due to our geographically extreme location. In turn this loss of connection, leads to the strengthening of others.  

Early in 2018, Iona had a spate of inability to connect – no phone signal, no ferries, and worst of all, no internet. The realisation of our dependency was immense – not only for personal use, but also in terms of how much business now relies on the internet. For some businesses on the island, this meant no card payments, not knowing if any bookings had been made, some stock orders are only available online. No mobile phone signal added to the drama – emergency land line calls to ex-staff members on the mainland were required to keep life moving. Boat trips to Fionnphort were made in the hope of a 3G or 4G signal. The pier became the hub of island life as we all huddled around the Cal-Mac public Wi-Fi; when it chose to work. 

However, these failed connections of the technological variety forced us to connect more as people. We had no choice but to be present in our surroundings. There could be no incessant scrolling of social media. My phone battery lasted substantially longer. I noticed that I slept better and vowed to maintain the action of ‘switching off’ at night when the internet returned. I have (mostly) succeeded. Our world had become silent unless we spoke to those around us. And whether local or tourist, the one thing that was connecting us all at this point, was of course Iona. I have always enjoyed listening to what brings people to Iona, and I find it truly fascinating how all the different people I meet came to be here. Without the ability to report to friends and family back home, instead we began reporting to each other in the place that bound us all.  I have previously written about the connection to the world that Iona has. In the experience of a modern-day lack of connection, we began to experience a connection to each other and the island that was perhaps heightened. To think that not all that long ago, this is how it always was. 

Talking to people has always been a favourite pastime of mine, I find our ability to connect over a range of subjects is incredible. Early in the season, some of our first guests were from Alaska. Conversations over breakfast led to a season long obsession with Alaska, and ultimately to me booking flights to visit in December. What I found was a striking similarity between Iona and Alaska. Both are remote, both are very seasonal and dependent upon the weather, and both destinations rely heavily on transport for supplies and the almighty connection. I was in Fairbanks when the Anchorage earthquake hit; and as the road out of the city had split apart, the concern became about whether the deliveries and post would arrive in Fairbanks as usual. Much like when a connection goes off here – either the Oban ferry or a closure on the road across Mull.  Alaskans watch the weather continually to check the ferry (and in their case, flight) statuses in the same way as islanders on Iona do. I experienced a weather-related delay flying from Juneau to Seattle. My experience with this type of delay made me well-equipped to deal with the not so surprising announcement that my flight had been cancelled until further notice. Living in the middle of nowhere and being so reliant on connections sure does teach us many coping mechanisms!

The way that the weather dictates one of our important connections is a reminder of the connection on Iona I feel the most – the connection to nature. I love that the weather is discussed in great detail and dictates the opening and closing of the tiny little island. I love how the wind and a high swell can render transport connections useless – a drastic reminder that nature is the strongest force of all. I also love the speed at which the weather changes here. It is rare that there isn’t a clear patch during the day, where incredible light is able to shine through. We are continually aware of the power of nature here. This connect is something I miss on a lot of my travels and am revelling in now I am back home on the island. 

It is intriguing to think that when one connection fails, another one strengthens. Our connection to nature here heightens our awareness and adaptability in potentially stressful situations. We plan ahead and learn to enjoy moments as they come – a bright rainbow after a storm. A delivery van that braved the forecast. Perhaps it is our remoteness that teaches us to be grateful and thankful of all our connections – but also how to live without them.