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In the Steps of Columba

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I arrived on Iona late in the day having travelled from Glasgow on the beautiful West Coast Railway line, caught a Caledonian MacBrayne Ferry or Calmac ferry as the locals know it, from the lovely seaside town of Oban and landed on the isle of Mull. The journey to the Ross of Mull was in itself breathtaking which is where I had to catch the wee foot ferry from Fionnphort to Iona, the birthplace of Scottish Christianity.

My plan?  To walk in the footsteps of Saint Columba. He arrived as the warrior monk Colm Cille with 12 companions on this tiny Hebridean Island over 1450 years ago to spread Christianity all across Scotland and Northern England.

The dawn light came through the window and the first thing that hit me was the quiet. No traffic sounds……of course, no cars on this mystical isle of Iona!  The second thing that hit me was how incredibly comfortable the bed was at Ardoran House. The quality of the furnishings really does make a difference. And on my first night I had the unique experience of sitting in Ardoran’s outdoor heated hot tub as the sun went down over this ancient landscape

I have to give a special mention to my first morning’s breakfast at Ardoran served by by the ubiquitous and friendly Richard who acts as Mine host. A man I see who gets a mention in nearly every Trip Advisor written about this wonderful Guest house. I was grateful that this was no ordinary breakfast. Set up for the day with freshly brewed coffee and grilled Scottish bacon, the amazing choice on offer includes homemade marmalade and Iona Honey, Sausages from neighbouring Mull, homemade crepes and beautiful locally Smoked Haddock, you can view the delicious breakfast menu HERE.

And then my journey back in time began. The great beauty of Iona is that history is only ever a short walk away.

I have been fascinated by the feeling of spirituality that Iona inspires in so many people. Is it just the presence of the ancient Abbey and graveyard where lie 48 Scottish Kings, 8 Norwegian Kings and 4 Irish Kings as well as the former labour leader John Smith, a man often referred to as the finest politician of the modern era, that generate such feelings, or is it something much older and deeper?

A thousand years Before the Irish monk Colm Cille arrived in 563, to spread Celtic Christianity and be celebrated the world over as Saint Columba, Iona was a scared place of worship for Druids and an important site of learning with links to the fabled Atlantis. So perhaps this feeling of spirituality has always existed and drawn people to the Island.

My personal experience of Iona’s sense of peace and spirituality came about when organising a wedding at Iona Abbey. The engaged couple were religious opposites, the bride an English Roman Catholic and the groom a Belfast Protestant. A fantastic couple very much in love, but shackled with the weight of expectation. The two families finally met each other on the Isle of Mull, and a combination of whisky and fiddle music had made for a friendly night. The following day, a catholic wedding service was to take place in the Abbey itself, led by a wonderful bare footed opera singing Franciscan Monk who was building a retreat on nearby Ulva.

Iona Abbey Stained Glass Argyll AccommodationThe weather was terrible, wind and rain lashed the Abbey and people hid behind the ancient Celtic cross, the finest in all Europe, to avoid the maelstrom. As the congregation filed in to the ancient Abbey the sense of religious divide grew along with the howling of the wind outside. Suddenly as the couple knelt before the ancient alter a shaft of pure light broke through the stain glass windows, bathing the couple in sunshine, and a single white dove rose from the open door. In that moment, I along with the entire congregation felt the sense of wonder and peace and togetherness that I know to be the spirt of Iona.

I have often told this story, but nobody has ever owned up to hiding a dove in their handbag or fixing a spotlight in the rafters. Not even afterwards at the wonderful ceilidh organised by the people of Iona where drink and dancing loosens tongues, did anyone say otherwise, so I can tell you, it really did happen.

Now it’s up to you all to come and see for yourselves!