Monday 19 May 2014

Staffa and Iona

Staffa Photo © A. Wenzel
Our plan was to land on the lee side of Staffa at 08:00 but a strong ocean swell made that a risky proposition at best.  In the interest of safety we decided it would be far more germane to do a Polar Cirkel boat cruise.  Staffa is not known as a major seabird colony but lots of seabirds nest here including: Herring Gulls, Glaucous Gulls, Black-backed Gulls, Flumars, Black Guillemots and everyone’s favourite - Puffins!  Just about everyone got really great views of these endearing little sea birds.
Staffa is one of the most romantic and dramatic of Scotland’s uninhabited islands. Immortalized by various artists including Walter Scott, John Keats, Felix Mendelssohn, J.M.W. Turner, William Wordsworth and Jules Verne.

Staffa Photo © A. Wenzel
Fingals Cave is named after Finn McCool, the third century Irish hero who is said to have defended the Hebrides against early raids by the Vikings. Great hexagonal columns of basalt from lava flows 65 million years ago give Staffa a rather striking  appearance.  Similar hexagonal structures can be seen across the world including the Giants Causeway in Antrim, Northern Ireland. 

Iona Photo © A. Wenzel
In the afternoon we arrived at Iona at 14:00.  The Expedition Team went on shore by Polar Cirkel boat and then were soon followed by an enthusiastic group of hikers.  Next came three different groups for the guided walk around Iona and finally those who wished to explore Iona on their own.
It rained for most of the afternoon but even in the rain Iona is a very pretty little village. 

The walk led past the ruins of the old nunnery, the cemetery with the gravestone of John Smith, and numerous little craft shops. The first thing to greet us past the ticket office were the high crosses of St Martin's and St John's (replica) still standing after the centuries, and resplendent in their intricate carvings of floral and knotwork motifs. More crosses (and the original St John's cross) are now laid out in a small museum behind the abbey, along with many decorative grave markers of knights, nuns and other important personages.

Iona Photo © A. Wenzel
Iona is the fabled island of St Columba, who founded a monastery there in 563 AD. From here the teachings of Christianity spread throughout pagan Scotland and much of northern England. It is thought that the famous Book of Kells (now residing in Trinity College in Dublin) was at least partly produced here. Although the original wooden monastery was abandoned later in the 9th century, a Benedictine abbey was established in 1203, which still stands (and functions) today. 

Iona - The Nunnery Photo © A. Wenzel
By 19:00 everyone was back on the ship.  The skies had cleared and the rain seemed to be finished for the day.  On board Fram the evening was filled with presentations for Oban and Stornoway. At 22:00 Ralph entertained everyone in the Observation Lounge with the songs of Frank Sinatra.