The Isle of Iona can be discovered a 10-minute ferry from the Isle of Mull, which is in turn, an hour ferry from mainland Scotland.
In its sleepy, far-flung corner of the world, it sits as an uninterrupted jewel, surrounded by aquamarine clear waters and white sugar sand. If it wasn’t so cold, there were less sheep and more people, it could be the Maldives.
What is the Isle of Iona Known For?
Iona is known as the ‘cradle of Christianity’ and, whatever your beliefs, you cannot fail feel to feel that ethereal sense of calm that you get when you are somewhere precious.
At the heart of the four-mile, 120-people-strong island is an abbey – a Christian community with love, equality, and kindness very much at its heart.
In AD 643 St Columba and twelve of his companions came to the island from Ireland. The monastery that they founded became one of the most influential and important in the British Isles and is still a beacon for Christian visitors to this day.
They would send out missionaries to Northern Britain to convert them to Christianity and since the seventh century pilgrims have been visiting the monastery.
Visitors still follow a route like the Sràid nam Marbh (‘Street of the Dead’) taken by pilgrims of old.
The small graveyard of Reilig Odhráin on Iona, is the final resting place of local clan chieftains and ‘Kings of the Isles.’
It was once an important centre for the Irish church and was accessible from both Ireland and Scotland by boat.
Columba’s monastery remains are an earthen bank, The Great Vallum. It would have enclosed the holy site and predates the monastery. Another notable remains of Columba’s monastery is Tòrr an Aba (‘Hill of the Abbot’) it is thought this is where he would have had his writing hut.
Viking raids were a common occurrence on St Columba’s monastery and all along the British Isles. So, in the ninth century some of St Columba’s relics were removed for safe keeping to Dunkeld in Perthshire, and Kells in Ireland for safe keeping.
The now famous Book of Kells is now on display in Dublin, it is thought to have been made on the Isle of Iona.
St Columba’s Shrine can be seen on the island, which is a small stone building set beside the door to the abbey church, it may date from the 9th or 10th century.
Iona Abbey stands on the site of the monastery founded by St Columba. It is one of the oldest religious centres in Western Europe. Around 1200, a community of Benedictine monks founded the Abbey on the site by Reginald, son of Somerled, the self-styled ‘king of the Isles’.
The abbey remained a prominent place of worship and pilgrimage until the Reformation in 1560, after which monastic life ended and it fell into disuse.
When Charles l bought Bishops back into the Scottish church and made Iona the seat of the Bishop of the Scottish Isles which bought a short-lived resurgence to the Abbey.
Again, in the 17th century bishops had once again been abolished and the abbey continued to decline once more. It was not until the early 20th Century that the restoration process began with the Iona Cathedral trust and continued from 1938 by the Iona community, an ecumenical order who continue the tradition of Iona Abbey as a place worship.
The Abbey is now cared for by Historic Scotland, and visitors can visit all year round.
Entry fees and costs.
Historic Scotland members can enter for free, but booking is still advised.
Non members prices for adults £9.50 Concessions £7.50 Child £5.50 Family ticket for one adult and two children is £19.00 Family two adults and two children £27.00 and Family ticket two adults and three children is £32.50
Iona is also home to a plethora of beautiful shops selling unique, handcrafted items. It is these ventures that are the lifeblood of the island economy, so there really is never better place to ‘shop local.’
Soak it up, light a candle and cherish all that you hold dear. And if you are anything like my mum, you will want to visit the late, great John Smith in the graveyard.
Aosdàna (beautiful silver jewellery), Iona Craft Shop (a lovely collection of blankets, clothes, and crafts) and The Iona Gallery (stunning paintings, inspired by the beautiful surroundings) are all very much worth a visit.
Visiting by car
Iona is subject to a “Prohibition of Vehicles” Order, this controls the type of vehicles allowed onto the Island. This Order was first introduced in 1978 to ensure the preservation of this beautiful and extremely popular island. Thousands of visitors travel to Iona each year, it is of course important that to ensure the island continues to be a welcoming place, the vehicles must be limited.
A permit might be made possible if you are on a blue badge scheme and have limited mobility.
There is a good cycle hire facility on the island at Iona Craft Shop and if you need a taxi when you are arriving or leaving the island there is a great taxi service to transport your luggage to or from a hotel or B&B from the ferry jetty.
Considering it is such a small island of just 1.5 miles wide by three miles long, with a population of around 170 permanent residents, it is understandable that a vast amount of tourist cars would cause chaos.
To sate your taste buds with produce grown right on the island, you cannot get better than The Argyll and the St Columba.
The Argyll is my personal favourite for dinner, with a homely feel and warming food and the St Columba is perfect for a cream tea, sat next to the large windows, over-looking the bay.
Both double up as hotels and the youth hostel is brilliant for value accommodation.
The Isle of Iona is well worth a visit for so many reasons, other than shopping, eating, and visiting the ancient Abbey (and nunnery), I would just walk, it is such a beautiful island with lots to offer.
Embrace the solitude, marvel at the tiny but growing school and stroll to the end of the island in a mere 30 minutes, until you reach a picture-perfect beach.
And on this, just stand, staring out at Staffa and the Dutchman’s Cap beyond as the waves roll on.