The Isle of Iona

Feeling brave, or perhaps simply delusional after continuing to read Endurance, I decided to challenge the elements to a duel. I would camp thereby saving money on a hostel and braving the weather in the process. The field of battle was the isle of Iona, the remote island St. Columba set up his monastery on in 563 as he sought to bring Christianity to the Picts – the Scots’ ancient ancestors.

The Famous Iona Abbey


The Scene of the Battle

For the duel I was equipped with a light summer tent. Being the extreme budget traveler I am, it was the only tent I could afford. Even so I figured it could handle anything but a continuous downpour. Unfortunately the Scottish weather was up for the challenge and, true to form, provided the required steady downpour and even threw in some intense wind. By the time morning finally rolled I had fought to a draw, using a towel and a spare shirt to fight off enough of the trespassing water to wake up more dry than wet. This 14 hour struggle with the elements left me longing for a little shelter and warmth and it was only then that I realized to what a remote out of the way place I had come.

Europe: it’s not someplace most of my readers think of as containing many out of the way places. In fact, I know that most of my readers, coming from North America or Europe, think of travel within Europe as something relatively commonplace. Even so, as I wandered into the tiny village where the ferry stopped – the only village on the island – I realized the extent of my isolation. I asked a local man who was out for a walk where I could find a cup of coffee. He looked slightly puzzled before he said “I don’t think there’s any place open this time of year.”

Remote and stormy but beautiful.

Fair enough. That meant I would be forced take shelter in a doorway until the ferry – the only way off the island – arrived. Unfortunately that was going to be a while. Still, to my happy surprise, some time later the gift shop, whose doorway I’d chosen to shelter in, opened. The kind woman running the shop offered me shelter until the ferry arrived and I thought it would be a good opportunity to learn a bit more about this beautiful but remote island.

She had lived on the island for over 40 years, having first come out as an intern in college, but having stayed after she fell in love and married a local man. We talked for quite a while and among the things I learned was the fact that I hadn’t actually slept through a storm: storms were things that blew away anything not “anchored” to the ground – including things as big as camper vans.

Inside the Abbey

Iona, it would seem, was a very unusual place. After learning some more I started to become curious about how even more normal tasks were taken care of on the island.

“So where do you go when you want to shop?” I asked.

“For groceries you mean? Well for that we normally go to Oban, if the local store doesn’t have what we need and in winter it doesn’t have much. For anything else it’s either Glasgow or Edinburgh.” Oban, the town of 8,000 she goes to for groceries, is two ferries and a bus ride away – a three hour trip each way. Glasgow is an additional three hours.

“In summer its not so bad,” she added. “You have a couple of different ferries and buses to choose from so you don’t have to worry so much about memorizing the daily bus time: Mondays at 7AM, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 8:30, Wednesdays at 9…” An out of the way place indeed.

Categories: An Out of The Way Place, Scotland, Travel | Tags: , , , , | 16 Comments

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16 thoughts on “The Isle of Iona

  1. What? Is this for real or fiction? It’s written amazingly well! Quite an adventure and rare sites to see there

    • Thanks Scott! That has to be one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received, especially coming from an author as skilled as yourself. All non-fiction here! 🙂

  2. Anonymous

    Love it.

  3. I love your post! Great writing!

    Courtney Mara

  4. Beautifully written! Please share more about what you’ve read – would love to know more about Endurance

    • Hi Beth! I’m actually an avid reader. I’ve been thinking for some time of a way to incorporate more about what I read. We’ll see what I can do over the next month. As for “Endurance”, it is, according to many, the greatest survival/adventure story ever told. The Endurance was the ship taken by Sir Ernest Shackleton on an attempt to cross Antarctica. The ship gets caught in the ice and what follows is truly an incredible story. The author is Alfred Lansing and I can’t recommend the book enough!

  5. Ahhh … the things you sacrifice for the love of traveling …

    Great story … including the woman’s simple love story …

    Thanks for the good read.

  6. Wow, what an adventure!
    Sometimes I think it would be cool to live in such a remote place but then I don’t think I could handle it for too long. 40 years, woah…
    What I love about Scotland is exactly that even if it’s in Europe, where everyone thinks it’s all about capitals and huge monuments, there’s still something as wild as the Highlands, where you can travel for hours without meeting any form of life/civilization.
    Even if it must have been very unpleasant to sleep with rain pouring into the tent, I wouldn’t mind trying… This post definitely makes me feel like going back to Scotland 🙂

  7. Pingback: A Seal from Mull « An out of the way place…

  8. I loved Iona, I hope the weather cleared up for you while you were visiting!

    • Unfortunately Iona never cleared up, but I finally caught a break in Oban when I was treated to some spectacular scenery and warm weather!

  9. ***The LensMaster

    You are one brave fellow! I look forward to that day when I also would bring my tent out to test the elements. For now, study first! And be mesmerized by your adventures.

    • Thanks! Don’t worry I’m sure you can do it. We’re all a lot tougher than we imagine 😉

  10. I, like you, took the dive away from corporate…and have never looked back. An amazingly brave and challenging journey. I now write for a living ( In a current article (may wind up even being a book if spirit moves), I searched on “Is the Isle of Iona considered ‘remote’” just to gain a more balanced perspective (remote/desolate are terms that can be uniquely and independently translated). The first entry that popped up was yours – . To say your descriptions (and photos) moved me…and brought me back to that magical place would be an understatement. Your photo of The Abbey – where I was invited to participate in communion with 12 other people – who said the Lord’s prayer in 12 different languages and broke a homemade loaf of bread we made that morning and drank wine (that had been made on the Isle) from the same chalice – was truly heart bending!! A kindred spirit is one who shares a similar, profound experience. Thank you for offering me that. Hope you visit sometime – – and click on my WP link in the lower left corner…and explore my writings about Iona. Til then…:)liz

    • Hi Liz, Thank you so much for the compliment! It’s always great to have feedback like that. I stopped by your blog and will be sure to read more soon!

  11. Pingback: Ancient Songs, Resounding Voices | jodygreenwood

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