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.
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.”
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.
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.