Wednesday, June 8, 2022

Trip to Hebrides and Glasgow, Day 2

The first day's entry can be found at this link.  

On to Day 2. Here is the agenda as described by Rabbies: 

To re-check the highlights of the entire tour, please read the entry for Day 1 (see the link above, please).

We had an interesting breakfast at our B & B. We had to indicate our choices the previous night, and I had chosen to have a mix of vegetarian sausages, mushrooms, beans and hash-browns, brown toasted bread with butter, and lots of tea. As I had also written in on their sheet that I would be arriving at the breakfast table at half-past seven, the basic stuff was already served!

Steve arrived with the hot foods just as the other co-travellers walked in. We had an enjoyable conversation as we all had our food. When done, we repaired to our rooms to get the stuff to go out for the day. This was to be our main travel day as we would be doing the two islands of Iona and Staffa. Just to be clear, the ferry trip to Staffa is not part of the itinerary and is optional with an extra charge of £30. Not surprisingly, each one of us wanted to go there to see the unique Fingal's cave and to perchance espy the beautiful puffins, that visit this island to roost, reproduce and look after their fledglings before they fly out again in late July. 

Before that, though, it was a long drive to the jetty from where we would get our boats to cross over from Mull to Iona, The latter is a very small island, but it is unique for two things: one, it has a centuries-old ruins of a nunnery and a functioning abbey that is also very old; and second, its beaches have white sand, a rarity on a global scale.

To get to the Fionnphort jetty, Alistair had to drive a long way (see the map above). There is one logical way to go - and that is to remain near the coast and drive southeast, past Salen and Craignure, before turning right and driving almost west to get to the jetty. This drive takes over an hour and a half. En route, we stopped at a few places to take photos and also, at one place, to see grey seals resting on rocks barely a 100 yards away.


We reached Fionnphort at about 11:00 and took the ferry across to Iona in about half an hour.

The ferry from Mull to Iona
 During this time, we whiled the time sitting on some ledges, having a coffee and such. 

This was a smallish car ferry, and we had to stay within our bus as there were no observation decks here. We enjoyed the ride, however, as we could see Iona coming up - the abbey, a large structure already visible from the bus window! We could also see the white sands here. As the blogger does not allow me to upload a video, I will satisfy you, dear readers, with a few photos:

The waters were so clean and looked a sea-green, turquoise blue in colour! The abbey can be clearly seen as we approached Iona. In one of the above pictures, you can also see the white sandy beach! 

Our options were a bit limited. We had to have lunch, and then choose between either visiting the abbey and doing a detailed tour or walk to the north end of the island and visit the white sands. Three of us - Yue, Chu, and I decided to visit the sandy beaches. The journey would take about 20-30 minutes each way, and we had to return to the jetty to set off for the Staffa Island in about 90 minutes, so it was going to be one or the other! 

In a brisk walk, we each managed to reach the sands. There were more things to see here - including the Treshnish islands in the sea to the west, some interesting plants and seashore life, and it was down to me, individually, to part from my other friends and explore the sands on my own. In the event, I simply decided to sit on a rock and dip my feet in water. It was an amazing experience! 

I also saw a song thrush and some black birds on the way to the beach. We passed the nunnery ruins, which were just some standing stone walls. Onward, past the abbey and a few other structures. Then, a mostly featureless walk to the north end, where we discovered the beaches. I say featureless, but, in reality, the walkway was flanked on both sides by green, lush meadows and grassland, with a few cattle munching away on the grass. 

 Here are some photos. 

On arrival at the jetty

Nunnery ruins

A small hut next to the abbey

Inside of the hut

The Abbey of St Columba

Just a broken wall

One of the Treshnish islands

The songthrush

Eventually, I reached the sands.

The white sand

Vegetation inside the water

... and in the rocks

And some clams too

After a little time with my feet inside the water, I got up, wore my footwear (my six-year-old Nike Air shoes), and began walking back to the jetty. While I made it in good time to visit a SPAR store to get some food for lunch.  the two others who had come with me (Yue and Chu) had to, in Yue's own words, run back to the jetty in time to catch the Staffa Tours ferry. Interestingly, there was no power on the island for the entire time we were there, and we had to buy our stuff in cash. 


The small boat that would take us to Staffa arrived on time. The owner of the company would, with the help of his skipper and team, take us out. He turned out to be a nice, friendly person. As we started moving out, I saw dolphins jumping in the sea! I shouted "Dolphins!" and the entire crowd of passengers around me saw these graceful mammals almost immediately. There were three bottle-nosed dolphins that were jumping up and down about 50-70 metres away. The boat first went to the opposite ferry on the Isle of Mull to pick up a few passengers from there, and then the crew decided to move in a direction OPPOSITE to where we were supposed to be headed - to chase the dolphins again. It was a wonderful experience. The detour took about 20 minutes as we rode the seas in the wrong way for over 2-3 miles, till we saw the dolphins once again. 

After the dolphins, we turned around to go to Staffa. On the way,  I saw and clicked photos of a flying cormorant and a reposeful guillemot on the surface of the waters. 

The reposeful guillemot

Guillemot again

The flying cormorant

Cormorant again


Presently, Staffa island came nearer and nearer. It has a haunting quality about it, as it is completely uninhabited. The columns of basaltic rock are everywhere on its facade, which, by the way, is only one part of the rather longish island at the back. The Fingal's cave is located to the right as we approach the island. We could see some tourists already making their way along the rocks to the cave. 

The boat docked in at about 15:00 hours, and we were told to return in about 90 minutes. A series of steps led us to a bifurcation: the left-hand track would take us to the cave, while the right-sided one would climb to the hills where the puffins were located. 

The walk to the cave was flanked by a rope on the cliff-side and a steepish but low range of basaltic columns on the sea-side. I stepped forward gingerly, and it is not possible for someone with a disability to actually manage to get to the cave. There is no protection on the sea-side. You have to just keep holding on to the rope to navigate further. 

Once you reach the end, you step up to get into the cave itself. There is sea water about 15 feet below, and you hug the wall to your right and walk in to savour the sight of the cavernous structure. 

Absolutely stunning basaltic rock columns

The cave ceiling

Looking out from within

Having taken a lot of photos,.I then returned to the bifurcation point and ascended a short flight of stairs to walk to the puffins' viewing point. This was about 20 minutes away by walk, but there were literally so many puffins to see that it was a delight to all of us to see them perched so close to us and do their thing - screeching at each other, fighting for their food (usually fish) and sometimes, just walking over to us and looking at us from barely a metre away. 

It was, sadly, soon time to leave these wonderful birds and return to the jetty, to be back on the boat to return to Mull. We would not be going back to Iona. On the way back, I saw a pair of shags on the rocks on one of the islands we passed by.

Forgive the picture quality as the boat was moving quite fast

Presently, we returned to Mull and drove back a slightly different way to arrive back at Tobermory a little after 7 p.m. 

You can see the other route as well when we went outward.

The rest of the evening was spent doing this and that. We split up first to go to our rooms, and then returned to the town for dinner. This time, we decided to eat at the MacGohan Pub which is near the local jetty. This pub is much talked about and the food was quite nice, actually. I had chicken schnitzel and some drinks for my dinner. All of us except the Edinburgh girls had dinner together. 

Very tasty dinner, indeed!

After dinner, I walked out to the jetty as Yue and Chu told me about seeing some jellyfish in the waters. I saw them too, and the pictures are very interesting indeed. 

I then returned to my room to relax for a bit. At about 10 p.m. or so, as we had all decided to gather again, we all went down to the main road to reach the Mishnish Bar for a spot of fun, where we sat, watching a live performance of a local singer and eating some food as well. 

It was the night before the birthday of one of our co-travellers, and we all toasted to her health. 

Later, we returned to our hotels for the night.