We boarded the number 92 bus to Craignure, excited to be revisiting Liz and Alan for a few days and to be taking a long journey over Mull to see the countryside, which judging by the high mountains and thin ribbon road, was going to be an interesting one. The bus was an ex-city tour bus with sockets for headphones and clear non-tinted windows so we had the best views of the Sound in the eighth hour of the day.
Craignure is a ferry port with a service to Oban and we changed buses there, Rob leading the way to the front seat on the top deck and we had the best view. Sitting opposite was a gentleman with an old instamatic camera, doing what I was doing, clicking away.
Passing close to the shores of Loch Spelve on the east coast of the island, where we might anchor for a few days later on, the bus turned inland for the journey through the glens with mountains soaring skyward on both sides. At one point a herd of grazing Highland Cattle slowed the bus down to a snail’s pace as the cattle were not going to budge and the driver wanted them to be fully aware of us as we crept by, giving all on board ample opportunity to take photos.
The road is typically single track with passing places, which provided some excellent on-board entertainment with the antics of a few other road users who hadn’t done much reversing lately. The locals were well used to these leviathans driving their highland roads with care and consideration.
Standing testament to the ancient engineering skill of the stone bridge builders was proven as we slowly approached one, on a tight bend, barely wider than the bus, that was just wide enough for us and probably the farm wagons it was built for, but also withstood not only the test of time but also the weight of a bus load of summer tourists. Quite remarkable.
I knew we were getting near when we saw the lovely Atlantic Ocean again and followed the road past Bunessan and Loch Lathaich where the mud had dripped from Zoonie’s anchor making a stay impossible. The ferry to Iona was already leaving but it would be little more than 15 minutes before it was back. Soon we were standing on the upper deck and I could see two familiar figures waiting for us.
We had coffee and then lunch sitting in the sun-bathed garden, now devoid of family tents, and embarked on the challenging task of catching up on 60 years of separate lives. Two days later it would rain and that is when we planned to dive into the wooden treasure chest of family photos, but in the meantime, the sun was warm and the tide was rising, so Liz and I went for a swim with her neighbour.
“Hello, I’m Barbara, lovely to meet you,” “Hi I’m Barbara too, that makes it easy doesn’t it!”
We swam a little and then grouped for a floating chat as the ferry came and went a few metres away, and then swam a little more before wrapping ourselves in towels and taking the slim, grassy path between the two gardens back indoors for a hot shower. Then we joined the boys in the garden until the light started to fade and a few midges sent us back inside.
The weather had been, for the most part, settled, warm and sunny for a few days, and we wondered if summer had arrived, a little late at the end of August. In hindsight this was so because today (11th September) we are still in the same settled spell with a few rainy hiccups of course.
The next day was due to be fine so Rob and I set off to find St Columba Bay on the south of the island where it is thought, and may indeed be true, St Columba arrived with his fellow monks in 563AD. From our sea-level start the road led upwards and then sloped gently across to the west of the island with the ocean and cattle grazing a band of machair, the grassy plain next to the shore, ahead of us. At a gate leading on to the golf course we took a vague path southward, then along a stony track which became no more than an animal track shared with humans.
A final clamber down the steep path and before us lay a wide expanse of shingle with rocky outcrops into the water creating a natural bay. A few people were milling around, some paddling their feet in the water. One man confirmed he had wetted his feet for comfort, not spiritual reasons.
I look back now, three days after the passing of our Queen, and think of the sad irony as we sat eating our marmalade sandwiches just as Paddington and the Queen had, together at the palace teatime.
Rob used his phone apps to guide our way to the marble quarry up and over the hills from Columba Bay and as we turned beside a rocky rise, we both spotted an otter at exactly the same time. Unfortunately, he spotted us too and turned in surprise scuttling back on his tracks. He/she was well back from the shore; maybe having been for a freshwater swim to clean his coat and keep it waterproof, as they have to. But what a joy, seeing a live otter, hopefully one of a few with a mate.
It took us a while and numerous miss turns and back-tracking to find the quarry, which operated for only a few years but produced the most beautiful white marble with hints of pale green serpentine running through it. The font and altar in the abbey are made of this attractive material.
So, from the quarry on the shore, we had another steep climb back upwards and then paths that were as elusive as the otters, heading over boglands and heather heath northward toward Baile Mor where Liz and Alan live.
At times we were clinging to the fence posts to ease us past bogs and hoping the posts would not give way. At one point we both ended up with our feet submerged to the ankles in dark brown slimy ooze, a thorough wash of walking shoes was on our list of things to do when we got back, it could have been a lot worse.
Shortly came another gorgeous swim with Liz and Barbara, so welcome after the long hot walk. Iona is only three miles long and we had covered only that distance as the crow flies, but then we are not crows!
Despite the rain the next day Liz drove us to the North End and we walked along her bathing beaches, Liz pointing out her favourite spots she has used in the past when she lived nearby. Her most favourite, and I can see why, was between two low natural rock breakwaters that gave her a pool devoid of passing current and banded on one side by the sandy shore and on two sides by some of the most ancient rock in the world. The oldest swimming pool with calm water within.
We hadn’t forgotten to look inside the abbey on this visit. Liz and Alan played a major part in the restoration of the abbey within their community group and Liz’s busy role was as scribe. In recognition of the invaluable part she played, her name is on a plaque at the back of one of the choir stall seats, although she prefers to sit opposite so she can see the organist at work. Her favourite part of the building is the cloisters in the centre. I agree, especially the carvings at the top of the new sandstone pillars.
Realising we had only just started our journey together back through our lives, we left the next morning looking forward to seeing them again next year, when we return to Zoonie in Oban.
will include the photos of the inside of Iona Abbey and our
return journey in a separate file.