Saturday, 17 September 2011

A mysterious goal... achieved!

About twenty years ago some friends visited Iona and came back raving about the island and the Iona community. I seem to remember being impressed by the idea of the community but not enough to want to take the long trip to see it for myself.

I suspect part of that is having been brought up in the Shetland Islands. Once you've spent your youth in an island community, seeing another doesn't have quite the same novelty.

When I first read advice to write down 100 goals, I was taken with the proposal that one could start to see patterns and connections between the goals. Reviewing my goals I quickly saw themes emerge. I want to travel. I want financial security. I want to write.

Travel sometimes seems like an impossible dream. I would love to eventually see the Grand Canyon. To take a white water rafting trip down one of the rivers. To spend days hiking round the fascinating rock formations. But it still seems like a far away dream. One that I cannot yet imagine achieving soon.

Perhaps strangely, visiting Mull and Iona has also seemed like a far away dream. Well, actually, it wasn't a dream at all until this summer when I started to get obsessed with going there.

We've talked about visiting the Western Isles in Scotland for years, my wife and I. Talked about it but they have always seemed so far away and hideously expensive places to journey to. If we could afford to go there, we could afford to travel to somewhere warm and since we currently live in one of the wettest parts of Scotland - at least it frequently seems like that - why on earth would we choose the Western Isles over Spain or Italy (or Greece or Turkey or anywhere we could wander about in 30 degree temperatures...)

Not that we can afford to go to Europe either but that's beside the point. So, anyway, this summer we were looking at camp sites and talking about staying with the in-laws for a week - which we all enjoy and it's a fairly cheap get away for us - and since they happen to live on the West coast we began looking at the islands again.

Mull and Iona were closest though not quite as adventurous or romantic as travelling up the Skye or even Lewis or Harris. Still, as we looked at travel times and ferry crossings, travelling to one of the islands began to seem possible. And why not? I'd set it as a goal (and here's a warning for any wanna be goal setters out there - when you write down your goals they take on a life of their own...)

Long story short - we ended up leaving the kids behind with the in-laws (and if you are reading this then thank you! You are both awesome.) <> and drove to Oban.

It was all a bit mad, last minute, almost no B&B's left; forgot my wife isn't a great fan of fish food when I booked a restaurant... You know the sort of thing.

The ferry over was longer than I expected at an hour but we had calm waters. The drive across Mull to our B&B was wet - it started raining soon after we left the ferry. Bad weather was always going to be a risk but we were hoping (and praying) for sun the following day.

It should have been a relaxing time. (I hate the word should. Do you?) A time to unwind together, get away and just be us for a couple of days. I don't like rain. Gets me down. I felt like a had a lot riding on the trip: the only two days we were going to have away from the kids all summer; the only chance to see some of the islands this year; and on top of that - this was one of my goals! I had to enjoy it. Didn't I?

I was also hoping to find out why Mull and Iona feature so much in John Morrison's paintings. If you haven't come across his work, check out his website. John talks a lot about the light in the Western Isles and I really wanted to see some of that light!

There wasn't much of it that afternoon but we headed out to a beach anyway. The rain stopped and we wandered about on the beach, looking at some truly stunning rock formations...

 Were these waves frozen in place? Fossilised?

Check out the sediment on this beauty!

Beaches calm me down. Sandy ones especially. It was too cold to take off my shoes and socks but even so, after wandering around for an hour, I was a lot happier about our adventure.

I persuaded my wife to drive down to the harbour to look at Iona and the sunset later that evening.


I have never, ever seen a sunset like that. It was like the valley between Iona's two small hills was a transparent goblet and God had poured liquid gold into it. The sky glowed. I was beginning to get a sense of why my friends had been so excited by Iona.

We got up the next day to blue skies. We caught the first ferry over and took advice to walk straight to the North of Iona. By 9am we were sitting on a white sand beach, blue sky overhead, transparent waves gently washing up on the shore. We could have been in the Caribbean. Until we stepped in the water and our feet turned numb... Out of the water then and back up to the dunes and we just enjoyed the sun.


We wandered (did quite a lot of wandering...) round the North coast to another gorgeous beach, the one above. And in case it isn't obvious, the photos posted up earlier in the week were from the two Northern beaches: West and East - top to bottom.

I left Iona having been refreshed even though we didn't go into the Abbey, though I'm sure it is worth spending time there. Whenever I read the beginning of the book of Genesis I am struck by the words ' and God created... and he saw that it was good.' I don't know if Iona or Mull or even the Grand Canyon bears any resemblance to what the world looked like back then but there is still a lot of beauty out there. Even better, we don't have to travel across the world to find it.

Goal 44: To visit Iona and Mull - tick

Except, there is a P.S. with this goal - I want to go back. I could easily spend a couple of days on Iona, enjoying those gorgeous beaches again. I also want to see where Columba (kept getting him mixed up with Colombo - is that showing my age?) came ashore; and explore the ruins of the marble quarry. Then there is Mull. There's a Munro on Mull - Ben More. I quite fancy climbing it. There are some fascinating caves to the South. More beaches to the North... I could go on. I'll stop now.

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