Skye has the greatest concentration of peaks in Britain, and the most challenging to climbers.
The beauty of wanting to bag all 282 is that in committing to do so, you open up the opportunity to see an incredible breadth of Scotland’s dramatic landscape, most of it away from the populated areas. Many of the Munros are located in Skye, so it’s a popular place for mountaineers.
Once you’ve bagged all the Munros, you’re considered a Munroist, and you start getting a lot of knowing nods, kudos and respect. Our laird friend, John McKenzie, told us he’d bagged the Munros when we visited him at the beginning of our trip, but I didn’t know just what an accomplishment that was until I saw the rugged landscape at Isle of Skye!
We took a relaxing hike to the magical Fairy Pools at the foot of the Black Cuillins, complete with stepping stone water crossings, and crystal clear, icy cold water for those who wanted to swim. I put my feet in, and they were tingling with cold in less than 30 seconds, but three women in our party were much braver and actually swam!
Sorry, Crissy, I know how much you wanted to be publically captioned...not!
One of several small islands off the western coast of Scotland, Iona can seem remote from mainland life. But in the old days when most people traveled by sea, Iona was central to life on the entire west coast.
It’s known as a ‘sacred isle’ because of its pagan and then Christian spiritual activity through the ages. Persecuted druid priests came here for sanctuary to escape the persecution of Rome. Iona’s Gaelic name, Innis-nam Druidbneach means ‘Island of the Druids. Unlike so many of the other western islands, however, Iona shows no trace of megalithic structures. This may indicate that the island was indeed considered sacred.
Iona feels old. The air, the ground, the contours of the land seem saturated with ancient memories. It’s said the island is made of quartz and marble, formed under vast heat and pressure when the first oceans were condensing on the blistering hot surface of the earth. The land contains no fossils, for, as far as is known, no living creatures yet existed in the waters of this primeval land.
There is a Celtic saying that heaven and earth are only three feet apart, but in the thin places that distance is even smaller. The veil is definitely thin on Iona, and this ‘otherworld’ has a soft doorway, so everyone treads lightly.
The mystical druids were said to have founded a library here.
Not much is left of St. Columba’s original compound, but there is part of a 13th century Nunnery and a beautiful abbey.
Considering the site, I wonder if maybe this figure was moved from an older structure to the nunnery.
The Abbey Museum houses impressive remains from the early Celtic period, include 14-foot-tall crosses dating from the middle or late 8th century.
When Columba first settled in Iona, he and his followers created a scriptorium. Imagine hooded monks sitting in rows copying ancient manuscripts and creating new sacred texts. The best surviving example is the famed Book of Kells.
When the Vikings invaded Iona in the eighth century, the Book of Kells was secreted off the Iona and to Ireland. It’s now housed at Trinity College Library in Dublin.
Known graves on Iona include 48 Scottish kings including Macbeth, 8 Norwegian, 1 French and 4 Irish, as well as numerous clan chiefs. Templar knight gravestones reveal their presence on the island.
Megalithic remains suggest it was a prehistoric burial site too. But why? Why did so many royal people come here, to this tiny island, to prepare for their final journey?
Some say it’s because Iona is a borderland between life and death.
There is no denying that Iona is mysterious. The light is more translucent, more heavenly and less earthly, often filled with swirling mist. The water is blue, unlike the black waters in most of Scotland.
And the beaches are littered with beautiful green stones, Iona green marble.
Legend tells of a lonely monk who fell in love with a mermaid. When she was banished, she shed tears that can be found today, the small green tear-shaped crystals strewn along Iona’s beaches.
There are also legends about magical “green eggs,” called Druid’s Eggs or Serpent’s Eggs. Which brings me around to that other tantalizing legend – the Druid’s library.
Could it be that Columba’s monks copied not only old Christian manuscripts, but also the Druid writings they found on Iona? What happened to all that work?
It’s never been found, although modern historian Ashley Cowie, host of the TV series Legend Quest, swears he’s found the entrance to the lost library in a secret chamber under Iona Abbey.
Yes, Iona is chock-full of intriguing questions and mystery. And you can be sure I’ll be following Cowie’s investigation with interest. Wouldn’t an ancient Druid Chamber of Secrets would be an exciting way to conclude my Ancient Magic series?
Thanks to each of you for following my Sacred Scotland blogs. The Scotland series is complete, but come back next weekend for another topic.