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Saturday, 27 September 2008

Illustrious Iona

Returning to my whistle-stop tour of my best holiday destinations, I recently fulfilled a long-held ambition. For years, I’d longed to follow in the footsteps of my literary heroes Boswell and Johnson and visit the ‘illustrious Island’ of Icolmkill, or Iona. Their accounts of their 1773 tour, Johnson’s Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775), and Boswell’s Journal of A Tour to the Hebrides, (1785), were bestsellers in their day.

A later visitor was John Keats, who enjoyed a walking tour of Scotland in 1818. The grandeur of the scenery, especially the islands of Iona and Staffa, was a huge inspiration for his poetry.

Iona’s beaches were dazzling white; the encircling sea far bluer than I’d ever imagined. Strangely, I’d always pictured Iona as empty and deserted; of course there were several shops. As we walked up to Iona Abbey, the path was busy with tourists and pilgrims. From here we had a splendid view of the Abbey, guarded by wonderfully carved stone crosses; the Sound of Iona, with the cheery-looking ferry zooming back and forth; and the wild, rough mountains of Mull, vividly delineated against the sky. It was a crystal-bright summer’s day, and I’ll never forget it.

Images © Sue and Nigel Wilkes.
Sràid nam Marbh, The Street of the Dead, the ancient burial pathway of the Scots kings. Iona Abbey.

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