In my last post about Iona, I suggested that Staffa needed a post on it's on. Here it is.
For more about my week in Iona, see my previous post.
On Monday of my week on Iona, the weather had calmed. I’d signed up for an optional trip that afternoon to the island of Staffa, about ten kilometers from the dock on Iona. After lunch, about forty of us gathered at the dock and crammed into a small but very seaworthy boat for the trip to the island. We sailed across the sound to Fionnphort, where we picked up more passengers. Although the boat appeared able to handle rough seas, I was glad it was calm. With so many people on board, I’m sure more than a few would have been seasick in rough seas and there wasn’t enough railing for everyone to hang over the side.
|The ride over|
It was a smooth and pleasant ride, so smooth that the captain was able to maneuver the ship into one of the more notable features on the island, Fingal’s Cave. He said that this was something he could only rarely do as the waves often made it impossible. The jagged rocks that lined each side of the approach into the cave would have done a number on the hull if he had struck them. If I was at the helm, I wouldn’t have attempted this maneuver even on a calm day, but he slipped the boat into the cave and then backed it out without a problem.
|Sailboats at mooring|
|Inside Fingal's Cave|
Staffa is one of the smallest islands in the Inner Hebrides. It’s just a little over a kilometer long and half a kilometer wide, with a land mast of 82 acres. The island sits upon large columns of basalt, having been formed by volcanic activity 50-some million years ago. While there is a layer of soil on the top allowing for grass and wildflowers to grow, the black rock is very visible. These columns are mostly hexagonal in shape, and stand up straight. They were formed by the cooling of the lava and have created several large caves in addition to Fingal’s Cave. The island was named by the Vikings, who were reminded of their log homes by the basalt columns on the island.
|Approach to Fingal's Cave|
We were not the only group on Staffa. Tour boats come from Ulva, Oban as well as Iona and Fionnphort. Hordes of people were on mulling around the island. There were also a number of private boats including a couple of sailboats that had moored off the island and taken tenders over to the docks. Staffa has been a stopping area for those touring the islands since the 18th Century. This is a small dockage area on the east side of the island. With only an hour, I took off south along the basaltic columns in a return to Fingal’s Cave, which was named from a mythological Irish warrior.
The echo of the waves inside the cave, which was best heard without the drone of the boat’s engine, supposedly inspired Felix Mendelssohn to compose Die Hebriden, or “The Hebrides Overture.”
After a few minutes, I headed to the north cliffs off the island, where puffins nest along the cliffs. We had been told to sit still on the edge of the cliff, as the puffins will come to check us out. Supposedly, they don’t go on top of the landmass during the day, as the seagulls will often attack and kill them. But the gulls don’t like people, so when we’re present, the Puffins have learned it is safe to come up above the cliff. These birds mostly spend their day flying back and forth from the sea below to the cliffs, where they tend their young. In early August, the young begin their flight and soon all the birds fly off into the North Atlantic where they spend the winter. It appears to me that these beautiful birds led the most miserable life, but I was glad to be able to see them so close (a couple came up within a few feet of me).
|West side of Staffa|
|A seal sunning|
There was not enough time to fully explore the island. Soon, I was rushing back to the boat (and the next to last to board). On our way back, we were able to see seals sunning off the west side of Mull. We arrived back in Iona in time for a late afternoon tea.