In which Ruth copes with living on an island for 5 days

You know I’m a city girl. You know I’m not terribly keen on the country unless I’m inside a luxury coach (with toilet, of course) or seeing it through a window from the warmth of a nice interior somewhere. For a day or two. At the most. But somehow Iona is different. I have even managed 7 days there before and only started to twitch at the end. I love going to Iona and the journey is all part of the pilgrimage, from the roads round lochs, stopping at the Green Wellie Shop at Tyndrum, to the one-way system in Oban. I’m familiar with Iona. I know how it breathes. I know where the shops are and where you go for peace. I know where the best stones are to be found. And I know that the view over the Sound to Mull changes every 5 minutes or so. I know the water is so clear and so blue/green that you could be in the Mediterranean.  I know where the sheltered beaches are and what the sound of the Corncrake is like. (Bloody irritating.) I love St Columba’s chapel in Bishop’s House like an old familiar church. I like meeting people as they pass by and sit beside you in church. I love Iona.

So that is why I am always happy to take my little flock to Iona. Because I know that mostly they are country people or love the outdoors and will love it even more than I do. And I’ve never been wrong. This past 5 days was no different. I took a group of 18, mostly from my little flock, some of whom hadn’t been before, and they loved it. We laughed a lot. There are many in-jokes which will frustrate those who didn’t go in the days to come, no doubt. (Tippi Hedron impersonation anyone?)

Anything to irritate? Yes. The fact that 17 adults seemed incapable of remembering any times given to them. “Ruth, what time’s supper again?” “Ruth, what time is the Eucharist?” “Ruth, when do we meet again?” “Ruth, when’s the ferry?” (even when I hadn’t booked their ferry!) Over and over and over again. It was like herding cats or dealing with very small and unsure children. Next time I will do a timetable and stick it to their foreheads. However, I don’t think it will stop the uncertainty about time. And of course, we lost some of them on the way but we gathered them in eventually (after I went another few shades greyer).

I paddled, went to Staffa again but this time it was so calm we even sailed right in to Fingal’s cave, saw porpoises and seals basking in the sunshine, got sunburned, went to the Abbey on the Feast of St Columba, went up the North End in a golf buggy, painted stones, over-ate at a barbecue, ate Hogget and laughed like nothing on earth.

Every morning I did a little talk on all things Celtic: St C himself; Spirituality; Prayer etc and borrowed heavily from Ian Bradley’s books. I did quote him even in my sermon on Sunday so much so that when we went up to the Abbey just an hour or so later and heard Ian Bradley himself preaching it was almost as if he’d read my sermon. Or rather that I’d borrowed liberally from his book!  One of my little flock even brought him back to Bishop’s House to meet me after the Island Pilgrimage. (I was shopping!) He was very charming, as was his wife. And didn’t mind me borrowing from his books at all.

And now we are home once more. I would like to go back again quite soon.





Puffin grass


View from Dun-I


Iona sea


Dun-I cairn


Iona beach


A tale of a pilgrimage

Pilgrimages begin with a journey. In fact, the journey is very much part of a pilgrimage. It allows the pilgrims to start the process of getting away together and of course the journey to a special place is always alive with anticipation. Last Saturday a minibus left St Mark’s with some very excited pilgrims and I set off in my car with P for company.

P and I only got as far as the first big roundabout out of town when a bus decided to ignore the lane markings and take me with him back to Portobello. And to make matters worse, to drive off with nary a backward glance. A few scrapes and scratches and thankfully no damage done to my passenger and off we set again.

Miraculously we all met up again in Oban at the ferry terminal in time for our ferry to Craignure on Mull. The sun shone hard and the sail was spectacular for those who haven’t been before. That’s the thing about going back to a familiar place with people who’ve never been before – you get to re-live it again through their eyes.

A warm welcome at Bishop’s House and after a quick scamper round the house we took a wander up to the Abbey. Compline in the chapel rounded off a tiring day and after a few glasses of wine from a well-stocked bar we all went to bed.

Bishop\'s House, Iona


The day started with a Eucharist in the beautiful chapel at Bishop’s House. I love this chapel and the altar frontal tells a story of Iona (and inspired a fabulous frontal at St Columba’s Bathgate after our last visit).

St Columba\'s Chapel, Bishop\'s House Iona

Some of us went up to the Abbey for their communion service and enjoyed some memorable music. After lunch a group of us walked over to the Machair while others started their exploration of the island. We had a short talk on Celtic art and the colouring in began, as well as some masterpieces in encaustic art. Evensong in the chapel was peaceful and contemplative. In the evening I did 5 French manicures for some of my little flock. Someone said it looked like another kind of Maundy Thursday and footwashing.


Lots of visitors from Toronto at the Eucharist this morning. That’s one of the lovely things about Bishop’s House – you are always blessed by visitors from all over the world at each service. In the morning we had a session on Celtic Spirituality and some good discussions ensued.

Another glorious day and an afternoon visit to Staffa and Fingal’s Cave. I’ve been a few times and it is always an amazing sight but this time it was as flat as a millpond and on the way we saw seals and basking sharks as well as all sorts of sea birds.

Fingal\'s Cave, Staffa

The climb up to the top was worth it (after a snifter from I’s hipflask to calm my asthma!) and I finally got to see the puffins. I couldn’t believe how close they came to us. We were told that humans are friends to them because they have learned that we keep the seagulls at bay.

Puffin on Staffa

The evening was spent sharing after-sun and a little discussion from the The Book of Questions – most revealing.


No eucharist in the morning so some joined me for Morning Prayer. Always lovely to share saying the Office. Everyone went on the Abbey Pilgrimages and I had the house to myself for a few hours. Full house for evening eucharist again and in the evening we all sat and shared stories. This week we have a rota for readings, prayers, leading Compline and altar serving. It means that people who don’t usually do these things can try them out in a smaller environment. The readings at the Eucharist have been from Tobit this week and we almost feel like ending them with ‘tune in tomorrow for our next exciting instalment’. I get the feeling that a few purchases of bibles with the Apocrypha will be happening on our return. Another thing which has struck me this week is seeing another side to my little flock. This was especially true of L who has been able to be herself this week and not a ‘mum’. It has seemed strange giving her the Body of Christ in two hands when normally one is holding a small child and another is wriggling at her feet. She has been so serene. Fell asleep to the sound of waves lapping on the beach.


Cooler today and windy but dry until evening. Our session this morning was on Celtic Prayer and I sense some masterpieces waiting to be born. In the afternoon some of us walked to the north end and paddling was the order of the day. The shops took some visiting too. The group has now really started to gel and there is much hilarity at meal times and in the evenings. Then there was the incident of the bread and the seagulls but the less said about that, the better. (You really had to be there, but believe me when I say it ran and ran!)


Another sunny day and by this point most people have trotted round the island a few times. The fitter ones have made it to St Columba’s Bay and the Marble Quarry, and most of the others have found Port Ban (my favourite beach) and the Machair. One of our oldest members even made it to St C’s bay which has to be a miracle. This morning we had a talk on Celtic Saints and all chose religious names. Some friends bought me a beautiful Celtic stole made from Harris tweed which will always be treasured. In the afternoon all went on the tour of the Abbey while I stayed behind to write my sermon for Sunday. In the evening we played silly games. Bats and corncrakes abound.


This morning we had a review of the week and people brought their treasured objects to share. We shared our Celtic prayers and they were fab. (The book will be available soon!)

memorable objects from Iona

Last chance to shop and visit places yet unseen and in the afternoon we had a healing service in St Oran’s chapel. The acoustics were amazing and the sound of Bless the Lord my Soul will stay with me for a long time. On the walk back we even managed to see a corncrake up close which is rare indeed.

In the evening we had our concert party and most folk did a wee ‘turn’. I got a lovely pressie too which was unexpected and a delight. And a poem was composed which may make it to the blog at a later date. We even booked up for May 2011. First come, first served folks…

Saturday – the journey home

Saying farewell to Iona is always hard. We met some lovely people, we got to know one another better and we all had a good rest. (Well, I know I’ll sleep well when I get home!)

St Mark\'s pilgrimage to Iona 2008 - the group

P and I couldn’t get the same ferry home as the rest so we killed time in Tobermory and nearly got an eagle through the windscreen. The bus wasn’t there to meet the rest at Oban so we were all late home and exhausted. But what memories and I know that some will be first in with applications for our next visit.