Iona is a small island, measuring only 1.5 miles by three miles and it is home to only 120 residents, but its role in Scottish history is enormous. It is nicknamed “the cradle of Christianity” in Scotland as it was here that St. Columba arrived, in 563, from Ireland. The most famous sight on the island is Iona Abbey. While St. Columba’s original buildings no longer stand, in the 13th century a Benedictine monastery was established on the site and it would later become the seat of the Bishops of the Isles. The Augustinian nunnery nearby was abandoned during the Reformation, but its surprisingly well-preserved ruins are still atmospheric and evocative.
Another sort of preservation draws visitors to Dun I, the island’s highest point which sits at 333 feet above the sea. After admiring the views, stop at the nearby Well of Eternal Youth, said to have been blessed by St. Brigid of Ireland who lived in the sixth century. To this day, pilgrims come to sip the water or splash their faces with it and, perhaps, to benefit from its healing powers. Later in the day, L'Austral
will call at Staffa Island, famous for its colony of puffins and Fingal’s Cave. Formed of basalt columns (like those at the Giant’s Causeway), the cave has enchanted thousands of visitors over the years, including Wordsworth, Keats, and Turner.