Our Visit to Fingal’s Cave, Isle of Staffa

Fingal’s Cave

A few years ago we ran ‘Creation Experience’ weeks in the churches where I am minister. They were opportunities for primary aged children to come and explore the vast wonders of creation. One year we took them on a journey from the beginning of time, through the Big Bang, the evolving of life in the oceans, the volcanos and life moving from seas to dry land, the era of dinosaurs, then on into the forests and eventually along came human beings. The children loved it and we loved hosting it. We gave them each a bookmark at the end of their 90 mins Creation Experience as a keepsake, with the timeline on it from over 15 billion years ago to present day.  Staggering to think of the journey creation has taken since the beginning of time.

Well, Dave and I were fortunate to step back in time 50 million years and experience first hand a part of that historic journey our planet has taken. We got on a boat with Staffa Boat Tours (http://www.staffatours.com/boat-tours/departs-fionnphort-mull-and-iona/staffa-tour/)  and set off to visit Fingal’s Cave, located on the island of Staffa, off the coast of Mull. The cave came to be from a lava flow over 50 million years ago,  that lay down basalt columns of layered rock.  Whilst the columns were being laid down a tilt occurred, pressure was applied above the cave, forcing a crack to open up below, which was further shaped from the crashing of waves at the island during storms. This created the stunning structure we were able to step onto and see for ourselves.

Renowned for its natural acoustics, eerie sounds produced by the waves, and naturally arched roof, the cave evokes a cathedral-like atmosphere. This has allowed for the cave to earn its Gaelic name ‘Uamh-Binn’, meaning ‘cave of melody’. The cave has attracted hundreds of thousands of visitors over the centuries, including Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn who visited in 1829 and wrote his Hebrides overture in ode to the acoustics of the cave. Past visitors have also included Sir Walter Scott, Keats, Turner, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Prince William of Orange, William Wordsworth, Jules Verne and Robert Louis Stevenson.

The name ‘Fingal’ originally comes from an Irish myth, where the hero Fionn MacCumhaill’s (shortened to ‘Fingal’, meaning ‘white stranger’) and his faithful warriors migrated into Scotland from Ireland. The legend is that Fionn built the Giant’s Causeway, which has identical columns to Fingal’s Cave, after a challenge to fight. He soon became famous across Scotland, making his name the obvious choice.

I invite you to take your time looking at these photos and video clips, savouring the calmness of the waters, the contentment of seals resting on the rocks, the cormorants fishing in the waters and the breathtaking awesome Isle of Staffa with Fingal’s Cave as it’s centrepiece.

Perhaps listen to Mendelson’s Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave) Overture (https://youtu.be/a3MiETaBSnc) as you join Dave and I stepping back 50 million years, thankful for such a beautiful planet and mindful that the story of Planet Earth is older than we can imagine and more precious than any silver or gold. May we count our blessings for being able to be part of this amazing wonderful world. This was a creation experience I will never forget! May these video clips and pictures be a blessing to you all.

Walking to the cave – more handrails further on, don’t worry!
Inside Fingal’s Cave, testing the acoustics!
Leaving Staffa
Cormorants on the water
Koda enjoyed his boat trip!

The Wonderful Iona (Mull – Day 2)

So today was a BIG day for me. I have wanted to visit Iona for many many years and never managed it. Life (an a bundle of pathetic excuses/reasons) got in the way of me making the effort to come here. Well today all my expectations were surpassed as we made our way to this wonderful thin place where creation and creator feel as one, where spirit and human are unequivocally connected – indeed united! Let me take you through some of our day. The fuller version will be shared in some form on my return. For now, a glimpse of the wonder that is Iona.

We begin with the wonderful journey across Mull to Fionnphort where we were to catch the 10mins ferry to Iona.

Just before we got to Fionnphort, we encountered some of the locals – with HUGE horns!!!! Very friendly and magnificent to be so close to. We allowed them to pass peacefully, hoping they didn’t want to come much closer than this…

And then onto Iona!! After reversing the motorhome onto the ferry and gingerly driving off (that was an experience I don’t want to repeat!….) we were on the island and had a special day pass for our vehicle that you have to ask for in advance (vehicles not usually allowed onto the Island).

Our visit began with the Abbey itself. There are two crosses outside the Abbey, one of these is St Martin’s Cross. There are carvings on the cross in an interweaving Celtic pattern, symbolic of the intertwining of earth and heaven, the sacred and the secular (ref ‘Around a Thin Place’ p17).

Then we saw the Abbey itself. Our pictures here are all of the outside as the Abbey is currently closed. Did we get to go inside? I couldn’t possibly say!….. Here are some pictures of this amazing place, which has been a home for Christian pilgrims for 1400 years.

Near to the Abbey there is Reilig Odhrain (St Oran’s Chapel) which is the oldes remaining building not he island, dating back to the 12th century and in it’s grounds is a burial ground where it is thought 48 Scottis, 8 Norwegian and 4 Irish Kings are buried here (‘ref Off Road Pilgrimage p103). Along the road for here is Macleod’s Cross and the Nunnery (founded by Augustinians in the early 13th century).

And so we go off the the ‘Beach at the Back of the Ocean’. This is a beautiful beach with white sand (the pics don’t do it justice really) and gorgeous coloured pebbles. This is one of two beaches I had hoped to visit but the other (St Columbia’s Bay) was a bit too difficult trek on my own and the weather was not in our favour. So Koda and I settled very happily for some time on the beach at the back of the ocean, looking out to sea and savouring the majesty and wonder of the ocean. Pilgrims come to Iona for many reasons, one is to reflect on their journey thus far in life, and to recharge, in order to go on to their next chapters. They are encouraged to take a pebble at St Columbia’s Bay, throw it into the ocean to represent something they are leaving behind or letting go of. And then take another pebble, walking off the beach without looking back, to represent their journey going forward from that moment. Well Koda and I did this on our beach today and it felt just as powerful and releasing as it probably is at St Columbia’s Bay. It’s good for all of us sometimes to think about the things we should probably let go of (or put behind us) in order for us to look to tomorrow, confident that God will guide and equip us for whatever tomorrow may hold.

Columba is thought to haves landed on Iona in the year 563 and his legacy still lives on here today. I’ll be doing some further studies and reflections on St Columba later in my journey. For now I leave you with the Celtic rune of Hospitality that is often said at a service of welcome in the Abbey church:

‘We saw a stranger yesterday,

We put food in the eating place,

Drink in the drinking place,

Music in the listening place

And, with the sacred name of the Triune God,

He blessed us and our house,

Our cattle and our dear ones.

As the lark says in her song: Often, often goes Christ in the strangers’ guise. ‘

I hope you’ve enjoyed sharing a little of our travels to and around Iona today.

‘May God be a b right flame before you,

Be a guiding star above you,

Be a smooth path below you,

Be a kindly shepherd behind you,

Today, tomorrow and for ever. Amen’

(Traditional Gaelic blessing, from Iona Abbey Worship Book)

Isle of Mull – Day 1 of 3

So here we are, after a 4 hour drive from Annan, followed by a fun ferry ride from Oban to Craignure, we are now settled on this delightful campsite on Mull where we will be for the next three nights. The sun is shining and the ocean is calm. I can feel the warmth of the sun shining down and all is calm around me. Dogs and humans are all calm…. Something about being here brings calm with it. People come and go on and off the beach before us, all calm (even the babies!). Peaceful, tranquil place.

Port of Craignure

I thought I’d share with you some beautiful words from a book I am reading ‘Anam Cara’ (which means ‘Soul Friend’) by John O’Donohue. Here are a couple of extracts about Light and the eternal. Food for thought….

“Light is the mother of life…. Light is the secret presence of the Divine. It keeps life awake. Light is a nurturing presence which calls forth warmth and colour in nature. The soul awakes and lives in light. It helps us to glimpse the sacred depths within us.”

And a little later on he writes: “The eternal is at home – within you. The eternal is not elsewhere; it is not distant . There is nothing as near as the eternal”.

Here are some pics from our ferry ride and settling in at the campsite. Hope they make you smile. Tomorrow we’re off to Iona – perhaps there will be more glimpses of the Divine on those sacred shores. God bless x

St Cuthbert’s Way – Day 4 (Final Day)

We began the final stretch of this walk to venture across The Pilgrim’s Path across the causeway from Beal to Holy Island, Lindisfarne. It’s approximately 3 miles of walking barefoot across muddy, soggy, wet sands, following the guide poles that mark the route.

Along the way we encountered a seal sanctuary nearby (see vid), the girls enjoyed searching for seashells and I concentrated on avoiding any creature that may have been lurking in the sands! It was amazing to take the walk , recalling all who had come this way before us and all who were yet to venture out.

As we set off it all seemed a bit precarious and slightly crazy thing to do, as we slipped all over the seaweed to get to the sands. But then we began to laugh, to enjoy being in the middle of nowhere and yet at the centre of everywhere. For a brief moment in time we were able to stand in the middle of the ocean! And feel safe. And feel connected. And feel good.

As we approached Holy Island, on the far side of the Pilgrim’s Way, one of my daughter’s put her arm in mine and said ‘well mum, do you feel any more spiritual now than when we started?” I thought about all the hills we had climbed these last few days, the valleys we had strolled through with aching limbs, the challenges and joys along the way and the fun we had shared crossing the sands together and the quiet moments of prayerful reflection along the way. Arm in arm, as we stepped onto Holy Island and completed this first chapter of our quest I thought of my answer to her question ‘do I feel more spiritual?’. Yes I do. For it doesn’t get more spiritual than this!

Thanks to Lisa and Dave (& Lola) for journeying with us on our way. And thanks to my Dave (Dobby) for chauffering, feeding, cleaning up and generally putting up with us and our aching limbs! Now for a long rest for a few days…..

St Cuthbert’s Way – Day 3

St Cuthbert’s Cave

Today we were joined by the girls Godmother and my best friend Lisa and hubby Dave and their dog Lola. We walked from Old Hazelrigg, past St Cuthbert’s Cave and onto Fenwick. Approx 5 miles today. Lots of fun had on the way, including Koda’s first encounter with a cow close up, some meandering along a yellow-brick road through a field of corn, some breathtaking views out over Lindesfarne and of course, the stunning St Cuthbert’s Cave.

It is said (in the guide) that St Cuthbert’s body was taken to the cave by monks in 875 AD during their flight from Lindisfarne following repeated Viking raids on the island. You can imagine the monks laying down their precious burden to shelter there after the traumatic events of the preceding days. A very moving place to visit and rest a while…..

Glad to rest now before we ‘stroll’ across the sands to Lindesfarne tomorrow morning….. BBQ prepared for us by the men when we got home. Thank you ‘Team Dave’!!….. zzzzzzzz

St Cuthbert’s Way – Day 2

Day 2 we set off on the route from Kirk Yetholm to Hethpool. We began with quite a long climb of 297m from Halterburn around Green Humbleton and eventually down to Hethpool. Lots of sheep with lambs up on the hills which kept Koda entranced. After walking through a so called ‘wood’ (all trees having been cut down….) we encountered a field full of sheep and cattle. Having been warned not to take a dog anywhere near cattle with calves, we decided take a detour which led us through bushes and rough hillsides, not quite sure if we would ever find the road again! One of the photos here is Rebekah lying face down on the track when we eventually found it (an hour later!) and we were so grateful and relieved!! This section had been ably led by Hannah through the wilds – those scouting years were def not wasted! 😂😂 Our little furry companion, Kodak’s, walked most of the uphill and all of the down, just a bit of a carry whilst passing some sheep. The pup crossed his first burn today and jumped across several unexpected mini streams (on Hannahs ‘scenic’ route). Some beautiful scenery here in the College Valley with stunning views all round. I could have stayed here a while longer, but for the inquisitive sheep willing us to move on……

Another few km of St Cuthbert’s way done today, with tired feet all round. We were very grateful when we found Dobby (Dave) & Delilah waiting for us by our motorhome.  👍😎😴😴😴😴

St Cuthbert’s Way – Day 1

End of Day 1 St Cuthberts Way. Saw two abbeys (from outside as closed due to Covid restrictions 😓😓); visited one beautiful old Kirk in Bowden (that’s a church for the sassanachs reading this!), visited William Wallace monument which took me back to my Higher History studies in Scotland….. later we encountered a few cows from a distance, walked a few miles along a wonderful old Roman road (Am not sure how many but Rebekah recorded several thousand steps….) and lil Koda joined in with it all. Delilah took care of Mr B for us. All had a lovely day. Moved to our next site now. Sleep time! Enjoy the pics – God bless

Melrose Abbey

Quest for Spirituality

Travel with me on this journey. Travel light. Enjoy!

My journey begins at Melrose in the Scottish Borders, where St. Cuthbert started his religious life in 650AD. I will be walking (mostly) from there to Lindisarne ( Holy Island) off the Northumberland Coast, his eventual resting place and his original pilgrimage shrine. Then I will journey up to Iona, Skye and then Glencoe, to indulge in some Celtic spirituality and beautiful Scottish mountains and coastline. Accompanied by family and friends, I will post reflections here along the way.

God be with you till we meet again x

St. Cuthbert
“Have faith and wholeheartedly trust God who will never abandon those who love Him”