October 04, 2016


I knew from the start I wanted to reach Iona.

One misty morning I take the ferry to Mull. There's almost nobody else on it, and once on Mull there are no buses leaving for Fionnsport, on the other side of the island, so I hitchike. Fergus is his name, and I sit in the front next to his gorgeous husky dog while he drives like a maniac on the winding road, cursing at tourists who don't understand passing places. Over the deserted glen of Mull, eagles are flying in circles.

I get to Fionnsport just in time for the ferry who does the twenty minutes crossing to the island of Iona. It's started to rain now and I huddle against the heater inside the cabin. The ferry is tiny, only made for a few dozen people and a car or two. When we reach Iona, the rain drizzles on the pier and hides the row of whitewashed houses in a fragile fog. Most people only come to Iona to visit the monastery and spent a couple hours before going back, but I decided to spend the night, so I walk out of the village, along the only road, until I reach the north point where my hostel is. It's a lovely house right on the beach, the glen behind it.

I spend the day walking around the island. The other visitors have gone and so it's just me, sheep and the odd startled local. Iona is one of the most important pilgrimage sites in Europe, and there is definitely spirit there, but for me it comes more from the waves and the wind than from the walls of the churches.

I've always loved places like these, I think it's because they're so independant. About a hundred people live on Iona year long, with children going to primary school here, and then moving to the mainland to go to boarding school. People here are mostly fishermen, and hold the few shops they need to survive and organize tourism. They have everything they need, and outside of the visitors coming for a few hours, live a quiet life here, shielded from the storms. I walk through the graveyard next to the monastery, where they say are buried monks, fishermen and viking kings alike. Following the road, I reach the southern end of the island, and there I am completely alone. A flock of sheep run past me and giant ravens take flight as they see me advance on their beach. The bay is one of the biggest I've ever seen, and I sit there, in complete silence but for the sea and the wind, looking at the tide.

I walk back to the house under the rain, and leave the path. Big black snails are everywhere and I have to skip not to crush them. Cotton-tail rabbits bold in every direction when they hear me coming. I spend a while on the beach in front of the house, collecting greenstones with red and grey iron veins. In the evening, we talk near the fire and watch the sunset create purple and blue ripples over the sea.

The next morning, I get up before dawn to catch the ferry back to Oban, along with fishermen going to sell lobsters in town. Iona's only row of houses disappear in the fog and I feel a pinch. I wish I could stay longer, but my time in Scotland is almost over, and I have to travel back to Edinburgh, and then Newcastle, where I am meeting my love.

On the train to Edinburgh, I watch the sun leave place to the southern fog. I feel so grateful for the sun, for the islands, for the people who drove me down the coastal roads, for the funny fishermen and their dogs, for the lonely houses and the scraggly sheep. Scotland was everything I needed. When I left France I was lost. Now we have a plan, and even though it will take us very far away from Scotland, I think it'll be good.

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