Homebodies - Ah, the isle of Iona…


By Rita Friesen

Neepawa Banner & Press

The agreement from the planning stage of the vacation with my friend Marie- the one I travelled with to Holland for the bike and barge tour two years ago-was that we would see the concentration camps, Auschwitz and Birkenau, her interest, and then spend some time on the Isle of Iona. As she aptly put it; from hell to heaven.

Leaving Poland, we flew through Frankfurt to Glasgow, then a taxi to catch a train to catch another train to Oban. The three-hour train ride prepared my spirit for Iona. We rolled through the Hebrides, hills and lakes, trees and sheep, stone fences and castles. And into a golden sunset. Breathtaking. Overnight in Oban, luxury hotel, scenic walks, familiar friendship and a good book in the backpack. A ferry ride, a lengthy bus ride through gorgeous countryside, a short ferry ride and we set foot on the Isle. The picturesque village at Martyrs Cove was the centre for our week of rest and relaxation.

We walked past the ruins of the nunnery on our way to our accommodation, a walk we repeated at least once a day for every day we lingered on the island. The soft, gentle hills, dotted with sheep called us, and the lap of the ocean waves enticed us out after evening vespers.

One of our longer walks was to St. Columba’s cove. We had asked for directions, received very articulate ones, and had a map marking the paths, tracks and roads on the island. Much of the island is entrusted to Scotland, like our national parks are in Canada’s keeping. There are a few private crofts but one is free to wander anywhere, literally through farm yards and behind homes. Signage indicates which pasture is home to a bull, where there are new lambs and the ewes may be irritable, and always – please close the gate and keep your dog on lead. For portions of the path we were not certain that we were on the path, and yet, when looking back, clearly discernible traces of the path were evident. Listen and obey and all will be well. We spent the better part of the day at the cove, sharing our lunch with an avid birder who was willing to share her knowledge and binoculars.

One afternoon we joined a group of tourists on a nature walk, identifying some forty species of wild flowers in a two-hour slow stroll. I got to watch a thrush beating a snail out of its shell, pounding it on the pavement until the shell broke apart. The call of the cuckoo, and the cry of the almost extinct corn crakes, had us simply sit on a bench and watch the world go by.

One morning we hired a local gentleman for a guided tour of the village and surrounding area, local and geographical history. We think perhaps we perplexed him with our questions about wells and sewage and education and….he was very gracious when he understood we really wanted to know. Fresh air, sunshine, great food and exercise – we rested well.