Deanery Pilgrimage to Iona

Nineteen of us set out by coach from Bellingham Deanery on 28th September 2015
First stop: the 7th century Ruthwell Cross, 18 feet high,
showing here the depiction of Christ glorified and some decorative carvings of wild creatures eating berries:

On to Whithorn and time for reflection in the remains of the priory near the bay where early pilgrims used to land to follow in the steps of St Ninian

Ferry from Oban to Mull...

and then an hour on the bus across Mull... catch the smaller ferry to Iona...

...with only one vehicle on the car deck.

Looking over the sound to Mull from the garden of Bishop's House where we stayed on Iona

Sunrise on Iona

Peeping into the 13th century Nunnery

A walk to the North End of the island

passing Dun I (pronounced  dunEE, meaning "Island hill")

102 metres (approximately 300 feet) above sea level

From the Abbey the dot of the cairn is just visible (if you trace a line upwards from the second fence post)

views from the track up Dun I

An expanding view from the track but...

...somewhere around this point I wondered how I would get down again and whether I ought to go on.
Then I spotted another walker scrambling up after me (very encouraging) and a sailing boat setting out to sea.  So...

...I went a bit higher to get a better view of (and zoomed in on) an evocative scene:  Imagine St Aidan sailing away to bring the Good News of God's love to the Northumbrians in the seventh century.  "Goodbye, Aidan.   Will we ever see him again?  Corman came home to Iona in despair of making any impression on the rough and uneducated Northumbrians.  Dear Aidan said they would respond to a gentle approach.  God speed, Aidan!"

The view from the top and ...

...the cairn on the summit...

...from which there is a 360 degree view.

Proof that I was there

Looking down towards the beach at the North End 

Down between the sand dunes
 to the North End beach

 Shingle on the beach
containing a wonderful variety of tiny pebbles
Now it's time to visit Iona Abbey, a mediaeval building restored in the twentieth century, on the site of St Columba's community of monks.

The view from the mound on which Columba is thought to have had his writing hut.
I can imagine sitting here gazing out across the sound when pausing to consider the next sentence.  But I think Columba was mainly scribing beautiful copies of important manuscripts, possibly including the Book of Kells.
      Below this vantage point is a high Cross which has stood on this spot for 1200 years:  St Martin's Cross was carved out of a single piece of stone and is the only intact cross to survive from the eighth century.
In the centre roundel is Mary holding Jesus as a baby.  Below that, the other carvings depict Daniel in the lions' den, Abraham and Isaac, and David with his harp and other musicians.

 Looking out from a prayer cell in the abbey

Setting out for a pilgrimage walk to St Columba's Bay, we passed an erratic boulder (left by  a receding glacier)

The golf course is on common land where islanders graze their stock.  We paused to think about community life.

The west shore at the edge of the common

Southwards, over some rougher ground we came to Loch Staonaig, which was until recently the source of all fresh water for the island.  Three migrating swans have paused on the further pool.  After our pause, we continued south to St Columba's Bay where a seal popped up to observe us:

We spent a long time  admiring the miraculous pebbles and searching for Iona marble fragments and other colours:

 After our sandwiches it was time to make our way back up the track away from the bay.
The mist had cleared...

...and the swans (three white dots on the further pool) were still resting on Iona:

A time for silence in the sun
The cattle congregate,
                             the people meet,
and we walk on back to the village. 
A window in the chapel of Bishop's House

Looking across to Mull from the Abbey in the evening

 looking back at the Abbey from the ferry the next morning

After a pilgrims' Eucharist with the Bishop in Oban Cathedral
The last of the Northern saints  (Ninian, Columba, Oswald, Aidan) with special meaning for us was Cuthbert.
     On our return to the Borders we visited Old Melrose, the site of the Abbey founded by Aidan which Cuthbert entered in the seventh century (651 AD).
Looking down to the River Tweed which bends here to make a peninsula on which the monastery was enclosed for tranquillity and protected from attack.

Later the religious community was re-established at Melrose in its current location.  We visited the ruins of the second Melrose Abbey as a reminder of the monastic life.

Home past Jedburgh 
Suggestions for the next pilgrimage destination for a group from Bellingham Deanery are welcome!



  1. Great photos. Wish I'd been there!

    1. We'll let you know where we're going next time and you can both come along!