Tuesday, 1 September 2009


Half asleep on a deserted strip of shore, the glimmering sky-blue seas send me, in a reverie, to the tropics – until I hear the faint bleating of a sheep and the rusty drone of the ferry coming into port. I awaken again to the tiny, Hebridean island of Iona - a place full of enticing contradictions: industrious fishermen passing contemplative monks on the road, placid cattle dangerously close to the tempestuous Atlantic seas, and the smell of sea-salt, lavender and the ferry's chain oil, carried eastward on the prevailing winds. Looking out in any direction, the blue immensity of the sea is interrupted only by distant islands, silhouetted on the horizon. Among them, Staffa, with its columnar basalt and volcanic caves that inspired Mendelssohn to write the “Fingal’s Cave Overture”. Weather-exposed peninsulas branch out, laced with quartz, gneiss and marble that were fused together by ancient, volcanic streams and have been polished by the waves, wind and moonlight ever since. Less than a mile in width, Iona served as a stepping stone for Christianity in the 1st century AD, when the Celtic church spread from Ireland into mainland UK and eventually throughout mainland Europe. But today stillness pervades: the sound of the waves slips into silence; moored fishing boats lazily rise and fall in their own sad rhythm; nets of tiny birds, no bigger than butterflies, flit by as one; and huge cumulus clouds languorously shift across a sky of flawless blue. Iona had one more blessing for us. A gasp of excitement as we waited for the ferry; looking round, we saw a crowd pointing out to a huge Minke whale breaching the water, a mid-air trail of sea-spray arcing in its wake. For around thirty minutes the island stood still, awestruck. Even the locals stopped what they were doing and smiled helplessly in amazement.

1 comment:

  1. hi Michael
    Just to say thank you for your reading at Word Soup #5 last night, I really enjoyed it (and I like your blog)
    cheers, kim