Day 7 |
May 23, 2009

Iona – Staffa – Bunessan, (Inner Hebrides - Scotland)

By Juan Carlos Restrepo, Geologist

Co-ordinates: N 56º 19.823’, W 006º 23.514’

Weather: Cloudy and Rainy to overcast

Air Temperature: 12º C

Pressure: 1005 hPa

Wind: Force 4

This morning, the fair weather that we had yesterday was gone; instead, we had what one would expect of typical Scottish weather: rainy and windy. So far, we had been quite lucky, so it was fair to have a taste of the local weather.

After an early breakfast, I got on my Zodiac to head ashore into picturesque Iona. The ride to the slipway was a bit wet. Some of our guests decided to stay onboard, however, those that did brave the elements had a good time.

Once ashore, Rosalind Newlands was waiting for our guests to take them to the Abbey for a guided tour. Some attended the service at the Abbey. Meanwhile, Colleen Batey was stationed at the museum bringing history alive.

Iona is only three miles long by one mile wide and lies less than a mile off the southwest tip of Mull. It has been a place of Christian pilgrimage and worship for several centuries. In 563, St Columba, a scholar and soldier priest, fled from Ireland to this island. He was buried here in 597 and soon thereafter became a cult figure, credited with such miraculous feats as banishing snakes, frogs, cows and women – he believed that “where there is a cow there is a woman, and where there is a woman there is mischief!”

The Abbey sits up on a hill, over looking the ocean, and just next to it is the burial ground of 60 Kings of Norway, Ireland, Scotland and France. The village was very picturesque with quaint white and black houses nestled amongst several ancient stone walls and ruins.

Towards the end of the landing the rain had eased off and the sea flattened out a little, just a little. Once back on board lunch was awaiting and the ship sailed the short distance to our next destination.

Arriving in Staffa, the conditions were borderline; the Captain Peter Stahlberg and Expedition Leader Conrad Combrink decided to give it a try. Zodiacs went in the water and rapidly the conditions deteriorated; soon the swell at the gangway was too much, making the disembarkation unsafe. Unfortunately, and with safety in mind, the call to cancel the landing was made and alternative plans for a landing in Bunessan were made.

Staffa is a relatively low island, but the most striking feature is the magnificent huge black basaltic columns that line the coast. They reach skyward – towering over the coast like sentinels guarding a treasure. 

These hexagonal columns of solidified lava form when a basaltic flow becomes stagnant and starts to cool down. Cracks develop at the surface and at the bottom in a fashion analogous to desiccation cracks on dry mud. The cracks travel inwards and eventually meet, forming very symmetrical columns of rock with typically six flat sides. 

The lava flows that formed the island of Staffa and many of the Inner Hebrides cover an area of 1’000.000 km2. Successive flows pile up, reaching 2 km in thickness, and occurred 55 million years ago when the North Atlantic Ocean was just being formed, as Greenland, the British Isles, Scandinavia and Europe started drifting away from each other. 

The Zodiacs were again hoisted and the ship sailed for Bunessan, a quaint little town on the Isle of Mull. Fortunately, the conditions in this protected harbour were considerably better and the time allowed for individual exploration. The Prince Albert II is the first expedition cruise ship to ever call here; the Argyll Hotel was serving tea, coffee, beer and delicious homemade scones.

At 18h30, everybody was back on board, and at 17h00, Conrad and Captain Stahlberg explained the weather situation and the alternative plans made due to the fact that the visit to St. Kilda had to be cancelled. Dinner and a good night sleep in calm waters followed.