April 27, 2014

Islands of Scotland: Mull, Iona, and the Cave of Melodies

Scotland Day 4 — Mull, Iona, & Staffa Tour from Oban

The Manor House Hotel, Oban, Scotland. Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

On our fourth day in Scotland, we woke up early at our hotel in Oban for our Early Bird Three Isles Excursion to Mull, Iona, and Staffa with Staffa Tours. This was another one of the things I was most looking forward to doing in Scotland! This was our room at The Manor House Hotel. It was right on the harbor and had gorgeous views across the Oban Bay from both windows. There were even binoculars in the window for wildlife watching. It was also just a 5 minute walk from the Oban Ferry Terminal where we’d catch the 8am ferry for our tour.

Exploring the Islands of Mull, Iona & Staffa + Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

It was about a 45 minute ferry ride to Mull, where we’d arrive at Craignure, then hop on about a 60-minute bus ride across Mull to Fionnphort.

Exploring the Islands of Mull, Iona & Staffa + Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

From there we’d get on a boat and travel to our first stop of the tour, a mysterious sea cave on the uninhabited island of Staffa.

Exploring the Islands of Mull, Iona & Staffa + Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

We were warned that the boat would only land on Staffa in good conditions, and now I know why. Even on a beautiful, sunny day, the swells getting out to the island were just… massively gargantuan! Huge, huge, huge waves. Fortunately I don’t get even remotely seasick, but if you are prone to seasickness, you might want to take some precautions before getting on this boat. :)

Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa. Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

After about a 30 minute ride, Staffa was in our sights.

Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa. Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

To the right, you can see the entrance to the deep and mysterious Fingal’s Cave.

Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa. Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

Staffa’s unique landscape is formed entirely of hexagonal basalt lava rock columns.

Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa. Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

See what I mean?? :)

Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa. Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

It was seriously, so, so cool.

Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa. Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

I could not get over it.

Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa. Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

As soon as we landed we made our way to Fingal’s Cave.

Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa. Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

This mysterious cave’s size, naturally arched roof, and eerie sounds produced by the echoes of waves give it the atmosphere of a natural cathedral.

Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa. Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

Romantic composer Felix Mendelssohn visited the cave in 1829 and wrote an overture inspired by the mysterious echoes in the cave, and thus it’s been called the “Cave of Melodies.”

Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa. Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

Nowhere else in the world is there a sea cave formed completely in these hexagonally jointed lava rock columns.

Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa. Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

What will you hear when you go?

Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa. Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

After a few reflective moments in the cave, we set out to explore the rest of the island.

Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa. Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

I wish we’d had more time on this island. The tour advertises 1 hour on Staffa and 2.5 hours on Iona, but we really only had 50 minutes on Staffa. We spent almost all of that in the cave, and there was still a whole island to explore! I wish we’d had the option of staying longer on Staffa and coming back to Iona with a different group. I fell in love with this island!

Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa. Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

We did try to at least make our way to the highest point on the island. Well, Kevin did! ;)

Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa. Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

We followed the trail while the waves crashed against the rocks far below.

Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa. Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

Staffa is covered with a surface of rich soil and lush grass.

Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa. Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

Made it to the top! I could barely look while taking this picture!!

scotland-day-4-mull-iona-staffa-22

Our time was up far too quickly, and we got back on the boat headed for Iona.

Exploring the Islands of Mull, Iona & Staffa + Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

The charming beach on Iona was beautiful and colorful.

Exploring the Islands of Mull, Iona & Staffa + Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

These turquoise waters are not photoshopped!

Exploring the Islands of Mull, Iona & Staffa + Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

Loved the colorful homes and buildings.

Exploring the Islands of Mull, Iona & Staffa + Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

Next we caught the small ferry from Iona to Fionnphort, where our bus was waiting to take us back to Craignure, where we’d hopefully catch the big ferry back to Oban.

Kilchurn Castle. Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

But remember how I was telling you about the one-way roads in Scotland that are only big enough for one car? If another car was coming  from the opposite direction, one car would have to pull off the road to let the other car pass. That was our road for the entire 60-minute bus ride through Mull. There were several pull-off spots along the way where cars could pass, but sometimes there were places with bridges, cliffs, or drop-offs where’d it’d be impossible to pass, and one car would have to back up to the previous pull-off to let the other car pass. On the way back, about 30 minutes before our final ferry terminal, the driver gets word that there’s a wreck up ahead and because of a drop-off, there’s no way the bus can get around it. No problem, he says, they’ll just send another bus that will pick us up on the other side of the wreck. So we wait for the other bus as the time for our ferry to depart gets closer and closer. There are only two ferries left for the day.

We finally see our bus pull up, and it’s a giant, double-decker, open air bus. The top deck is completely open and exposed to the elements. I’m sure it’s lovely in sunny, 80-degree summer weather, but not so wonderful when it’s 40 degrees outside. And even though we’d had a beautiful, sunny day on the islands, by this point it had started to get cold and drizzly. Fortunately, there were enough seats inside to fit everyone, so we grabbed two together and waited to depart. Then we learn that we’re waiting for another bus that was coming right behind us to take them to the ferry too. Good thing we got here first! We got the good seats! ;) But when the other passengers start to get on the bus, we realize…. The other bus is a senior citizen tour! Snort! They all had canes and walkers. We looked at them, looked at the narrow, steep staircase to get to top deck, then looked at our strapping young selves plopped down on the comfy, warm inside chairs. There went our good seats, lol!!

When we hunkered down in our rainy, windy top deck seats, and got a better survey of the roads, it was then that it hit me. If these roads are too narrow to even go around a wreck… How the heck is this double-decker bus going to TURN AROUND to get us back to the ferry??! I started slightly panicking. Why didn’t it turn around before we all got on?? There’s no way for it to turn around here anyway. There’s a sheer drop-off to the side of the road! Then we start backing up. This giant, clunky, double-decker bus is going in REVERSE on narrow, twisty country roads! With a sheer drop-off on the side! Now, the drop-off isn’t that steep. If we were inside, there’s a good chance we would’ve been banged up, but survived. But us top-deckers? We’d be goners!

Fortunately, after not too far, the driver comes to the teeniest, tiniest pull-off to the side of the road. It looks impossible for this massive bus to turn around here, but sure enough, the driver manages to pull it off and get us back on the right track. We’re finally on our way! By this time, our ferry leaves in 5 minutes, and we’re still a good 20 minutes away. We’ll arrive 15 minutes after the ferry leaves, and have to wait 2 hours for the next one. We were kinda bummed, because that meant we wouldn’t get back to the hotel until super late, and we were looking forward to spending the evening in Oban.

Now at this point, one of the other passengers is talking on her phone. She’d been talking rather loudly on her phone the entire time since we’d learned about the wreck. I’ll admit it was starting to get on my nerves a bit because we were out in the middle of nowhere, and she must’ve had terrible reception because all I ever heard her say was “Hello? Hello? Hello?” loudly and over and over again. Sometimes she’d say how far away we were from the ferry. She must’ve had a ride waiting for her at the terminal, I thought. Lucky.

But about 5 minutes before we get to the terminal, she announces to the bus, “They’re going to hold the ferry for us!!” “Are you serious??” we all said?? “Yes!!” The entire bus cheered!! She must’ve been trying to reach the ferry terminal the entire time to get them to wait on us. Don’t I feel like a jerk now! Sure enough, when we finally pulled up to the terminal, the ferry is there and waiting. Now you should know, this ferry is massive. It has three stories, a full restaurant, bar, casino, and shops. It’s almost like a cruise ship. It can hold up to a thousand people and hundreds of cars. It’s huge. And there are maybe 30 of us on this bus. And it waited for us.

Kilchurn Castle. Tips for Traveling to Scotland. What to Do, See, & Eat. www.kevinandamanda.com

All in all, I loved our day exploring Staffa and Iona, but it was a lot of traveling from Oban for just 4 hours on the islands. It was at least 4 hours of traveling just for 4 hours on the islands. The ferry was neat, and the bus ride through Mull was beautiful, and while it wasn’t a tour bus, the driver would slow down and point out wildlife when we passed it. If we’d had more time on Staffa, it would’ve been totally worth it. But we only had less than an hour on Staffa and 3 hours on Iona, and I got a little bored after an hour on Iona. It’s tiny. I wish it would’ve been more even — 2 hours on Staffa and 2 hours on Iona. I tried to look into a private crossing to Staffa so we could spend as much time as we wanted there, and I know they have them, but the tour we did was really the only thing I could find online. Maybe if we were staying in Iona or Fionnphort and had a few days there, I could’ve looked into it once we got there, but for this trip, with our other itinerary, what we did was perfect. I would totally do it again in a heartbeat. I wouldn’t have changed a thing, because I loved being able to fit all the other fun stuff in too! :)

The next morning (Day 5) we said goodbye to Oban and headed for Edinburgh, passing Kilchurn Castle (above) along the way. Our next stop was our own private castle in Edinburgh!! Stay tuned for more!! :)


View Scotland Day 4 — Mull, Iona, & Staffa Tour from Oban in a larger map

Here’s a map of our route for Days 4 & 5 in Scotland. Zoom in or click on any of the icons for more info.

 

Follow along on our Scotland, London, and Paris Vacation!

Scotland

Scotland Day 1 & 2 — Inverness, Loch Ness, Skye, and Talisker Bay
Scotland Day 3 — Skye, Fairy Pools, The Highlands, and Oban
Scotland Day 4 — Islands of Scotland: Mull, Iona, and the Cave of Melodies
Scotland Day 5 — Fa’side Castle, Edinburgh
Scotland Day 6 – Edinburgh & Castle Driving the Coast of Scotland
Everything I Ate In Scotland

London

London Day 1: Notting Hill, Seven Dials, and The London Eye
London Day 2: Tower of London, Borough Market, and Big Ben
London Day 3: Trafalgar Square, Piccadilly Circus, Fortnum and Mason
London Day 4: Bakery Hopping, Harrods Food Hall, and the London Tower Bridge
London Day 4: Sunset at The View from The Shard
Where We Stayed In London: Hotel Indigo Tower Hill
Everything I Ate In London

Paris

Paris Day 1: Sunrise and Sunset at the Eiffel Tower



See More Posts About: Travel

17 Comments






1
Ali | Gimme Some Oven April 27, 2014 at 9:28 am

Oh my goodness, your pictures take me right there! Breathtaking! Seriously, this looks like the amazing trip. Thanks for taking the time to capture such beautiful photos and share them with us. Can’t wait to see your castle! :)

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2
Lynne April 27, 2014 at 10:09 am

Quite a story about your trip back to the ferry! What an adventure! Thanks for sharing:)

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3
Sandy_in_MD April 27, 2014 at 10:41 am

Gorgeous photos – the cave is amazing. I am so glad they held the ferry for you (and that your bus made it to the ferry safely!). I can’t wait to see your shots of the castle. Thanks so much for sharing your trip.

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4
Mary Cardini-Anderson April 27, 2014 at 11:08 am

Thank you for sharing all of your beautiful photos. You certainly know how to have a good time. :)

Mary from NH

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5
Deb April 27, 2014 at 11:09 am

Thank you! Your photos are the best I’ve seen. I was excited to see you posted and I look forward to the rest of your adventures. We have something in common: our love for the Oregon coast , overleaf lodge scones , cape perpetua , actually all things there. Less than two weeks until we land in Rome for 3 weeks of touring and cruising. Loved your Italy posts too. Deb

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6
Jane Warner April 27, 2014 at 2:49 pm

Hi Amanda, I have been reading your blog for a while. Thank you so much for sharing your Scotland pictures. My husband and I are moving there in August with our 2 uninterested teenage boys for my husband to get his PhD at St. Andrews. We’ve been there before but our boys haven’t. I’ve been showing them your amazing pictures to show them what an amazing adventure we can have if we take advantage of all Scotland and Europe has to offer. The pictures are beautiful- they’ve encouraged me as well. Thanks!

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7
Heather K. April 28, 2014 at 7:25 am

I am loving being able to read about your trip and see all these gorgeous pictures! My husband and I really want to go to Scotland in a few years, and you’re just giving me more and more ideas for what to do when we go. Thank you!

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8
Julie @ Table for Two April 28, 2014 at 8:07 am

Been following all your Scotland posts and every photo just makes me want to be there! You did such a marvelous job at capturing the beauty of Scotland and it’s so breathtaking, Amanda!! The turquoise waters are unbelievable!!

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9
DessertForTwo April 28, 2014 at 8:26 am

I’m loving all your Scotland posts! My dad wants to go to Scotland next year, so I think I’ll send these photos his way and try to speed up that trip… ;)

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10
Anele @ Success Along the Weigh April 28, 2014 at 9:24 am

Oh my Lord, I almost had a panic attack reading about the bus turning around. I thought I almost lost my cookies on the northern most road around the top of Maui (also basically a 1 car width) but that would’ve done me in! So glad the ferry waited on you guys!

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11
gina @ skinnytaste April 28, 2014 at 2:48 pm

You’re photos are gorgeous! The looked like the trip of a lifetime, I never realized how beautiful Scotland is. Can’t wait to hear all about your trip this weekend!!

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12
Katy April 30, 2014 at 8:38 am

WOW! Pictures are beautiful! I would have been a nervous wreck on that bus while it was backing up and turning around.

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13
Teresa May 1, 2014 at 7:35 am

And the question we all want to know…where’s the picture of the huge ferry boat?!?! :-) Your pictures are gorgeous. Makes me want to hop on over (I’m in Germany) to Scotland right now! Thanks for sharing.

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14
Lynna May 3, 2014 at 4:55 pm

These photos are so breathtaking! I definitely want to visit Scotland now. Look at that beautiful water!

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15
Tina May 5, 2014 at 1:07 pm

Your pictures of your trip are amazing! Would you mind sharing what type of lens you are using? I’m looking for a wide angle lens to to take to Greece this summer. I really would appreciate your help and advice!

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16
Amanda May 20, 2014 at 10:51 am

Hi Tina! You can click on any photo to see the camera, lens, and settings used to take that photo. Hope this helps!!

17
Katie | The Hill Country Cook May 24, 2014 at 9:33 pm

This is FASCINATING!!!! You’re right, I’m already obsessed with the hexagonal lava formations! Adding Scotland to my bucket list. Oy.

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