Puffins on the Isle of Staffa
Ferry from the Isle of Mull to Iona
Simply put, Iona is not an easy destination. However, a pilgrimage is as much about the journey as it is about the destination, so an easy journey would not prepare a traveller for the liminality of Iona.
The nearest airport is Glasgow, Scotland, and is an excellent international airport. From the United States there are only a few opportunities for direct flights: Newark, JFK - New York, and Toronto. If that is not convenient for you, head to London, Dublin, or Amsterdam and take a connecting flight to Glasgow.
From Glasgow you need to go by land to Oban on the west coast of Scotland. There is bus service and train service (about 3 hours) to Oban from the Queen Street train station in downtown Glasgow. The ferry terminal in Oban is adjacent to the train station. Oban itself is an interesting place to visit (stay at the Perle Oban Hotel) and is the last chance to purchase necessities before heading to Iona. (There is a small grocery store and drug store on the island.)From Oban one takes a ferry for 1.5 hours to Craignure on the Isle of Mull. There is food service on the ferry.
From Craignure on Mull there are buses to Fianphort on the other side of the island. This is another scenic journey of about 1.5 hours. Then from Fianphort it is a ten minute ferry ride to Iona.
It is note realistic to arrange a day trip to Iona from Glasgow although it is possible from Oban.
One could leave Oban early, have 5-6 hours on Iona, and return to Oban on the last ferry; however, there are several problems with this plan. First, one will spend more time traveling back and forth than one will have time on Iona. Second, it is not possible to experience the serenity of Iona as a spiritual place -- a pilgrimage destination -- without spending significant unstructured time there. Third, the winds around Iona often rise in the afternoon resulting in the cancellation of theIona to Mull ferry service until the next morning. So there is always risk of having to stay on an island which is often fully booked.
GETTING AROUND IONA
If are in reasonably good shape, you can walk around most of the island. There are plenty of paths, though they are not all well marked. Take a map. There is no cell phone service, so your GPS will be useless.
The Iona Community offers the Pilgrimage Walk which is a good way to learn the history and spiritual significance of the island. The last portion of this walk to the St. Columba beach on the south end of the island has some sections of moderate difficulty. Walking sticks are a good idea. Since there is plenty of rain, wear a waterproof jacket and boots.
For people with limited mobility, it is possible to stay in one of the hotels and make one's way to the principal sites even in a wheelchair.
Isle of Mull from Iona at sunset
Iona village and abbey
INFORMATION FOR IONA PILGRIMS
Whether you are going to Iona with PilgrimQuests or on your own, here are some useful references, links, and answers to FAQ's.
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QUESTIONS FREQUENTLY ASKED ABOUT THE 2019 IONA PILGRIMAGE
WHEN DOES THE PILGRIMAGE ACTUALLY BEGIN AND END?
The 2019 Iona Pilgrimage begins Friday,September 20, 10:30 AM, at the Glasgow Airport Holiday Inn. There will be a motor coach to take us to Oban where we will spend the night then travel to Iona the next day.
The pilgrimage ends after breakfast Sunday morning, September 29, at the Glasgow Airport Holiday Inn.
WHEN SHOULD I BOOK MY PLANE TICKET?
You can book your plane ticket as soon as you are confident about your departure and return dates. Many of you will prefer to arrive a day or two early to cope with jet lag and do some touring before or after the pilgrimage. Airline ticket prices are fluid responding daily to supply and demand. For the last two years the New York Times Travel section has recommended purchasing overseas tickets about six months in advance. So the time is now!
HOW SHOULD I BOOK MY PLANE TICKET?
Use whatever vendor you prefer: a search engine such as Orbitz or Travelocity, a specific airline website such as United or British Airways, or a travel agent. If you choose to depart the US on 9/19, most flights to Glasgow from the United States will be in well before our 10:30 AM departure 9/20. Connecting flights through Dublin, London, Amsterdam, etc. will usually not make the deadline.
If returning to the US immediately after the end of the pilgrimage, Book your departing flight anytime on or after September 29.
PILGRIMQUESTS REQUIRES THAT I HAVE TRAVEL INSURANCE. WHY IS THIS?
Travel insurance when overseas is always a good idea, and PilgrimQuest's insurance carrier requires that you have travel insurance that includes emergency medical evacuation back home if needed. Most plans do include this though there is wide variation in the amount of coverage. See the link below for more information.
WHEN SHOULD I PURCHASE TRAVEL INSURANCE?
Purchase travel insurance after you have made your arrangements for travel from your home to Glasgow and back but no later than July 1, 2019.
Click the button above for excellent reviews of travel insurance policies.
After you have made this purchase, please send us either the whole policy if it is emailed to you, or scan and print the declarations page (policy name, number, phone contact) and send it electronically or by mail.
SHOULD I PURCHASE CANCELLATION INSURANCE?
Cancellation insurance is an option in many travel insurance packages, and can cover your PilgrimQuests costs in case of certain unforeseen events (that vary by the package.) Keep in mind that after December 1 there are no refunds unless your space is resold (minus a $250 service fee).
WHAT SHOULD I PACK?
Don’t leave home without…
Passport (valid for at least 6 months after the trip)
Credit/debit card. Bring only those you plan to use and be sure to notify your bank or credit card company that you will be using them outside the US.
Photocopies of passport and credit/debit cards (both sides) in case of loss or theft. (If you are travelling with a companion, we suggest swapping copies of passports and credit/debit cards.)
Plug adaptors and power converters for electronics and small appliances. Scotland uses 220 v., the same three-prong plug configuration as the rest of the UK.
Special power cords needed for laptops, phones, etc.
Weather and Clothing
If you look at the “average” temperature for Iona in September, it looks temperate, with highs and lows in the 50’s and 60’s. However . . . it’s important to note that the weather in the Hebrides can change swiftly and unpredictably. The best strategy is to be prepared for rain, wind, cold or unseasonable sun. You will be prepared for most circumstances if you pack:
A waterproof coat or jacket with a hood. A lightweight windproof type that has room for layers underneath is preferable to a heavy jacket.
Plastic Bags (for laundry and shopping
Laundry soap for hand washing smaller items in your hotel room
A few long-sleeve tops (shirts or t-shirts),
Jeans or heavy-weight trousers
One or two sweaters or a fleece
Scarf, hat, gloves
Shoes suitable for walking over rough terrain. You don’t need expensive hiking boots,
just good walking shoes that are both sturdy and comfortable.
A light backpack or day pack to carry essentials
Notice that there is nothing dressy included here. You don’t need to plan on dressing up unless
your before/after travel calls for it.
You do not need to pack a hair dryer, as these are provided by the hotels. Do bring a facecloth if you need one, as these are not provided.
When it comes to packing, less is always more. It’s far, far better to pack a few reliable “go-to”
clothing items and hand wash underwear and socks as needed than to be weighed down by a
heavy suitcase. The hotel on Iona will do laundry for £12 per bag. The hotel also has an outdoor area with covered clotheslines where. You can hang hand-washed items.
HOW MUCH PARTICIPATION IS REQUIRED AT THE VARIOUS EVENTS ON THIS PILGRIMAGE?
We will say this repeatedly: there are no requirements for attendance at anything on this pilgrimage. It would be a good idea to attend each of the first meetings in Oban and Iona so you will be informed, but then you are on your own to select the resources that will make the pilgrimage be whatever it needs to be for you.
St. Columba beach
(We want to expand this section and welcome your suggestions here.)
Here are a few books to introduce Celtic Christianity:
How the Irish Saved Civilization, Thomas Cahill
Iona: A Pilgrim's Guide, Peter W. Millar
The Celtic Way of Prayer, Esther de Waal
Books by John Philip Newell, one of the leading scholars on all things Celtic and Iona:
Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality
The Book of Creation, an introduction to Celtic Spirituality
A New Harmony
PilgrimQuests draws on Jungian psychology as a spiritual path for the 21st Century, and it connects easily to Celtic spirituality. If Jungian Psychology is new to you, you might want to read one or both of these books:
Jung: A Very Short Introduction, Anthony Stevens
Memories, Dreams, Reflections, C.G. Jung
Iona, a Royal Mausoleum
a description of part of the history of the island
A sign of the sanctity of Iona, which is formed of the oldest rock of earth's crust, is that the remains of kings and nobles were brought here to be interred even after it ceased to be a monastic site. Iona's ancient burial ground, Rèilig Odhrain ("Oran's burial place" or "cemetery"), served the burial site for the kings of Dál Riata, the Gaelic kingdom of which Iona was a part in the 6th century, when Columba founded his monastic community, and it continued to serve as a royal mausoleum for several centuries afterward. More...
The Geology of Iona
Here is a link to a very thorough Scottish National Heritage document on the geology of Iona and Mull.