Isle of Iona -The North Walk
Nunnery, Iona Abbey, Dun I & Beaches
MAP OS EXPLORER 373: Iona, Staffa
and The Ross of Mull
leaving the ferry to the right you can see Port Ronain below the village. On the
other side of the bay is Carraig Fhada (long rock), which served the islanders
for many years as a rough landing place before the modern quay was in place. The
remains of the iron rings in the rock can still be seen. The present pier was
constructed in 1979.
the top of the pier is the village Baile Mor (big township) where most of the
islands population live around the island's only possible harbour. Main Street
is off to the right, and Iona Cottage on the left. Follow the road up past the
Spar shop and turn right into the Nunnery, the quiet grassy grounds where the
Augustine nuns once lived. Locally known as An Eaglais Dhubh (black
church.) The Gaelic word for nun is calleach-dhubh, meaning 'the veiled and
black-robed one'. The masonry of the ruins is a well kept mix of pink granite,
yellow sandstone and grey flagstone. What is left gives an insight into how the
The chapter house,
cloister garden, refectory and dormitory can still be seen. To the north
the nuns prayed and sang in the little church. The flower garden makes
the nunnery bright and cheerful with it's colour and scent. It is also
carefully looked after by the Historic Scotland staff. At the north side
you will find Teampull Ronain, which is a medieval church dedicated to St
Ronan. This was the parish church for the local people, used from the 12th
leaving the Nunnery at it's north gate you walk along the road past the Thomas
Telford parish church, dated 1828. Set amongst sycamore trees, the only wooded
area on the island which provides a rookery, this area has an almost spooky but
peaceful quality. The manse beside the church is now the Iona Heritage Centre
and is well worth a visit to find out about island life here, past and present.
Next at the roadside is MacLean's Cross, a fine example of carving on medieval
Iona. It is a central pointing and marks a last century agricultural boundary
between the east and west ends of the island.
the road up the hill until on the right you come to the Abbey grounds and St
Orans Chapel. There is also Relig Od hrain, the islands main graveyard where
Oran is said to have been buried alive in order to consecrate the first
monastery's ground. The graveyard, quiet and peaceful, has generations of
islanders alongside early rulers of the Scots kingdom and chiefs of powerful
clan families. The most recent notable burial was that of the former Labour
leader John Smith.
Abbey, "cradle of Christianity in Scotland", stands like a solid rock against
the sea, wind and rain, from the Atlantic gales which blow from behind the
graveyard. Once a Benedictine Monastery, although now for hundreds of years has
been used as a centre of Christian worship and pilgrimage. There are many books
describing the history of Iona Abbey which you can read and to explore it fully
is an excursion in its own right.
leaving the abbey gate, turn right towards the north beaches and looking
northeast there are wonderful views of the Sound of Iona and the pink granite
Ross of Mull.
Please allow at least 1 hour for a brief visit
around Iona Abbey.
In the foreground you will see the dark threatening Burg cliffs in
the mid-distance, and the magnificent Ben More in the backdrop standing guard
over all it surveys. Beside the road stands "The Duchess's Cross" which was
erected in 1878 in memory of the 8th Duke of Argyll's first wife. The granite
used in the cross came from the Dearport Quarry on the Ross of Mull.
the left stands Dun I the islands highest hill at 332ft high. A rough path leads
up to the summit which provides a superb panorama. On a clear day to the north
you can see Tiree, Coll, Barra, Cuillins of Skye, Rum, Eigg, Mull, Treshnish
Isles and the amazing Staffa. To the south you will see the Paps of Jura,
Colonsay, Rhinnes of Islay, and also Dhub Ardtach and Skerryvore Lighthouses.
Two hundred feet from the cairn on the top of Dun I is a pool. Tobar nah Aois is
known as the well of age, and it is said that if you bathe your face 3 times at
sunrise your youth will be restored!
north on the road until you come to a gate in front of you where the road veers
left. Go through the gate and you see from here the machair surrounding the
dazzling white sands of the north beaches. Descend north-easterly over the
machair to Triagh Ban Nam Monach (White Strand of the Monks.) Many famous, (and
not so famous) artists have coveted this landscape for painting because of it's
unusual light, variety of colour and depth of landscape. From the white strand
walk westwards, past the north headland staying on the machair (sandy turf), to
the beautiful white sands of Traigh an t-Suidhe (beach of the seat), and
na Criche (beach of the boundary). Both of these looking north and west,
magnificent, windswept and lonely. After taking in the scenery and dwelling,
return eastwards over the machair to the road and retrace your steps to Baile
Mor (big township) and Port Ronain.
otters, corncrakes, cormorant, shag, eider, buzzard, ring plover, lapwing, black backed and
herring gulls, rock dove, jackdaw, starlings, linnet, twite, yellowhammer,
terns, grey plover, peregrine, sanderling and godwits.