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Isle of Iona -The North Walk
Nunnery, Iona Abbey, Dun I & Beaches

MAP OS EXPLORER 373: Iona, Staffa and The Ross of Mull
 

Iona Abbey and front villageOn 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.

At 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 nuns lived.  
The Nunnery on IonaThe 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 century.

On 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.

St Orans Chapel and Iona AbbeyFollow 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.

Iona 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.
The Duchesses Cross on Iona
Please allow at least 1 hour for a brief visit around Iona Abbey.

On 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.

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.

White Strand of Monks beach on IonaTo 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!

Continue 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 Traigh 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.

  Wildlife Watch

Dolphins, seals, 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.

Last amended 23/01/2013
2000-2013