Our company had rewired Iona Abbey so when I heard that a trip was being planned with a journalist to report on the work there I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to take the trip.
I'd made all the arrangements before I looked at a map. Iona turned out to be a 3.5 mile long Island in the Inner Hebrides. Then I realised just how far away the place was. I arranged to meet the rest of the team on the Monday morning at Edinburgh Airport having flown in from Birmingham Airport at around 10.00am. All went welll and Martin picked me up and with a brief stop we arrived at Oban in time to catch the 4.00pm sailing to Mull on the Calendonian Mcbrayne ferry. I hadn't been on one of their ferrys for a decade but nothing seemed to have altered at all.
We arrived in Mull and booked into the hotel. As we drove in there was a line of porters waiting to help someone - but not us. It very rapidly became apparent that the Isle of Mull Hotel (www.british-trust-hotels.com) was only actually interested in the trade provided by coach operators. So we lugged our bags passed the waiting porters and checked in. The room however was clean and basic. I went for a walk and everyone else watched telly or slept. We arranged to meet again and we had a restaurant (www.highlandcottage.co.uk) booked in Tobermory.
We drove there. The food was stunning and the host friendly, helpful and fun. The smoked salmon roulades were quite simply the best starter I have ever had. I've ordered some from Toberymory via the web and they promised they were going to post it today. I can't wait. The meal came to a natural end around 11.00pm and we then had to drive across Mull back to the hotel. The island looked stunning in the moonlight and the sea when it appeared had a magical blue depth to it. We arrived back at the hotel at a little before midnight. It was locked. Closed. Shut.
There was no doorbell. No nothing. Martin pulled out his mobile phone and called the hotel. After an age the night porter answered and after a wait he appeared and let us in. Now Martin had obeyed the rules and handed his key in at reception. This meant that our porter who was already very pissed off now had to go and get a key to open reception and retrieve Martin's key. He was not happy. As he pointed out he had to get up again in 3 hours.
We had to get out of the hotel for 7.30am in order to catch the ferry to Iona. Usually this would have meant going without breakfast since the hotel made it plain that breakfast started at 7.30am and no sooner. However since the coach operator had requested breakfast for 7.00am it became possible.
The morning was stunning and the sun shone on a calm sea that lapped into the bay. Breakfast was not inspriring though. We set off into the sunlight to drive down to catch the ferry to Iona. We got to the ferry at a few minutes to 9.00am and waited for it to dock. It was pouring down by now. Still as I had now said many times, if you don't like the weather now wait around and it will change in 5 minutes.
Vehicles are not welcomed very often onto Iona which considering it's size is eminently sensible. As the ferry nears the Island you can see the Abbey which is only a few hundred yards away from where the ferry docks. The Abbey sits on an historic site which can trace it's routes back to St Columba who founded an organisation there. St Columba was a 6th century figure who was fleeing from Ireland at the time. The leader of the Iona community gave us a lift in his minibus up to the Abbey which saved a drenching and we wandered around looking at the installation.
The essence of a good installation is that it is hidden and so that made it difficult to look at. What we did get was the atmosphere of the place. The Iona Community is an ecumenical group of Christians who live in the abbey. There was an atmosphere around the place which is difficult to place. There was peace and quiet and people walked around with a calmness and smile. Historic Scotland , who are a government organisation, who look after old monuments had recently taken over the abbey. The wiring had been in a terrible state and they had decided as a matter of priority to put the fabric right. We had done this over the winter months and our people had become part of the community.
The Abbey is all very strange. There are the Celtic crosses. Then are the graves that are all around. The sarcophagi lids that surround the cloister. The carvings on the cloister . The crosses onto which people pin notes asking others to pray for them. There is an area in the church set aside for you to sign petitions for good causes. There is a grand piano in the Church.
There are stories that abound, such as the one about St Columba and one of his followers called Oran. Oran asked that he be buried alive as a living scarifice to the Island. Columba agreed to this idea and Oran was duly buried. Three days later they dug him up only to find that he was still alive. They buried him again rapidly!
So there you have an abbey that is truly historic. Surrounded by death. In as remote a spot as it is possible to be in the UK. Populated by good people who are deeply spiritual. Then add to that Historic Scotland who want to maintain the fabric of the building. I expected that I would like to spend some time on the Island amongst the peace and calm but I came away knowing that I would be touched by the death and futility rather than the positive contemplation. I was glad I went, but also glad that a plane would wing me back home.
We caught the ferry back to Mull, form Mull to Oban and then to Glasgow airport and by 10.00pm I was home. I now look forward to reading the article in the magazine.