Most of the islanders live by crofting and fishing and supplement their income by taking in paying guests in season, usually charging very low or at least fair prices. Of course, you can check into the hotels reviewed, but a stay in a private home may be an altogether rewarding adventure.
Staying at Iona Abbey
Some people consider a visit to Iona the highlight of their trip to Scotland. Besides being impressed by the unusual historical and archaeological site, many gain a renewed interest in the power of religion. If that's what you're seeking, you can contact the Iona Community (tel. 01681/700-404), an ecumenical group that maintains a communal lifestyle in the ancient abbey and offers full board and accommodations to visitors who want to share in the community's daily life. The only ordained members of the group are its two wardens, one belonging to the Presbyterian Church of Scotland, the other to the Scottish Episcopal Church.
From March to October, the community leads a series of discussion seminars, each lasting from Saturday to Saturday. A recent seminar focused on the role of the Christian Church in the united Europe of the 21st century. The cost of a week's full board during one of these seminars is £300 per person. The abbey also opens to guests from late November to mid-December, although no seminars are offered then. The per-week price is the same as in summer. Guests are expected to contribute about 30 minutes per day to the execution of some kind of household chore. The daily schedule involves a wake-up call at 8am, communal breakfast at 8:20am, a morning religious service, and plenty of unscheduled time for conversation, study, and contemplation. Up to 44 guests can be accommodated at one time in bunk-bedded twin rooms without private bathrooms. In addition to the abbey, there's the Iona Community's center for reconciliation, the MacLeod Centre, built for youth, people with disabilities, and families. It accommodates up to 50 guests, during summer only. For further details, phone tel. 01681/700-404.
The attraction of the island of Staffa, 10km (6 1/4 miles) north of Iona, is Fingal's Cave ★, a lure to visitors for more than 200 years and the inspiration for music, poetry, paintings, and prose. Its Gaelic name, An Uamh Ehinn, means "musical cave." It's the only such formation known in the world that has basalt columns; over the centuries, the sea has carved a huge cavern in the basalt, leaving massive hexagonal columns. The sound of the crashing waves and swirling waters (the music) inspired Mendelssohn to write the Fingal's Cave Overture. Turner painted the cave on canvas, and Keats, Wordsworth, and Tennyson all praised it in their poetry.
Staffa has been uninhabited for more than 170 years, but you can still explore the cave, which is protected from development by the National Trust. Entrance is free, requiring only payment for boat passage from Mull or Iona at £20 for adults and £10 for children 13 and under. The boat runs twice daily from Iona and Mull between March and October. Rubber-soled shoes and warm clothing are recommended. Reservations are important; call Mrs. Carol Kirkpatrick, whose husband, David, operates the boat, at Tigh-na-Traigh (House by the Shore), Isle of Iona (tel. 01681/700-358).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.