Sunday, August 10, 2008

Oban and the Isle of Iona.

On a weekend in August this summer during my stay in Edinburgh, I had a chance to see the Scottish outskirts of the Highlands and Islands. That is when I visited the town of Oban and the Isle of Iona.

Built on a crescent-shaped bay on the Firth of Lorne, Oban is an important base for those who wish to explore the West Highlands and the islands of the Inner Hebridges in the western part of Scotland. It is a typical Victorian holiday town and has a lively nightlife scene throughout the summer, with good pubs and ceilidhs (pronounced 'kay-lees'), which is traditional Scottish dancing. A picturesque small town, and I mean small that you can virtually become familiar with all the nice cafes and restaurants in one day. And providing the weather is favorable, the view of the bay from the waterfront at sunset is simply beautiful.

On a morning, together with my friends, we walked down from our modest accommodation in Oban to the port, where we caught a ferry to haul us to the Isle of Mull. Our bus came with us too. Upon arriving on the relatively large piece of land, we hopped on the bus for a bumpy ride to Duart Castle, situated on the east side of the island. Home of Clan MacLean, it was built in the 14th century and went through several military conflicts like many other Scottish castles before being abandoned in 1751. It was restored in 1911.

After touring through the castle, we traveled down to the southwest tip of the island where another ferry was waiting for us, though this time the ship was small and the trip was short. Leaving the bus behind, we crossed the body of water over to Iona, an island regarded by many as a very special and sacred place because of the arrival here of St. Columba in 563 AD. Columba came from Ireland and was a descendant of the country's kings and queens. He established a Christian church here and soon began to convert the heathen Picts of Scotland to the Christian religion. Soon, Christianity spread throughout the land and its strong position was confirmed when Columba was granted the power to crown Aidan as King of Dalriada, establishing a royal line of kings and queens of Scotland. Simply said, Iona is the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland.

But even without considering that, Iona feels like an island that has a special something. I personally do not follow any particular religion, however, the island is so beautiful and peaceful that it truly calms you down and refreshes your mind, though of course, only if you have the weather with you. Sea water is so transparent here that you can see the ocean bottom from the deck of the ferry upon approaching the island's sole port. There is one village on the island which everyone calls 'The Village'. A few shops and cafeterias, the compact but sufficient port, and houses make up the village, though the island's Abbey is located five minutes from here by walking. The villagers say that until a couple of years ago, cars didn't even exist on the island. It is so small that you can walk to any corner. Roads wind between fenced but large pieces of hilly grassland, where sheep bask and graze in the sun. When you are walking, you feel as if time has stopped. Magnificent, beautiful, spectacular... it seems like any word fits to describe in some sense, but doesn't in another.

Oban and Iona... truly places I would like to visit again sometime in my life. :-)

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