Monday, August 07, 2017

A boat trip to Staffa

In my last post about Iona, I suggested that Staffa needed a post on it's on.  Here it is.  
For more about my week in Iona, see my previous post.

On Monday of my week on Iona, the weather had calmed.  I’d signed up for an optional trip that afternoon to the island of Staffa, about ten kilometers from the dock on Iona.  After lunch, about forty of us gathered at the dock and crammed into a small but very seaworthy boat for the trip to the island.  We sailed across the sound to Fionnphort, where we picked up more passengers.  Although the boat appeared able to handle rough seas, I was glad it was calm.  With so many people on board, I’m sure more than a few would have been seasick in rough seas and there wasn’t enough railing for everyone to hang over the side.  

The ride over

It was a smooth and pleasant ride, so smooth that the captain was able to maneuver the ship into one of the more notable features on the island, Fingal’s Cave.  He said that this was something he could only rarely do as the waves often made it impossible.  The jagged rocks that lined each side of the approach into the cave would have done a number on the hull if he had struck them.  If I was at the helm, I wouldn’t have attempted this maneuver even on a calm day, but he slipped the boat into the cave and then backed it out without a problem.

Sailboats at mooring


Inside Fingal's Cave
Staffa is one of the smallest islands in the Inner Hebrides.  It’s just a little over a kilometer long and half a kilometer wide, with a land mast of 82 acres.  The island sits upon large columns of basalt, having been formed by volcanic activity 50-some million years ago.  While there is a layer of soil on the top allowing for grass and wildflowers to grow, the black rock is very visible.  These columns are mostly hexagonal in shape, and stand up straight.  They were formed by the cooling of the lava and have created several large caves in addition to Fingal’s Cave.  The island was named by the Vikings, who were reminded of their log homes by the basalt columns on the island. 

Approach to Fingal's Cave
We were not the only group on Staffa.  Tour boats come from Ulva, Oban as well as Iona and Fionnphort.  Hordes of people were on mulling around the island.  There were also a number of private boats including a couple of sailboats that had moored off the island and taken tenders over to the docks.  Staffa has been a stopping area for those touring the islands since the 18th Century.  This is a small dockage area on the east side of the island.  With only an hour, I took off south along the basaltic columns in a return to Fingal’s Cave, which was named from a mythological Irish warrior.  

The echo of the waves inside the cave, which was best heard without the drone of the boat’s engine, supposedly inspired Felix Mendelssohn to compose Die Hebriden, or “The Hebrides Overture.” 

Photographing Puffins
After a few minutes, I headed to the north cliffs off the island, where puffins nest along the cliffs.  We had been told to sit still on the edge of the cliff, as the puffins will come to check us out.  Supposedly, they don’t go on top of the landmass during the day, as the seagulls will often attack and kill them.  But the gulls don’t like people, so when we’re present, the Puffins have learned it is safe to come up above the cliff.  These birds mostly spend their day flying back and forth from the sea below to the cliffs, where they tend their young.  In early August, the young begin their flight and soon all the birds fly off into the North Atlantic where they spend the winter. It appears to me that these beautiful birds led the most miserable life, but I was glad to be able to see them so close (a couple came up within a few feet of me). 
Aren't they cute!


West side of Staffa
A seal sunning

There was not enough time to fully explore the island.  Soon, I was rushing back to the boat (and the next to last to board).  On our way back, we were able to see seals sunning off the west side of Mull.  We arrived back in Iona in time for a late afternoon tea.
Looking back at Iona

27 comments:

  1. That cave looks so cool. The birds are cute, too. Boat rides on the ocean make me throw up, but I’d love to go on this one.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

    ReplyDelete
  2. What a beautiful little island. Was it inhabited? I'm guessing it was too small to have a fresh water source to be inhabited in days before reliable shipping.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It has, from time to time, been inhabited, but not in the past 100 years. Those who lived there had to eek out a rough life--they did raise sheep there at one time. It is now a part of the "National Trust"

      Delete
  3. What a great excursion! I'll agree... the Puffins are cute - almost like something out of a cartoon.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I didn't make it to Iona. I should have because it looks like a great place to hike and explore. I'm going to look at the map to see where that island is in relation to Lismore. I did make it there and enjoyed the hiking and ruins. I'm itching to go back and spend more time on those islands. Send more pictures.

    ReplyDelete
  5. That is a really unique cave. Puffins and seals in one day is simply wonderful!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Wow - that's an amazingly skilled Captain. The cave looks magnificent, but his sailing is what's most impressive.
    The puffins are really cute and colorful too. All in all, a glorious post.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I like the look and feel of the cave, and what a truly remarkable landscape. Wonderful photos!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I've heard of Fingal's Cave but didn't know where it was. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Love the cave, it looks like a cathedral to me. Awesome pictures!

    ReplyDelete
  10. The cave is really impressive, and the Puffins are neat looking little birds, it looks like you had an amazing day.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Hi Sage - that must have been one wonderful trip - looks amazing and what luck to be able to see inside Fingal's cave ... extraordinary views. Great photos of the landscape and those puffins - brilliant to see them - fantastic ... thanks - cheers Hilary

    ReplyDelete
  12. What a lovely trip. We have puffins here (Maine), too, though I haven't see one yet. Cool cave!

    ReplyDelete
  13. I've done that boat trip too, or a very similar one! Staffa is a wonderful island. They don't let you walk into the cave now though do they?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I walked into the cave (the photos I got were from walking into it because I was at the back of the boat and couldn't see much when we were in it.

      Delete
  14. LOVE the puffins! Appreciate all the narratives about your spectacular trip.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Glad you could get over. It can get a bit blustery.
    Did you notice the shape of the keel on the vessels that go inshore.

    ReplyDelete
  16. I've always wanted to visit the Hebrides - thanks for this glimpse! The puffins ARE cute. :)

    ReplyDelete
  17. That cave looks neat. I can imagine a story set there. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  18. That looks like a really good time. Those puffins are really cute.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Neat pictures of Fingal's Cave. Wonderful pictures of the puffins too. Must have been fun to be so near to them.

    ReplyDelete
  20. What a wonderful trip to Staffa, Sage! Thanks for sharing your experiences! I am very familiar with columnar basalt. There is lots of it on the Fundy Shore. You make me feel a little guilty, because we ate puffins in Newfoundland. Times have changed, though, and they are now cute, not food.

    ReplyDelete
  21. What a wonderful trip, your photographs are so nice.
    I've seen so much about Fingal's Cave on TV programmes so it was good to see and read your account here.
    I think those puffins are so cute.
    Such a lovely post, thank you.

    All the best Jan

    ReplyDelete
  22. What an amazing trip.. such an adventure. How I love Puffins. Great photos, Sage.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Looks and sounds like an amazing trip. Awesome that the seas were calm enough for you to go in the cave- though it does look tight. Puffins are so cool and I have always wanted to see them in person! lucky you!

    Thanks for sharing!
    ~Jess

    ReplyDelete