Travelling to Staffa

Welcome to Tobermory!

Come with me as I travel back in time to revisit Staffa Island of the Inner Hebrides in Argyll and Bute, Scotland.

Staffa is positioned 10 kilometres west of Mull and 9 kilometres northeast of Iona.  The Vikings named the island “Staffa”, which comes from the Old Norse which means stave or pillar island.  Staffa’s column-like appearance reminded them of their homes, which were build from vertically placed tree logs.   

The rugged coastline is breathtaking against the blue of sky and ocean.   I think of all who have visited this island since it first came to prominence in the late 18th century after a visit by the English naturalist and botanist, Sir Joseph Banks.  It was August 1772. Enroute to Iceland, Sir Joseph Banks and company stopped by the Isle of Mull and were welcomed and entertained by Maclean of Drummen who happened to mention the Island of Staffa.  

The very next day, Sir Joseph Banks and company set out from Tobermory.  They were overwhelmed by the beauty of the basalt columns and of the island’s main sea cavern, which Sir Joseph Banks renamed ‘Fingal’s Cave,’ a nod to the Scottish legend of a king, Fingal and his poet son, Ossian.  He wrote of Staffa, “this piece of architecture formed by nature, far surpasses that of the Louvre, that of St. Peter at Rome, all that remains of Palmyra and Paestum, and all that the genius, the taste and the luxury of the Greeks were capable of inventing.”

Many visitors followed to experience Staffa’s extraordinary splendour, including Robert Adam, Sir Walter Scott, John Keats, J.M.W Turner, William Wordsworth, Jules Verne, Alice Liddell, David Livingstone, and Robert Louis Stevenson. It is said that Mendelssohn came closest to capturing the magic of Staffa in his Hebrides Overture.

In 1847, Queen Victoria came to Staffa, writing in her journal these words,

“As we rounded the point, the wonderful basaltic formation came in sight. The appearance it presents is most extraordinary; and when we turned the corner to go into the renowned Fingal’s Cave, the effect was splendid, like a great entrance into a vaulted hall: it looked almost awful as we entered, and the barge heaved up and down on the swell of the sea. The rocks, under water, were all colours – pink, blue and green – which had a most beautiful and varied effect. It was the first time the British standard with a Queen of Great Britain, and her husband and children, had ever entered Fingal’s Cave, and the men gave three cheers, which sounded very impressive there…”

Sir Walter Scott wrote.

“..one of the most extraordinary places I ever beheld. It exceeded, in my mind, every description I had heard of it …composed entirely of basaltic pillars as high as the roof of a cathedral, and running deep into the rock, eternally swept by a deep and swelling sea, and paved, as it were, with ruddy marble, baffles all description.”

For me, the pathway lined by green grass, the blue sky, and wind that carried the smell of ocean offered a gentle welcome to an island that was forged in ancient times by lava flows from an eruption of the Mull volcano, long before our time. 

Oh, the stories that are held safe in Staffa’s basaltic pillars.

Thank you for joining me on Staffa Island. 

Until we meet again, dear friends, keep safe and be well.

60 Thoughts

  1. Dear Rebecca, reading your post and looking at your gorgeous images about this most precious Scotland/Staffa Islands and its natural pieces of architecture, really carries me away!:) I also enjoyed reading about Queen Victoria’s experiences of the place. Many thanks and big hugs

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    1. Dear Queen Victoria – she was very brave to take on these waves in her Victorian dress. I thought that you would enjoy Felix Mendelssohn and Johannes Brahms’s “The Hebrides” which was composed on Staffa. I read that the composer immediately jotted down the opening theme for his composition after seeing Staffa. https://youtu.be/MdQyN7MYSN8. Thank you again for joining me and for your heartening comments.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. How kind of you, Rebecca, to send me the link to the powerful music “The Hebrides” composed on Staffa, which I very much enjoyed:)
        I also think that for Queen Victoria it certainly has not been an everyday trip !
        By the way, at the beginning of the video there was a pubblicity about eyes problems and if I have understood the connection with the music correctly, it means that we should more frequently listen to music and less work on the screen! For me this is certainly a very important hint!!

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    1. Ah, what I love about blogging is that I will visit places, virtually, through the lens of other bloggers. We live in a big world (we will never see it all) and it is great to be in a marvelous community that shares travel experiences. It is fun tagging along.

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  2. HI Rebecca, what a wonderful story and the rock formation is outstanding. I wish I’d known about this island before we went to Scotland. We visited Oben specifically so that Terence could go to Mull which is where his grandmother’s family came from. I had a work call that day so I didn’t go to Mull with Terence and the boys and it turned out that it was a lucky thing for me. The day was pouring with rain and Terence forgot to book the ferry for the car. He decided to go without the car thinking there would be buses around the island. There were none so he and the boys had to sit under a cover at the quay in the cold for 3 hours until the next ferry came. I shouldn’t laugh because they were not a happy bunch who returned that day, but it did teach Terence a lesson about island life in Scotland.

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    1. I loved Oban – have been there a few times to see the bagpipe championships. The best pipers from all over the world come to complete. I was especially interested in the Piobaireachd competitions. https://www.obangames.com/. I hope that you will visit Staffa one day, and visit Iona, which is thought to be the first Christian site in Scotland. We were there for a day (lots of rain and wind) but I would have liked to stay a few days. I am so sorry that your husband and sons had to sit under cover at the quay for 3 hours. YIKES!

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    1. I’m so glad that you came along, Shey. Did you know that there is a Spanish galleon filled with gold sunk in the mud in the Tobermory harbour? They have been search for the gold for centuries. So far, to no avail.

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  3. Dear Rebecca,
    thank you very much for taking us to Staffa. We have been to Mull, Iona and the Outer Hebredies but never to Staffa. We are actually feeling like going to Scotland again. Then we’ll surely visit Staffa.
    With lots of love ❤ ❤ and hugs 🤗🤗
    Wishing you a GREAT week
    The Fab Four of Cley
    🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂

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    1. Do you remember your post: https://fabfourblog.com/2017/07/21/scotlands-mystical-valley/. You wrote: “We couldn’t resist giggling that nearly all European writers believed in Ossian, cleverly invented by Macpherson as “the Homer of the North“. Goethe even quoted parts of Ossian in his “The Sorrows of Young Werther” – a rather embarrassing work of his anyhow. For us the scenery of Glencoe radiated Ossianic darkness.” When I was revisiting our trip to Staffa, I remembered reading this post back in 2017, which was just after our 2016 trip to Staffa. I read that in 1871 British Academy Literary Review concluded that the Works of Ossian were a masterful poetic work of obvious antiquity, but not authored by the ancient Irish poet Oisin mac Fionn mhic Cumhall as MacPherson claimed. Now, I’m on the search for the “other” poet of antiquity. Always an adventure. Sending much love and many hugs back to my dear friends, The Fab Four of Cley.

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    1. You MUST visit Staffa! We spent time in Oban which is the gateway to Iona and Mull. We took a bus from Oban to Tobermory, which was exciting. When we travel, we take advantage of the public transportation systems ie buses and trains.

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    1. I am delighted that you enjoyed the voyage to Staffa Island, Dave. When I revisited my photos of this day, I found that I digressed, as I usually do. Who was Fingal? According to some records Fingal is known as Fionn Mac Cumhaill. There was a James MacPherson who compiled the Poems of Ossian from oral legends and manuscripts gathered throughout the Scottish Highlands, during time when everything of Highland Culture was illegal. Anyway, I read that copies of MacPherson’s work inspired world leaders such as Napoleon Bonaparte, Thomas Jefferson, Sir Walter Scott, and composer Felix Mendelsohn, but most British authorities condemned it as a fraud. Isn’t it easy to digress? I think Paul Andruss, who is an expert in Irish mythology, would know more about this story.

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    1. Thank you so much for joining me at Staffa. I tried to imagine Queen Victoria with her wide and flowing dress entering Fingal’s cave, especially with the choppy water. I had to hang on to the sides of the boat just to keep upright. Queen Victoria was very brave and very determined.

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    1. While most of our fellow travelers went to see Fingal’s cave first, we headed to the pathway heights to view the coastline and then returned to the cave area. We were there only a few hours because we needed to return to Tobermory before dark. Staffa is unforgettable, Liz. John Keats wrote a poem, Staffa, that begins with:

      Not Aladdin magian
      Ever such a work began;
      Not the wizard of the Dee
      Ever such a dream could see;
      Not St. John, in Patmos’ Isle,
      In the passion of his toil,
      When he saw the churches seven,
      Golden aisl’d, built up in heaven,
      Gaz’d at such a rugged wonder.

      I think you will enjoy reading the poem and the comments on background:

      https://allpoetry.com/Staffa

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    1. I am delighted that you joined me on Staffa, Lavinia. We were very lucky with the weather that day. Tours are cancelled when the winds are too high, which happens quite often. Even on a clear and rather calm day and we still felt the waves. It was exciting.

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    1. I am so glad you noticed the painted houses. There is a huge story that goes along with these iconic buildings. I understand that Tobermory has Spanish Gold hidden under the mud in the harbour. Our boat ride was memorable, especially when we headed into open water. YIKES. I felt woozy until I was on solid land.

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      1. Oh yes, the brightly painted houses were wonderful, as is everything in your video. I confess to becoming slightly nauseous for a moment on the tour boat ride. The natural architecture is phenomenal, but the light is spectacular and rare. I love it when you take us to the ‘top of the world.’ 🙂

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      2. Oh Mary Jo, I confess I was feeling quite woozy on the boat tour. The trip lasted approximately three hours so I was grateful to get on to solid ground. I am so glad that you joined me on Staffa. It was a great place to recite poetry out loud to the wind that carried the words out to sea. Sending hugs!

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  4. I have always wanted to visit Scotland and your description and this video makes the desire all the stronger. I am glad that you revisited (if only in your mind) and have given me such a great view into this island’s history and its beauty. What a long list of important writers, artists and explorers, and even an important composer make the list of visitors. Imagine the Island being formed ages ago by a volcano, we live on a globe, almost beyond description and imagination! Thank you for this enjoyable learning experience.

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    1. There are so many stories held in locations that we visit – even in the towns and cities where we live. Every step we take, there have been others who have stepped on the very same spot. The day of our Staffa trip was extraordinarily sunny. The next day when we visited Iona, the winds and rains buffeting our small boat. Scotland has the same changeable weather patterns as we do in Vancouver.

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      1. Absolutely Rebecca, the period of Finn Mac Cool and his Fianna were roughly from the same as Dark Age Britain when so much was lost – this is a fascinating period. Today, archeologists are disputing that there ever was an Anglo Saxon invasion after the Roman departure – the whole setting of Authurian Britain. And there are many lost legends. What is known is that Scotland was named after an Irish Princess Scotta and the llyn Peninsula in North Wales is named after the spearmen of Leinster. There is an almost forgotten myth cycle about the old North Hen Ogledd (ogleth) which involves the Gododdin under Coel Hen or old King Cole and his son in law Cunedda (Kenneth?) who married Cole’s daughter Gwall (Wall- refering to Adrain’s Wall to the north of the kingdom). According to the British, Cole was the grandfather of St Helena, Emperor Constantine’s mother- except she wasn’t from Britain. The deeper you look into this period the more confusing and fascinating it gets.

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  5. What a beautiful and magical place, Rebecca. Right out of a fantasy book with the basalt cliffs, the multicolored cathedral cave, and that lush green plain over the top. Wow. Thanks for sharing. Another place to add to my Scottish adventure!

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    1. I agree wholeheartedly – this is a place of myths and magic, Diana. There are so many stories held in these remote locations. It felt like a sacred space, an axis mundi, because of its remoteness and lack of any population. Although the landscape is much different, I was reminded of when I lived in Northern Manitoba. One day, travel will come back.

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  6. Spectacular, Rebecca!
    You outdid yourself here. The video is gorgeous, and the history is like food and drink.
    Staffa is breathtaking!
    The buildings on the coastline of Tobermory remind me of the colourful homes and buildings in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and in St, Johns Newfoundland.
    I wonder if these colourful homes helped sailors, in the past?
    Thank you for this wonderful trip!

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    1. I am so grateful for your company on this adventure, Resa. There is a story about those buildings that was told to me by the captain of the boat that carried us to Staffa, which I have never been able to confirm. It seems that the building were painted grey during WWII because the colour grey was less expensive to produce. But a few years later the owner of the The Mishnish Hotel decided to paint his hotel in bright pink and later yellow, prompting others to follow and decorate the neighbouring buildings in bold blues and reds. https://themishnish.co.uk/. The first time I saw the buildings I thought of St. John’s Newfoundland!!!

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  7. Delightfully filmed and voiced, Rebecca. What stunning images.
    I especially loved to hear of the famous individuals who travelled the same route as you. This is a wonderful memory, is it not, to know that so many eyes of those we know from history, their writings, their experiences, saw the magnificence of nature as did you.

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    1. Thank you so much Carolyn for joining me in Staffa. I agree – there is a sense of being part of a bigger narrative when you know others have gone before. Staffa is not an easy place to live, despite its beauty. In 1772 when Sir Joseph Banks came along, there was only a single family living on Staffa, living on a diet of barley oats, flax and potatoes, and whatever their grazing animals could provide. It wasn’t long before this family left Staffa because of the severity of winter storms. We were there on a relatively calm day and, even then, the waves were considerable. There are days when the tours are cancelled because stormy weather. History is full of marvelous stories, isn’t it?!! Your comments are always so very much appreciated.

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      1. For whatever reason, Rebecca, I have an interest in much of British history. It was so interesting to read Queen Victoria’s account upon entering Fingal’s Cave – ” it looked almost awful as we entered, and the barge heaved up and down on the swell of the sea.”
        Makes her seem so human, so to speak. Being transfixed by the same sight that you witnessed. Yes, marvelous stories indeed.

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      2. This would be a conversation I’d love to have with you. Yes, a complex individual from a complicated family who gave so much to the world whilst grappling with her own misgivings, idiosyncrasies, mental instabilities and loneliness. Certainly a life of grandeur and frailties.

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    1. Isn’t Mull and Iona amazing places to visit? We went to Iona the very next day and experienced wet and windy weather, which was in stark contrast with the sunshine of the day before. The weather is very changeable in that area. What an adventure. I have a new-found respect for fishermen who take on the challenge of big waves. It felt good to walk on solid ground again. Thank you so much for joining us on Staffa!

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    1. I’m so glad that you joined us on Staffa. While everyone went to Fingal’s Cave, we took the path to the top of the Island. There is a feeling of joy when you know that there is a beautiful world that surrounds us. Sending hugs back on the wing.

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