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.