On our 2018 Scotland trip, my boyfriend and I knew we wanted to get out to an isle. Specifically, I wanted to cross the Cave of Melody off my list. I first read about the place, also known as Fingal’s Cave, in my Lonely Planet’s “World” book. With limited time, I booked the Three Isles Tour by West Coast Tours UK to see as much as possible.
The Three Isles Tour allowed us to see the islands of Mull, Iona, and Staffa in just one day. Occasionally, I like to take tours because they allow you to relax while still seeing the highlights of certain places. If I really love a place, I know I can always come back. I don’t recommend tours if you have plenty of time to explore a place in depth on your own.
The Isle of Mull
The bus tour that took us from one side of the Isle of Mull to the other was pretty standard. There was no stopping in between the port of Craignure to Fionnphort, which was a shame because it looked beautiful. Craignure is the port at which we disembarked to the Inner Hebrides on our ferry ride over from Oban.
At Fionnphort, Staffa Tours took us on a (very) wet and misty boat ride over to the Isle of Staffa. During the ride over to the island that houses Fingal’s Cave, we were lucky enough to spot local seals. Depending on the time of year, you may see a variety of whales, dolphins, birds, and even sharks: but I’ll take the seals, thanks!
It was May, so I was expecting to get wet on the boat ride over; I could tell some others hadn’t been counting on it. Remember, there is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing (and hairstyles – somehow we always neglect to have the right hair for the occasion).
The Isle of Staffa
As we approached Staffa, my heart began to skip. It is certainly a sight to behold. The Cave of Melody is a true natural phenomenon. Once we had landed after navigating some rough sea, we were given an hour to explore the island. I was determined to see not one, but two of the amazing features of this uninhabited isle.
First, my boyfriend and I tread (very carefully) over the slippery rocks to the mouth of Fingal’s Cave. The winter weather that year had majorly damaged the inner cave, so currently, people are no longer allowed to enter. Although it would have been fantastic to see inside the cave, the outer cave and it’s surroundings are wondrous enough.
I was particularly ecstatic to be there because we had just arrived from Northern Ireland, where we visited Giant’s Causeway. Both Giant’s Causeway and Fingal’s Cave were caused by the same lava flow. I can now proudly say that I’ve been to either end of this mythical land bridge.
In case you haven’t heard the folklore surrounding the basalt columns, an Irish giant, Fionn Mac Cumhail (aka Finn MacCool), built the bridge to get to his Scottish rival, Benandonner. When Fionn arrived at Staffa, he saw how large Benandonner was and ran home. The Scottish giant followed the bridge to Fionn, and when he arrived, Fionn had disguised himself as his own baby. This tricked Benandonner into thinking that Fionn would be more massive than he. Frightened, the Scottish giant ran all the way home. On his way, he destroyed the bridge between.
Back to the Three Isles Tour in this century. After marvelling over the Cave, we headed to our next phenomena of the island.
The Isle of Staffa is home to puffins. Puffins are a protected endangered species in the UK, as much of their home territory has been invaded by humans. The Clowns of the Sea nest underground on cliffs’ edges, so they tend to hang around Scotland’s northern shores.
May is the perfect time to see these adorable creatures. Me being me, I nearly burst in to tears when we found the lot. They were much smaller than I expected, making them even more adorable. It was truly beautiful to see the birds flying around, literally, as free as a bird.
The Isle of Iona
After that magical, once-in-a-lifetime experience, Staffa Tours took us back to our Three Isles Tour on the Isle of Iona. Iona is home to a famous Abbey, but that’s not what impressed me the most. The Isle had the most brilliantly blue water and sandy beaches; I thought for a moment that I had been transported to the Caribbean.
We were given a total of two hours to look around Iona. In that time, we experienced the peace of the island and the tranquility that draws visitors from around the world. I (of course) was more interested in the wildlife than the buildings, and set off to find the farm of Heeland Coos (AKA highland cows).
Other than cows, the island is home to just over 100 residents, and the final resting place to many early Scottish kings. As the ‘The cradle of Christianity,” at least seven kings (along with many clan chieftains) chose to be buried here. The fascinating facts you learn while abroad, eh?
We headed back to the Isle of Mull for our long bus and ferry ride home to Oban. Although we were damp and the chill had begun to set in, we were quite contented with our day on the Three Isles Tour.
Overall thoughts on the Three Isles Tour:
This tour was convenient, affordable, and got the job done. I do wish the bus tour had been more personalized and we had gotten to experience Mull a bit. A few people on our tour had overnighted in Mull to see more of the island. I suppose they had just taken one of the ferry tickets from Oban and used them a day earlier.
After visiting the Inner Hebrides, I don’t think traveling around is as difficult as I first thought. I do think it is possible to explore the islands on your own, save for Staffa. Nevertheless, we really only had one full day in the region, so I think the Three Isles Tour was the way to go. If you’re more of a local and are thinking about spending a week in the area, I wouldn’t bother.
I read through all the reviews online beforehand, and all of the bad ones were about the weather. Honestly, if you are boating in UK waters, how could you not expect to get wet? If you’re visiting the UK in general, you should probably prepare for the rain.
Have I convinced you to get to the Isles? I sure hope so, because it is one of the most memorable experiences of my life.
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