Monday 17 April - Isle of Lewis
On the west coast of Lewis, we dropped anchor in the sheltered waters of Loch Carloway. From there a short walk took us to the broch, an Iron Age tower built by some Celtic chieftain more than 2000 years ago, today dominating a beautiful crofting landscape dotted with blackhouse ruins.
Some took the opportunity for a Zodiac ride in the loch, and were thrilled to discover, as well as the usual gulls and shags, a magnificent White-tailed Sea eagle soaring high above the water and swooping down to land nearby.
After lunch, in Hebridean sunshine we visited the standing stones of Calanais, erected by Neolithic farmers almost 5000 years ago, creating a remarkable and extensive ritual landscape. All this time the stones have stood proudly on their ridge overlooking Loch Roag and the distant hills which are said to resemble the shape of a sleeping ‘earth-goddess’ figure. Afterwards some of us hiked over the moorland to two more stone circles in the Calanais group, each one telling something of the remarkable culture of the first settlers of the island
Wednesday 19 April - Staffa - Iona
In early morning we travelled to the Island of Staffa. Fingal’s cave is the most famous feature of this tiny island, immortalised in Mendolssohn’s Hebridean Overture, with its amazing basaltic columns and vaulted roof. We were fortunate to experience it by boat and by foot. Then, rambling on the island’s plateau, we watched eagerly for the first puffins arriving in the waters below, along with Black guillemots, eider ducks, shags and gannets.
Iona was another beautiful island, with fertile soils and rich clear waters. In 563 AD St Columba came from Ireland and founded a monastery here that would spread the new religion far beyond the borders of Scotland. The glorious 1300-year-old stone high crosses are evidence of centuries of early Celtic monasticism there. Although the Vikings ravaged Iona several times, it continued to be a place of national importance where many kings and clan chiefs were buried. The buildings standing today mostly date from around 1200, when the Lords of the Isles founded a Benedictine monastery and an Augustinian nunnery.