Staffa Things to Do
Staffa the isle of legend
Our tour left from the Ferry Terminal, Oban on Caledonian Macbrayne's MV Isle of Mull to Craignure on Mull where we joined a coach. It journeyed through scenic Glen More to Fionnphort with the driver being a non-stop fund of information. Alighting we boarded the small ferry for Staffa.
As we approached the great basalt columns slanting about four degrees from west to east flanking the deep caves, which have inspired so much praise, became clearer. Sir Joseph Banks who visited in 1772 wrote:
'Compared to this what are the cathedrals and palaces built by men! Mere models or playthings, imitations as his works will always be when compared to those of nature.'
When Mendelssohn returned to the mainland after his visit, inspired he made for the piano to compose the theme that became The Fingal's Cave Overture. It brought further fame to the island and it became an essential visit on the cultural grand Tour of Europe
Fingal's Cave measures 230 ft deep, 60 ft high, and 50 ft wide at the entrance; Clamshell Cave 130 ft deep, 30 ft high, and 17 ft wide where the columns curve and distort. The boat hove to in front of the entrance to Fingal's Cave giving us our first view of the tightly packed rows of volcanic pillars which give it a cathedral like appearance. About 60 million years ago intense active volcanoes in the area poured out lava into the Atlantic. As the sea cooled the lava it shrank and split into hexagonal columns with a multitude of minor variations.
Topping the columns is a rough mixture of stone peppered with yellow lichen. The tall, blackish columns give way to a ring of washed-out grey marking the high tide line, below which the rock colour slides into all colours - pink, blue and green - which give a beautiful and varied effect.
Turning around, we headed round to a small jetty to land. Wary of slipping on the rocks we climbed the concrete stairway to the Causeway leading to Fingal's Cave while holding on tightly to a handrail. A cable fixed along into the cliff gave a handhold as we picked our way over the mass of giant hexagonal stepping stones to the cave. Passing people coming in the other direction called for some careful manoeuvring and sucking in of stomachs.
After 200 metres we reached the magical cavern. The narrow ledge of columns continued into the darkness of the cave. We waited and listened to see if anyone else was coming, then clung on to the rail to guide us in.
Supported by grey-black lava pillars, the roof is a jumbled mass of volcanic debris and broken columns rising to an almost perfect arch. We were in a natural cathedral complete with basaltic organ pipes. The back of the cave appeared as a stone altar. Looking back through the arched window of the cave's mouth, Iona sits emerald-like on the glistening sea. The perfect acoustics in the vault gently amplified the sound of waves gently lapping on the rocks – no wonder Mendelssohn listened entranced.
We picked my way back along the hexagonal stepping-stones and clambered up the stairway to the grassy top of the island hoping to see some puffins. Unfortunately this year they were late in appearing so the rocks were bare. On-board once again we rounded the tip of the island for one last look at Fingal's Cave and then we were on our way to Iona.
We had been fortunate as next day it rained and the wind increased. This trip is magic in good weather but best avoided in bad.Related to:
On top of the island
The pastures on Staffa are a paradise for seabirds and offer exciting views on the Hebridean archipelago.
This deep cave among the basalt columns is accessible via a narrow path. It inspired Mendelssohn to write his Hebridean Overture, and it is easy to be impressed by this place.
The Hexagonal Columns...
Favorite thing: An uninhabited island with unique geological properties: it mainly consists of hexagonal basalt columns, which are said to continue undersea up to the Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland.