As I sit in the Manse Study on Monday 1st November I take the opportunity to reflect on an unbelievable and memorable weekend away.
It was on Friday 29th October that myself and 37 people, mainly Church members, assembled together to begin our journey to the Cradle of Scottish Christianity. After a short Preparatory Service in Prestwick South we boarded our Coach and left at approximately 10am heading north. Our coach driver Ian was a great asset throughout the whole weekend and simply complied with our wishes.
After lunch at Tyndrum in the drizzling rain we made our way north west to Oban. By the time we reached Oban, not only was it dry, but the sea was almost flat calm. We then boarded the 4pm ferry for Craignure on the Island of Mull. Most of us remained on deck for the sailing, enjoying the wonderful scenery which included the Island of Lismore and the majestic Duart Castle on Mull.
We then disembarked at Craignure and made the half mile drive to the Isle of Mull Hotel. Thereupon the Manager of the Hotel boarded the coach to give us a word of welcome and allocate our rooms. The Manager was Welsh and a bit of a character, reflected in his friendly manner and wise cracks. While speaking to him during the weekend he complemented our group on their friendly and courteous manner, which sadly in his view was not apparent in every coach party. As he said, “their a good bunch!” How true!
After settling in to the Hotel, dinner was served at 7pm and the remainder of the evening was free. It was then that Sheila McCluskey offered to give lessons in Salsa Dancing. This proved to be a great laugh and involved not just members of our group, but some hotel staff and a couple of members of the general public. I have to say however, that for fear of embarrassment, Neil Inglis and myself walked into the village. Craignure is really the main ferry terminal on the island and contains nothing more than one small Store, a Church and an Inn. Ironically we found room at the Inn!
Breakfast on the Saturday was at 7.30am. Breakfast consisted of a wonderful buffet of all the things you really shouldn’t eat. Well it’s good to spoil yourself now and again. Then at 8.45am we made our way to Fionnphort for the crossing to Iona. Although just over 30 miles away the road is single track and takes over an hour by coach. But what a journey it was, my prayers had been answered.
The sky was blue, the sun was shining and the autumn colours of Mull gave a real sense of wonder and beauty. Along the way we also saw a variety of different wildlife including deer, herons; and Margaret Bingham also thought she saw an eagle. As we reached Fionnphort and got our first glimpse of Iona Hector McAndrew made the comment “it was worth it for that journey alone”.
We then walked a few hundred yards down the road and got the small 10.15am ferry to Iona. The great advantage of visiting Iona in October is that very few tourists are around. Indeed, in the summer months as many as 2,500 people can make the trip to Iona in any given day. As we boarded the ferry there was only a handful of other people around.
It was a lovely crossing, Staffa and the Cullins of Skye to the north and the Paps of Jura to the south. Such views are only possible on glorious clear days. Were we not the fortunate ones!
We then set foot on Iona and made the short journey to the Abbey. Along the way we stopped at the various historical sites and a brief explanation was given of each. As we continued on our journey the expression “this weathers unbelievable” became the common phrase. For many of our group this was their first time on Iona, in many ways retracing the footsteps of Columba who arrived here from Ireland in 563AD. I’m sure for some there was a great feeling of joy and accomplishment, actually reaching the location in Scotland where Christianity began.
Upon reaching the Abbey we had arranged a tour by a member of Historic Scotland. It just happened to be the cousin of one of our group, Joyce Simpson. Joyce’s cousin Essa lives in Fionnphort and works for Historic Scotland at the Abbey. Essa then gave us a very informative tour of the Abbey and surrounding area, also answering any questions we had.
After the tour we made our way back into the Abbey for a short mid-day Communion Service. For our Service we had the Abbey all to ourselves, which in the summer months would have been impossible. We did, however, have one uninvited guest to our Service, a little Robin who added to the unique atmosphere that reflected the creation and wonder of God. From a personal point of view it was a wonderful privilege and pleasure to stand behind the large marble Communion Table of the Abbey and conduct this Service.
After the Service everyone had free time to explore the island and the village, or re-visit parts of the Abbey. Many of us remained at the Abbey for a while longer, which included sitting outside marvelling at the location and what had been achieved through the centuries.
My biggest regret by this stage was that I had brought my heavy anorak with me, I ended up carrying it for the entire day. Indeed, quite a few of us bought an ice-cream in the Abbey shop to cool us down. Was this really the 30th October?
Towards the end of the afternoon as a group we literally took over the Martyr’s Bay Restaurant, which was situated beside the ferry jetty. Here we were able to sit outside on lovely round wooden tables and chairs and enjoy coffee or tea, while we sunbathed and once again admired the scenery. I also spent some time on the shore collecting Peebles. They may come in handy for the next celebration in Prestwick South.
Then sadly we boarded the 4.30pm ferry and made the short ten minute crossing back to Mull. For many it had been an unforgettable experience. Tired, but happy we boarded the coach for the journey back to our Hotel. As if our day had not been complete the views of the sun setting was quite spectacular as we made our way back to Craignure. If only every day was like this in Scotland then no-one would ever go abroad.
Back at the hotel we had just over an hour to relax before dinner. Once again after the meal Sheila McCluskey offered further lessons on Salsa dancing.
With the end of British summertime an extra hour was welcomed. Then after a 7.30am breakfast our luggage was placed on board the coach. Upon leaving the hotel at 9am we all made our way into Craignure, to the Torosay Church.
Although we would have liked to attend the traditional Morning Service at 12noon, our 11am sailing to Mull obviously made this impossible. However, I had already arranged with the local Minister to use the Church. Indeed, Torosay Church is never locked. The Session Clerk had even put the heating on the night before to ensure the Church was warm enough for us.
A few of the group took the coach to the Church, while the majority took advantage of an early morning walk. Indeed, although there was no bright sunshine, it was still a nice calm autumn morning. Moored at the ferry terminal was the Cruise ship the Hebridean Princess.
Torosay Church is a lovely little Scottish Kirk and hopefully gave to the group a genuine feeling of warmth and welcome. Our Service lasted approximately 25 minutes. Like the Service in the Communion Abbey Margaret Bingham was our precentor. After the Service most of us walked a few hundred yards along the road and waited to board the 11am ferry to Oban. It was time for a last stroll on Mull.
We then made the sailing back to Oban and arrived just in time for lunch. I then accompanied Margaret and Murray Bingham, who decided to work up an appetite, by climbing McCaig’s Folly. The views across to Mull and the surrounding area was a wonderful reminder of the journey we had just made.
Afterwards we once again boarded the coach and arrived in Inverary just before 3pm, in time for afternoon tea. Although not as warm as Saturday some of us once again had an ice-cream. Then it was off on the final leg of our journey, arriving in Prestwick just after 6pm.
As I sat to write this article for the Newsletter I had intended only to put together two pages maximum, however, as I reflected on the weekend there was just so much to remember in the way of good memories. Naturally when you organise such a weekend away, for so many people, you hope everything goes to plan, but as one lady upon leaving the coach very kindly said “it was beyond all expectation”.
Finally, can I take this opportunity to express my own thanks to the 37 people who accompanied me during the weekend. Their enthusiasm, cooperation and wonderful sense of fun made it a weekend away I will never forget.
Kenneth C. Elliott