We bid farewell to Worcester and the Malvern Hills on Sunday and began the second half of our journey by heading northeast to Yorkshire, where we spent a delightful two days touring and rambling around the Yorkshire Dales, taking in the James Herriot museum in Thirsk. I was enchanted to discover that the museum is actually the original “Skeldale House” where James and Siegfried lived and worked. James Herriot’s real name was Alf Wight, and Siegfried’s was Donald Sinclair. I highly recommend the museum to Herriot fans–well worth a visit! Having read and loved the books many years ago, it was also a real treat to see the Yorkshire Dales countryside.
At one point as we were walking along a high path up in the Dales, Bill remarked that he felt like he was walking in a calendar because of the spectacular scenery! Bill also deserves a medal for navigating the steep and narrow roads up and down the Dales!
We took in Richmond Castle gardens in Richmond, which has spectacular hilltop views of the River Swale coursing swiftly below the castle walls. Of particular note in the gardens was a memorial topiary garden dedicated to 16 prisoners held in the castle during World War I because of their conscientious objection to war. They were eventually sentenced to 10 years hard labor.
We left Yorkshire to begin our journey to the Isle of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland in the Hebrides, arriving on Wednesday afternoon. Along the way we visited Benmore Gardens in Dunoon, Argyll, and Inveraray Castle in Inveraray. Benmore is a large, primarily wooded botanical garden with hundreds of species of trees and plants from all over the world. We could have spent several days there and still not seen it all. Inveraray Castle, for all you Downton Abbey fans, is where they filmed the episode where the Grantham family went to visit their Scottish cousins! The Lord of Argyll actually lives there with his wife and children.
We finally arrived at Iona, after two ferry rides and a long drive across the Island of Mull on a single track road (did I mention that Bill deserves a medal for his expert driving and nerves of steel?), and settled into the charming Argyll Hotel.
It is hard to describe how beautiful and serene Iona is. There is something about the light and the color of the water that is almost other-worldly. There is almost a complete absence of commercial enterprise here, and the small village on the island is quiet and peaceful. Iona is a place of pilgrimage and of quiet Scottish sheep farming life.
The Iona Community has services mornings and evenings in the Abbey, which is on the site where St. Columba founded a monastery in the 6th century, and from which Christianity spread throughout Scotland and northern England. The Iona Community is an ecumenical Christian Community devoted to “seeking a more just and equal society, a fairer, more sustainable way of living on the Earth, and a progressive renewal of the Church and its worship.”
I have enjoyed entering into their morning and evening worship, especially the late evening Eucharist on Thursday night where they set up big tables down the middle of the nave of the Abbey with everyone sitting facing inward toward the table, with many candles throughout the Abbey. Communion was shared by passing many loaves of bread and chalices of wine around the concentric circle of people, with each person passing the bread and wine on to his/her neighbor. I will include a picture I took after the service was over.
You will notice that at the far end of the nave is a beautiful seemingly blue window. This window is actually clear, but it was just getting dark at the end of the service at around 10:10 p.m., and that is the evening sky! I will also include a picture of a rainbow I saw just over the Abbey right before the service began.
I have also attended services at the nearby Bishop’s House, the Scottish Episcopal Church’s retreat house on the island. Bishop’s House has a lovely Chapel of its own where morning Eucharist and evening Compline are offered each day.
Bill and I took a boat trip over to the Isle of Staffa to see Fingal’s Cave on the most beautiful day of our trip. The weather was gorgeous, and the climb along the rock face on the side of Staffa was unforgettable. Pictures are included! Fingal’s Cave was made famous by Felix Mendelssohn, who visited in the early 19th century, and was inspired to write “The Hebrides or Fingal’s Cave Overture.” I’m really impressed to think that Mendelssohn made this trip back in those days when he had to sail out here and there were no iron railings to hold onto along the cliff face!
We’ve also tramped around the Isle of Iona, searching for colored stones on the pebble beaches, and have been glad we brought rain gear!
Our hotel has been homey and comfortable, with lots of sustainable practices, including their own large organic garden, from which comes a lot of the delicious food we’ve been eating. Between the great food here and the cream and butter I’ve consumed, I’m definitely not going to have my cholesterol checked for a while!
It has been the trip of our lives, and we are both so grateful for the opportunity to have made it. We will indeed be sorry on Sunday to leave this beautiful place to begin our long journey home, but also grateful to return fortified and renewed by our spiritual and musical pilgrimage.
–Mary and Bill