Friday, 19 June 2009

On the Road to Iona

This trip has been full of surprises. One surprise is that Iona has proven to be the point of it all. It is an astonishing place, and one which has affected me in ways I might take a very long time to explain to myself, let alone to anybody else. I'll write something about it later.

We had a look at Cambridge, and then left Norwich and drove north early this week in Chronos time, but about ten years ago in Kairos time. First stop was Durham, with its huge and lovely cathedral and its quaint old city spread over the banks of a river and its university with students noisily bustling about the place everywhere you look. Then it was Lindisfarne. The holy island is just off the main road, and is approached via a causeway when the tide allows it. We got to the causeway at exactly the right time. It was dry enough to drive on, and there was a silvery mist obliterating the bounday between sea and sky. Sea birds flew and swam. People stopped to look and stayed looking, it was so ethereally lovely. And then we drove onto the place where Aidan had sailed from Iona about 1200 years ago to bring the Gospel to the pagan English. We walked around and looked and photographed things and knew ourselves to be in the presence of something we couldn't quite identify but knew to be inexpressibly old and purposeful and completely, utterly other. It is a holy place. Then Scotland.

My ancestors are Scottish, so I shouldn't be surprised that I instantly loved Scotland. Edinburgh had the sort of rain which sets people off on urination metaphors and we got a 60 (SIXTY!)pound parking ticket for being 6 (SIX!) minutes late back to the parking meter, and the traffic north over the Forth Bridge moved at 4 mph but I loved it. I had never realised how beautiful it was going to be. Narrow roads with trees meeting overhead, fields with a thousand shades of green, big ginger Highland Cattle, little inky tarns and big silvery lochs. It was all so different from New Zealand in every way but I could understand at once why the Scots would look at Otago, and nod and say 'of course.' We stayed the night at Oban in a cute little hotel which Clemency's cousin Sue had chosen on account of its name: the Kelvin Hotel. I took photos of the sunset at about 10:30 pm woke with the sun at 3:30 am and then after breakfast we sailed for Iona.

A ferry that is about the size of the ones that ply the Cook Straight leaves Oban several times a day for various Hebridean Islands. Mull is the nearest and the passage takes about 40 minutes. It is a vast landscape, and again, I had not expected this sense of size and space. The sounds and bays and reaches are large. The mountains are high and stretch in layers into the far distance. On Mull we got off at a village called Craignuir and caught the bus for Fionnphort. The bus was large and modern and the road was only inches wider than its body. We passed over tiny arched stone bridges where there was less than a foot clearance on either side. The driver earned his money and my applause for the hour long journey. On each side of us the hills towered up, covered in fern and in soft, green, springy, mossy turf that looked verdant but which was actually such poor pasture that the highland cattle and deer were only sparsely dotted over them. Fionnphort is a bit bigger than Craignuir, but not much. There was a smaller ferry, and a few hundred yards over a flat calm sound was Iona. I could see the abbey and the ancient houses and the low hills rising. I made a journey of a few minutes and a whole series of cogs inside my head that had been purposefuly but differently turning for years suddenly all lined up. Remind me to tell you about it sometime.

8 comments:

Verna said...

Kelvin and Clemency have you worked out how many weeks, months etc it is going to take to organise your experiences into half hour, i hour, two hour slots for all the talks you will be asked to give when you return? I know the afternoon AAW wants you for their August meeting - kept it vacant just for you to talk! You talk about another 10 years in the parish. It may take that long for the talk on Rome, then Assisi, then Switzerland, then Spain, then France, then all those bits of England and Scotland which some of us will only ever hear about without travelling physically to see and experience them for ourselves. The most grequently asked question around St John's [after when are they due back] is "have you read Kelvin's blog lately?" So many are really enjoying travelling with you, albeit vicariously! Travel safely and well.

Verna said...

P.S. Please excuse the spelling!!!

Anonymous said...

Kelvin, you bring back my memories of going to Iona, many years ago after I left Dunedin. The sea is very beautiful there.

Are you coming to Canterbury (Kent) eventually? If so, please let me know & I'll show you round the Cathedral and St Augustine's Abbey.

Brian

Anonymous said...

Our God of Surprises is always unfolding more. I had been wondering this week why it was that all those years ago Columba started the journey in Iona, fifty-six + degrees North. And now this point in your pilgrimage( THE point of your pilgrimage?) seems to have revealed something deep and significant there at the uttermost ends of the earth (almost). ( at 56 degrees South, at any rate, all is wild, bleak and remote, isn't it?)

We pray you have enough time to ponder all this.
N.

Anonymous said...

56 degrees S is nothing but the wild Southern Ocean. 45 degrees S is Dunedin (midway btwn the equator and the South Pole, of course)- which gave its name to a short-lived brand of Wilson's whisky (Dunedin distillery). Raise a glass for auld lang syne, Kelvin!

Anonymous said...

Oh, not quite "nothing"- there are islands where things grow!! Did you know that the southernmost point of Australia( including islands) is given as the Bishop and Clerk Islets, 34 km south of Macquarie Island at 55 something degrees S?. BTW that's an interesting name,isn't it?
N

Anonymous said...

'...the Bishop and Clerk Islets, 34 km south of Macquarie Island at 55 something degrees S'

- yes, that is interesting; is it a diocese, I wonder? If so, it should be named Ultima Thule Australis, in homage to the Rt Rev Peter Sellers, bishop of Ultima Thule (Borealis) in 'Heavens Above'. Maybe we could nominate deserving bishops and clerks to be sent there.

Anonymous said...

Well, whadayano! Now I discover there already is a place called Southern Thule, btwn 56 and 59 S and SW of South Georgia - discovered and named by James Cook, no less:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Southern_Thule

Iona is a bit more hospitable.