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The first Christian settlement in Scotland

Iona is one of the most remote locations in Scotland. It's an island off the coast of Mull, which is itself separate from the mainland. Just 5 kilometres long, it has a population of only 125. It seems like this should be an insignificant place, but Iona actually played a key role in early Scottish history. The journey here is long and difficult, but people have been making it for hundreds of years.
One of the first to do so was St. Columba, from Ireland. He arrived in 563AD, and founded a small monastery. From this lonely outpost, he set about converting the pagan Scottish to Christianity. Incredibly, he began to succeed. The tiny island of Iona became a site of pilgrimage, and people flocked here in their hundreds. It was such an important place that kings even came here to be buried. These weren't just monarchs of Scotland - rulers of Ireland and Norway also had their remains interred in Ionian soil.
The original monastery didn't last; it was abandoned after a series of brutal Viking raids. Nevertheless, Iona remained a holy place. The Christians returned in the 13th century to build another abbey. It carried on St. Columba's missionary work, spreading the Bible's message throughout Scotland. The building is still standing, with a Christian community still holding services. It has been a place of worship for nearly 1500 years.
Iona Abbey should be number one on any itinerary but, if you find yourself with a bit of spare time, then the rest of the island is worth exploring too. There's the Heritage Centre's historical exhibits, and the Infirmary Museum's collection of gravestones. With a bit of wandering through the green fields, you'll stumble across the whimsically-named Bay At The Back Of The Ocean. West of here, there's nothing but water until you reach North America.
The island's only settlement is called Baile Mr. However, since it is the only one, the residents often refer to it as simply "The Village". It contains a smattering of houses, as well as the odd gift or book shop.
9 kilometres northwest of Iona is the even smaller island of Staffa. A naturalist called Joseph Banks brought it to public attention in the late 18th century. He described the island's beauty as better than the Louvre, better than St. Peter's in Rome, and better than anything the Greeks were capable of inventing. The feature that caught his attention so strongly was a large sea cavern. Its sides were lined with unusual basalt columns, formed into hexagonal shapes. Inside, the sound of the waves echoed back and forth. The old Gaelic name for the place is Uamh-Binn, meaning "Cave of Melody". In English, it is more commonly known as Fingal's Cave and has been immortalised in an overture of the same title by German classical composer Mendelssohn.
After hearing about Banks' discovery, the visitors began flocking in. The cavern entranced such distinguished visitors as William Wordsworth and Queen Victoria. With regular ferries from both Mull and Iona, you too can follow in their wake!

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