Stepping ashore on Iona is an experience certain to delight the visitor. The visual impact of the place itself and grand views of Mull and other islands, such as Skye and Rhum, overlaid with the historic and religious associations affect everyone.

Walks on Iona

I Chalium Cille - The Isle of Columcille - St. Columba

The sacred Isle of Iona is well described in many publications, these 2 walks allow you to experience the history, wildlife and scenery of one of the world's most sacred places.

St Martins Cross on Iona

Route Details

OS 341 Iona and Bunessan. Visitors are not allowed to take their vehicles onto Iona. Cyclists are welcome and there are many tracks ideal for both cycling and walking. Take a 2 minute walk from Seaview onto the Fionnphort - Iona ferry which runs frequently across the Sound of Iona. Stout walking shoes and warm clothing required on windier days.

Iona Abbey

Iona Abbey is one of the most popular visitor attractions in Scotland not least because of it's beautiful location.

Iona Abbey with Iona Ferry

Saint Columba landed in 563 bringing Christianity to Scotland. He built it into a base for his evangelical crusade. The island was so revered as a holy place that more than 40 Scottish kings lie buried there. Today's Abbey was restored and used again in 1910.

Today the National Trust and Historic Scotland look after the Abbey.

The Nunnery

The nunnery was founded by Reginald, son of Somerled around the 13th century and is known locally as "An Eaglais Dhubh", literally "the black church". The Gaelic word for nun is "cailleach-dhubh" meaning "the veiled and black-robed one".

Iona Nunnery

The well preserved walls are a mixture of pink granite and yellow sandstone. In summer the well-tended flower garden is full of colour and scent and is a peaceful place to spend half an hour in. At the north end is the medieval church of St. Ronan. This was the local parish church from the 1200's.

Marble Quarry
Machinery at the Marble Quarry
Hidden in Iona's southeast corner on a rugged coastline is the Marble Quarry and remains of the quarry machinery. In the late 1700s the Duke of Argyll decided to extract and market marble from Iona in the affluent European cities of the time. The scheme was short-lived, the marble being difficult to extract and transport economically.

In 1907 another attempt was made but again short-lived and operations ceased at the end of World War I. In the quarry there are remains of a cutting frame, water tank, gas engine, wheeled platform and white cut stone blocks. These are now listed as a Scheduled Ancient Monument.

The quarry is quite difficult to find. The easiest way to access it is from the path running south through the middle of the island to Columba's Bay. Turn off this path at the ruin south of the small loch, walk in an easterly direction and look for a grassy gully with two ruins half way down. The quarry is at the bottom of this gully.

Exploring Iona

Apart from those places above there are many other places of interest to be discovered and enjoyed on Iona. On a clear day the view from Dun I is fantastic, Columba's bay on the south coast is well worth the walk as are the beautiful beaches on the west and north coasts of the island. Iona is also one of the few places in Britain where corncrakes can still be heard in the spring and summer.

View To Fionnphort From Dun I on Iona

John is happy to provide information and a guided walk of the area.


The West & South Walk - Machair, Columba's Bay & Marble Quarry
3 hours - rugged walking in parts

As you leave the ferry, turn left and follow the road past Martyrs Bay and Traigh Mor. In summer listen out for the monotonous cry of the corncrake in the iris beds between the shore and the road. Walk up the hill for ¾ of a mile until you come to a gate.

Machair on Iona

Continue through the gate and in front of you is a magnificent stretch of machair (short grass on sand.) This forms the basis of the informal Iona Golf Course which looks onto one of the finest beach views anywhere with the Camus Cuil an Tabibh (Bay at the back of the Ocean) forming the backdrop.

Columba's Bay

Turning south on a breezy day with a westerly atlantic swell you will see a fountain of spray rising above the cliffs. This is a natural occurance called "The Spouting Cave." Now follow the track due south over the hillock keeping the loch on your right and descend down to Port na Curaich (Port of the Coracle) known as St Columba's Bay.

It is said that, St Columba landed his coracle here in 563AD. There are views from here to Soa Island (Sheep Island) and Eilean Musimal (Mouse Island). There is also Eilean na h-Aon Chaorach known locally as "one sheep island," which was worked by the innkeeper at Iona cottage. The cottage is still situated at the pierhead.


On leaving Columba's Bay travel towards the eastern shore until you find a hollow with 2 ruined cottages. In a deep gully behind the cottages on the shore you will see the remains of the Iona Marble Quarry, closed shortly after the 1st World War. You can look around here for pieces of stone with green marble in it. Return westwards to the path at the loch and retrace your steps to the pier.

Wildlife Watch

Dolphins, seals, otters, cormorant, shag, eider, buzzard, ring plover, lapwing, black backed and herring gulls, rock dove, jackdaw, starlings, linnet, twite, yellowhammer, terns, grey plover, sanderling and godwits.


The North Walk - Nunnery, Iona Abbey, Dun I & Beaches


On leaving the ferry to the right you can see Port Ronain below the village. On the other side of the bay is Carraig Fhada (long rock), which served the islanders for many years as a rough landing place before the modern quay was in place. The remains of the iron rings in the rock can still be seen. The present pier was constructed in 1979.


At the top of the pier is the village Baile Mor (big township) where most of the islands population live around the island's only possible harbour. Main Street is off to the right, and Iona Cottage on the left. Follow the road up past the Spar shop and turn right into the Nunnery, the quiet grassy grounds where the Augustine nuns once lived. Locally known as "An Eaglais Dhubh" (black church.) The gaelic word for nun is "calleach - dhubh", meaning "the veiled and black-robed one."

Macleans Cross on Iona

The masonary of the ruins is a well kept mix of pink granite, yellow sandstone and grey flagstone. What is left gives an insight into how the nuns lived. The chapter house, cloister garden, refectory and dormitory can still be seen. To the north the nuns prayed and sang in the little church. The flower garden makes the nunnery bright and cheerful with it's colour and scent. It is also carefully looked after by the Historic Scotland staff. At the north side you will find "Teampull Ronain", which is a medieval church dedicated to St Ronan. This was the parish church for the local people, used from the 12th century.


On leaving the Nunnery at it's north gate you walk along the road past the Thomas Telfer parish church, dated 1828. Set amongst sycamore trees, the only wooded area on the island which provides a rookery, this area has an almost spooky but peaceful quality. The manse beside the church is now the Iona Heritage Centre and is well worth a visit to find out about island life here, past and present. Next at the roadside is MacLeans Cross, a fine example of carving on medieval Iona. It is a central pointing and marks a last century agricultural boundary between the east and west ends of the island.

Saint Oran's Chapel

Follow the road up the hill until on the right you come to the Abbey grounds and St Orans Chapel. There is also "Relig Od hrain", the islands main graveyard where Oran is said to have been buried alive in order to consecrate the first monastry's ground. The graveyard, quiet and peaceful, has generations of islanders alongside early rulers of the Scots kingdom and chiefs of powerful clan families. The most recent notable burial was that of the former Labour leader John Smith.


Iona Abbey, "cradle of Christianity in Scotland", stands like a solid rock against the sea, wind and rain, from the Atlantic gales which blow from behind the graveyard. Once a Benedictine Monastry, although now for hundreds of years has been used as a centre of Christian worship and pilgrimage. There are many books describing the history of Iona Abbey which you can read and to explore it fully is an excursion in its own right. Please allow at least 1 hour for a brief visit around Iona Abbey.


On leaving the abbey gate, turn right towards the north beaches and looking northeast there are wonderful views of the Sound of Iona and the pink granite Ross of Mull. In the foreground you will see the dark threatening Burg cliffs in the mid-distance, and the magnificent Ben More in the backdrop standing guard over all it surveys. Beside the road stands "The Duchess's Cross" which was erected in 1878 in memory of the 8th Duke of Argyll's first wife. The granite used in the cross came from the Dearport Quarry on the Ross of Mull.

Iona Abbey

To the left stands Dun I the islands highest hill at 332ft high. A rough path leads up to the summit which provides a superb panorama. On a clear day to the north you can see Tiree, Coll, Barra, Cuillins of Skye, Rum, Eigg, Mull, Treshnish Isles and the amazing Staffa. To the south you will see the Paps of Jura, Colonsay, Rhinnes of Islay, and also Dhu Heartach and Skerryvore Lighthouses. Two hundred feet from the cairn on the top of Dun I is a pool. Tobar nah Aois is known as the well of age, and it is said that if you bathe your face 3 times at sunrise your youth will be restored!

White Strand of the Monks

Continue north on the road until you come to a gate in front of you where the road veers left. Go through the gate and you see from here the machair surrounding the dazzling white sands of the north beaches. Descend northeasterly over the machair to Triagh Ban Nam Monach (white strand of the monks.) Many famous, (and not so famous) artists have coveted this landscape for painting because of it's unusual light, variety of colour and depth of landscape.


From the white strand walk westwards, past the north headland staying on the machair (sandy turf), to the beautiful white sands of Traigh an t-Suidhe (beach of the seat), and Traigh na Criche (beach of the boundary). Both of these looking north and west, magnificent, windswept and lonely. After taking in the scenery and dwelling, return eastwards over the machair to the road and retrace your steps to Baile Mor (big township) and Port Ronain.

Wildlife Watch

Dolphins, seals, otters, cormorant, shag, eider, buzzard, ring plover, lapwing, black backed and herring gulls, rock dove, jackdaw, starlings, linnet, twite, yellowhammer, terns, grey plover, sanderling and godwits.