Less than a mile off the southwest tip of Mull, IONA, just three miles long and not much more than a mile wide – has been a place of pilgrimage for several centuries, and a place of Christian worship for more than 1400 years. It was to this flat Hebridean island that St Columba fled from Ireland in 563 and established a monastery, compiling a vast library of illuminated manuscripts and converting more or less all of pagan Scotland as well as much of northern England. This history and the island’s splendid isolation have lent it a peculiar religiosity; in the much-quoted words of Dr Johnson, who visited in 1773, “That man is little to be envied … whose piety would not grow warmer among the ruins of Iona.” Today, however, the island can barely cope with the constant flood of day-trippers, and charges for entry to its abbey, so, in order to appreciate the special atmosphere and to have time to see the whole island, including the often-overlooked west coast, you should stay at least one night.

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