Over a thousand years ago there was this Irish dude. He was from a noble family and like all Irish nobles at the time he was probably one hell of a warrior. Bloodshed apparently didn’t sit well with him though, because he became a Christian monk, renamed himself Columba, crossed the Irish Sea, and set about (among other things) converting the pagan Picts. He did something right and was rewarded by a local king with a very small island off the western coast of Mull (which is itself a considerably larger island right off the western coast of Scotland). This island was called Iona and was a major Christian centre for centuries (even the famous Book of Kells was probably written on Iona and then moved to Kells for safekeeping when the Vikings started making such nuisances of themselves).

Why do you care? Because that’s where your favourite blogger spent his weekend. The GCMRS decided a few months ago that we should do something as a group to keep the bonds strong between us all. Iona was kinda thrown out as an idea and our programme’s unofficial leader, Shona McIntosh, immediately jumped in with both feet. She got everything researched and organised and all most of us had to do was show up! There were about 15 of us, less than half of us even being from the GCMRS (we had opened it up to the Uni at large in hopes to fill more spaces in the hostel which we rented out in it’s entirety) including Chris Bowles and I know I’m speaking for pretty much everyone when I say it was a blast.

The whole thing actually had quite a quest feel to it which I won’t go into too much detail on. Suffice to say there was a train, a ferry, a bus, a second ferry, and a 3 kilometer hike to get to the hostel. I will tell you candidly that I spent hours enjoying a significant wind chill factor while staring out at the sea and that any number of jokes were made at my expense involving sheep (I admit I was an easy target. It’s lambing season and the hostel happens to be set in the middle of a field wherein black sheep are kept. Much time was spent by Ash trying to get good shots of skittish baby sheep. There is nothing cuter than a two day old black lamb. There is one thing more amazing though . . . watching one being born. It’s a long story as to why, but I found myself outside the hostel at about 12am Saturday morning and watched a lamb being born . . . I named it Melvin and risked a nearly-charging ewe to pet it just once).

So, while on the Holy Isle our group did a lot of stuff, most of it involving hiking and then imbibing. Sometimes even at the same time. Chris and I, for instance, climbed the highest “mountain” on Iona (whereon there was supposedly a broch once called Dun I [pronounced “done ee”]) for the specific purpose of drinking a bottle of wine at the top . . . each. In all honesty that wasn’t the original plan. It just happened to work out that way (and pictures may follow of me in a step by step guide to the quaffing of a bottle of white wine, as instructed by Alistair McLennan). We also participated in such educational activities as tours of the Abbey of Iona and the giving of papers by a few of the students. In general, a good time was had by most (and a great time was had by at least two — you know who you are!) and I for one was sad to have to leave.

And as a final amusing note, we almost couldn’t leave! The weather, which had been quite nice the whole weekend (to the point that on Friday night four or six of us were able to go on the beach and lay on the sand staring at more stars than I’ve seen since I lived/worked in Colorado five years ago!) turned ugly some time last night. I woke to the sound of the wind howling and the 3 km walk to town required us literally leaning into the wind to stop from being knocked over. We had to wait a good 45 minutes for the ferry to come to take us to Mull and when it did come it couldn’t even come close to docking because the seas were so rough. In fact it almost took out a schooner and really did knock a smaller boat free from it’s anchor when it lost control after making a docking attempt. We pretty much gave up on getting back to Glasgow today when the ferry threw in the towel only to have a much smaller boat offered to take us over. It was so small and the seas so rough that sprays didn’t just come up from the side but also went all the way over from the front . . . right onto me. I wasn’t about to let the opportunity pass me by so I actually stood out on the deck while everyone else huddled under cover. I was soaked but it was so worth it!!!

Slainte.

“Now there’s an ocean between
Where I am and where I want to be
So you prayers in doubt
Doubt not for me”
~Flogging Molly – “Whistles the Wind” — Seeing them on Thursday! ROCK!

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