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Iona

A small windswept island of the Inner Hebrides, Iona lies off the Ross of Mull from which it is separated by the narrow Sound of Iona. Measuring 3¾ miles (6 km) in length and a mile (1.5 km) at its narrowest, it extends to an area of 873 ha (2157 acres) and rises to a height of 100m (328 feet) at Dun I. Much of the island comprises ancient Lewisian gneiss, which gives rise to a low-lying landscape of rocky knolls separated by boggy hollows, with poor acid soils, similar to the Outer Hebrides. Layered within the gneiss is the famous Iona Marble that was quarried on the southeast coast of the island until 1915. Inhabited during the Iron Age, the island is especially associated with the Irish monk Colum Cille or Columba who landed here in 563 AD and established a monastery that became a centre of learning and a site of pilgrimage famous throughout the world. Iona has thus become known as the cradle of the Scottish church and the favoured burial place of Kings and chieftains. The celebrated Book of Kells was probable written on Iona at the same time as a group of High Crosses were created. The Vikings first attacked the island in 795 AD. They returned several times until the middle of the 11th century killing its monks and stealing treasures from the monastery, although the Book of Kells and some of St. Columba's relics were saved by being taken to Ireland and his crozier to Dunkeld. A Benedictine abbey of red granite was founded at the turn of the 12th and 13th centuries in the name of Somerled. The seat of the bishopric of the Isles, this structure was largely rebuilt in the 1500s. Now in the care of Historic Environment Scotland, Iona Abbey was restored by the Church of Scotland in the early 20th century and later maintained by the Iona Community which was founded by the Rev. George Macleod. Other buildings of interest include St. Oran's Chapel and the Iona Nunnery.

Accepted on the island by a group of Highland chiefs in 1609, the Statutes of Iona were an attempt by King James VI to end the separatism of the Highlands and force together Gaelic and English-speaking cultures. The island came into the hands of the Duke of Argyll in 1695 but was sold in 1979 by Ian Campbell, the 12th Duke, to pay death duties. It was bought by the Fraser Foundation for 1.5 million and gifted to the National Trust for Scotland in memory of Lord Fraser of Allander.

The village of Baile Mor on St. Ronan's Bay faces the Sound of Iona and has a pier which handles ferries. There is a regular passenger ferry service from Fionnphort on Mull which brings over 250,000 visitors to the island each year, most of whom are day-trippers. Historical visitors include Martin Martin (1695), Thomas Pennant (1769), James Boswell and Dr. Samuel Johnson (1773), while more recently the island has hosted Queen Elizabeth II and HRH The Duke of Edinburgh (in 1956) and Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother (1968). The population was stable at 130 (1961), 145 (1971), 122 (1981), 130 (1991) and 125 (2001), but then grew substantially to 177 in 2011. Traditional crofting activity has given rise to an area of fertile machair on the west coast and meadows further inland, which serve as a haven for wildlife including the internationally-important corncrake, noted for its distinctive rasping call in the early summer.


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