Local tips: Things to do on Iona – Mhairi, Aosdana

Mhairi Killin shares her suggestions for things to do on Iona where she lives and which you can easily get to by ferry from the Isle of Mull. About me I am the creative director of my own business, Aosdàna and also an artist. Aosdàna is a small gallery and studio on Iona, which shows […]

Mhairi Killin shares her suggestions for things to do on Iona where she lives and which you can easily get to by ferry from the Isle of Mull.

Mhairi Killin with lambs Iona
Mhairi at lambing time on Iona

About me

I am the creative director of my own business, Aosdàna and also an artist. Aosdàna is a small gallery and studio on Iona, which shows traditional Iona jewellery, contemporary jewellery and artists’ books,
prints and cards. We are a small team of local people who work together and know each other socially, so this makes for a fairly relaxed but hard working environment. I have been self-employed since I left art school and can’t imagine anyone employing me now!

Things to do on Iona Aosdàna, The St. Columba Steadings, Iona. Photo by Shannon Tofts.
Aosdàna, The St. Columba Steadings, Iona. Photo by Shannon Tofts.

Interests

My interests are researching the islands that surround and are my home, my own art practice, gardening and looking after two horses, one of which, Bess, regularly appears in our social media campaigns! I used to live with a lot of cats, but they have all moved on to feline heaven so I am just waiting for the next stray to appear.

Bess the horse
Christmas Bess

How long have you lived here?

I’ve lived on Iona for 20 years. My grandfather was from the island and my family goes back for generations. I moved up in 1997, with the intention of staying for one year.

The photo shows the outside of my cottage, which traditionally was a weaving house. The gentleman is my grandfather’s cousin, Coll Macdonald (I share the distinctive big Macdonald nose!) his wife Catherine is spinning wool for weaving. Their son, Willie Macdonald was the last weaver of that generation to work in the cottage.

Tigh na Beargh, c.1920’s The spelling of the house has been anglified over the years and should really be spelt Tigh-na-Beart meaning house of the loom, but the Royal Mail and the RBS don’t recognise this traditional spelling, so I am stuck with Tigh na Beargh.
Tigh na Beargh, c.1920s The spelling of the house has been anglified over the years and should really
be spelt Tigh-na-Beart meaning house of the loom, but the Royal Mail and the RBS don’t recognise
this traditional spelling, so I am stuck with Tigh na Beargh.

Favourite beach

I don’t have a favourite beach on Iona, there are so many stunning shorelines. For sentimental reasons though, if I had to chose it would be St. Ronan’s Bay in the village. This is where I played as a child, as did my mother before me, running down to the shore and straight into the cold water, and washing off the sand from my feet at the tap beside the garden gate before going back into Primrose Cottage, which was my grandfather’s family house.

Things to do on Iona – best walk

So many to choose from! I love the daily walk in winter from the village down to Traighmor to feed the horses in the late afternoon. From there over to Sandeels Bay and up over the hill to the open wildness of the south west side of the island always gives me space to think and reminds me that for a small place Iona can be incredibly expansive.

My daily walk to work isn’t too bad either, along the village road, passing through the 13th century Nunnery grounds or taking the short cut through the “Gàrradh Marsaili” an old right of way passing through Marjory’s Garden. No-one seems to know anymore who Marjory was or why she had a garden there. Just one of many stories that have left their mark on the naming of place.

Most special time of year

When the seasons shift. I love that moment when you sense the change in the air. The most marked on Iona are winter going into spring and autumn into winter, as we shift up or down a gear according to our work and lifestyles.

Stormy day, Camus Cul an Taibh, Iona
Stormy day, Camus Cul an Taibh, Iona

One thing that every tourist should do

Take time. Don’t rush Iona. Allow a couple of days at least to walk off the beaten track and wander beyond the visitor attractions. Walk late at night, in the summer it is light so late that you can enjoy walking to the machair to see the sun set and still enjoy twilight up to 11pm. In the winter take a walk in the dark below a celestial landscape that will fill you with wonder.

Things to do on Iona - Iona Nunnery under a winter sky. Photo by Gordon Bruce
Iona Nunnery under a winter sky. Photo by Gordon Bruce

Best wildlife encounter

Being close to a basking shark on a trip to Staffa on Davy Kirkpatrick’s boat the Iolaire, is still memorable to me, as are numerous golden eagle and sea eagle sightings on Mull and Iona. Otters playing on Iona pier is one of the most joyful sights as is any sighting of dolphins or porpoises in the Sound of Iona. On one occasion I went out in a friend’s dingy and a large pod played around the boat, leaping across the bows and racing alongside us. More everyday is the glorious spring and summer dawn chorus from all the blackbirds and thrushes that inhabit the gardens in the village.

Favourite road or drive

I tend not to drive on Iona unless the weather is foul or I have to transport something heavy. The island is so small that it can quickly get congested if there are a lot of cars on the road.

Most loved view

If I’ve been away, the view of Iona as I come into Fionnphort and catch my first sight of the island always lifts my heart. On the island, we are spoilt for views, from the winter white of Ben Mòr across
on Mull, to the wild south west coast. On a clear day from Dun I, you can see past the Tresnish to the Small Isles and the Cuillin of Skye in the north, Tiree and Coll to the west, mystical Jura in the east and
all the way to Dubh Artach lighthouse in the south. It’s a breathtaking visual circuit.

Favourite place to eat and drink

We are lucky on Iona to have a good selection of places to eat, whether it’s freshly caught mussels and a pint or more formal dining you have the choice to enjoy either. My favourite is a fire on the
beach with some homemade food and a tumbler of red wine.

Holiday Scottish Highlands & Islands says…

Thanks, Mhairi, for these fantastic tips for things to do on Iona and the lamb photo! I especially love the advice about taking your time to explore Iona properly. We’ve been there several times and it really does need more than an aftenoon. It can get busy during the day and after the day trippers have gone, I imagine it feels like a totally different place.

Iona is also home to one of my favourite beaches and this takes me back to lying on that beach in the sun watching Arctic terns fishing in the shallows. Watching these elegant birds has to be one of my top recommendations for things to do on Iona.

The photo of the milkyway above Iona nunnery is amazing, I always forget how incredible the night skies are in the Scottish Highlands and Islands where there is very little light pollution.

Another of my favourite of things to do on Iona is visit Mhairi’s Aosdana shop and craft studio. (Mhairi didn’t pay me to say this!) I discovered Aosdana years ago and love the jewellery there. You can read more about Aosdana in our listings section.

Find out more about Aosdana

Plan a trip to Iona

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