ARCHAEOLOGY AND THE EARLY CHRISTIAN SETTLEMENTS AND MONASTERIES
The Hebrides and the west coast of Scotland are home to a vast array of archaeologically important sites together with monasteries and early Christian settlements. Kilmartin stands in an attractive glen near to Oban, and the area contains more than 350 ancient monuments, of which 150 are pre-historic. This extraordinary concentration of monuments includes rock carvings, standing stones and Neolithic and bronze age burial cairns.
To the west is Iona, a crofting island off the west coast of Mull, the home to 130 people. For many centuries Iona has been an island of special significance for all Christians. In AD 563, Columba and his followers arrived here from Ireland to spread the gospel in Scotland and the north of England. There has been Christian worship on Iona for 1,450 years. The early Columban monks survived repeated Viking attacks and moved their treasures, including the famous ‘Book of Kells’ which had been created on Iona, to Ireland. St Oran’s Chapel and Reilig Odhram is reputed to be the burial place of 48 kings of Scotland, including Macbeth.
Far to the west is St Kilda, an isolated archipelago of volcanic islands, now owned by the National Trust of Scotland. The awe-inspiring St Kilda is the UK’s only dual UNESCO World Heritage Site. With the world’s largest northern gannet colony, a community existed here for at least four thousand years, eating puffins and fulmars and taking their feathers and oil. The final 36 islanders were evacuated nearly ninety years ago. Now uninhabited
visitors can brave the weather to sail to the islands at the edge of the world for an experience of a lifetime.
Travelling south, the McCormaig Isles lie in the entrance to Loch Sween within the powerful tides of the Sound of Jura. At one of the high points on the main island called ‘Eilean Mor’ is a medieval chapel dedicated to St Cormac. There is a cave to the south of the chapel with eighth-century carvings on its rock walls, where Cormac once lived.