A messy pilgrimage to Baile Mor

Yesterday afternoon we anchored off Iona, a smallish, rocky island near the ragged tip of the Ross of Mull. Iona has absolutely nothing to do with whisky. It is, however, the cradle of Scottish Christianity, the place where St. Columba established a church in 563 A.D.

Graham ferried me ashore in a tiny rubber tender, dropping me off on a treacherous stretch of rocky tidepools with instructions to just “Hike through the green ‘till you find the road.”

The hike to Baile Mor on the island of Iona.

The hike to Baile Mor on the island of Iona.

The “green” turned out to be a mushy, steep slope of cow pasture, full of all kinds of bovine souvenirs, and not only did the grazing herd take offense at my sudden intrusion, so did their owner who stormed out of a small stone farmhouse yelling indecipherable Scottish epithets at me.

Sneakers wet and oozing remnants of smelly pasture patties, I quickly scrambled over a barbed-wire fence, cutting my thumb in the process, certain that Graham was sitting comfortably aboard Chantilly, binoculars in one hand and a single malt in the other, chuckling to himself as he watched me.

Arse heid.

It was a short walk down an unpaved country lane into the village of Baile Mòr, a mecca for pilgrims from around the world who come here to find solace in the restored medieval abbey or the peaceful ruins of a nunnery. Feeling damp and wanting to get out of the harsh winds, I stepped into tiny St. Oran’s Chapel, the size of a garden shed, built in the 12th century. At the front was a simple stone altar and next to it a wooden cross. Scribbled notes, on the back of matchbook covers or torn slips of paper, were mounted on the cross with push pins.

I want to live here forever. –Ailigh, 6

If you can’t find Inner Peace on this island, you’ll find it nowhere. –Kam

St. Oran's Chapel on the right.

St. Oran's Chapel on the right.

Several hours later, Graham picked me up from the same rocky shore. With a smirk, he asked me how the hike was to Baile Mòr.

“Lovely,” I lied. “Absolutely lovely.”

He glanced at my ruined shoes, noticed my bloody hand, but didn’t comment further. We motored back to Chantilly in silence.

That night, after I’d gone to bed, he carefully washed my muddy red Chuck Taylor sneakers. In the morning, they sat good as new, drying in the sun on the deck.

Neither of us said a word about the transformation.

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