In 1829 a 20-year-old composer set out on a boat trip around Mull, calling at Iona and Staffa, which is characterised by its basalt columns. By all accounts he did not pick the best day for the trip: the weather was wild and people were throwing up all over the place. However, the composer was sufficiently impressed at the sight of Staffa, and in particular Fingal's Cave, that he was inspired to write a piece of music which was to become an all-time favourite. The composer was Mendelssohn, and the musical work was the Hebrides Overture.
It is perhaps not surprising that the cave provided musical inspiration, since the basalt columns that make up its sides resemble a grand church organ. The cave is a unique phenomenon: nowhere else does a sea cave exist that is formed completely from hexagonally jointed basalt. A visit to the cave is enhanced by the fact that a naturally formed walkway allows visitors to venture some distance into the cave. All of which is accompanied by the resounding swell of the sea. The name Fingal is thought to date back to an Irish general who led an incursion into Scotland prior to the Norse raids. In fact, it was the Vikings who gave rise to the name Staffa, which derives from the Old Norse for "stave" or "pillar island". The pillars reminded them of their homes built of vertical logs. There are a number of other caves around the island, such as Goat Cave and Clamshell Cave. Such is the renown of Staffa that there are numerous boat trips on offer during the summer months from Mull, Iona and the mainland.
Map of the area.
© 2005 Josi, via Wikimedia Commons