Isle of Staffa: Scotland's Giant's Causeway

fingal's cave inner hebredes isle of staffa scottish islands scottish western isles travel Mar 18, 2021

Tucked away in a far flung corner of the Scottish western isles - technically within the Inner Hebrides - the isle of Staffa is an uninhabited rocky island out in the Atlantic ocean,  just a few miles off the Isle of Mull. As small and rugged as it is, it hides one of Scotland's true natural wonders: Fingal's cave.

The Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland is a world famous beauty spot, famed for its giant hexagonal rocks. These were formed millions of years ago during volcanic activity. I am no expert on geology, but it's something to do with the rapid cooling of molten rocks, leaving behind these impressive basalt rock columns.

What makes the Isle of Staffa and Fingal's cave so special is they are basically made from the same thing as the Giant's Causeway, but the Isle of Staffa is much less known (probably due to it being so hard to reach), wild and untainted by large crowds of visitors. Meanwhile, Staffa is also home to a population of beautiful puffins at certain times of year, as well as other amazing wildlife. For example, you may spot dolphins, whale sharks and even white tailed sea eagles on the boat ride to get there.

I've travelled to both, and while they are both impressive, Staffa takes the edge over its counterpart in Northern Ireland, although as I'll explain later, legend has it they are actually physically connected.

So impressive is the place, i'd say it should be known and promoted as the crown jewel of the Scottish tourism assets. Perhaps even for all of the United Kingdom. 

Getting there involves first of all travelling to the town of Oban, taking a ferry from there to the Isle of Mull, taking another ferry from Fionnphort on Mull over to the Isle of Staffa, then booking a spot on one of the small tour boats that takes you from Iona over to Staffa.

Believe me when I say it's worth the effort (watch my video below on the Scotland with Shaun YouTube channel).

Fingal’s Cave is absolutely the main reason to visit Staffa.

By way of history, the whole area used to belong to Clan MacQuarry until the late 1700s. It was largely unknown until Scots poet, James Macpherson, wrote about it as part of his Ossian series of poems, with the central character and Irish legend Fingal giving Fingal’s Cave its name.

The story goes that he was building the Giant’s Causeway between Ireland and Scotland, and the hexagonal columns actually stretch between the two under the ocean. Geographically speaking, the two aren't actually that far apart.

Two traits of the cave are, firstly, that the shape of the basalt columns provides excellent acoustics, and second that the natural light interacting with the different rock colours makes for a spectacular natural display. Many composers and filmmakers have consequently visited to include the cave in their musical or filmmaking works.

It has also been the focus of other writers. Scots novelist Sir Walter Scott described Fingal's Cave as "one of the most extraordinary places I ever beheld. It exceeded, in my mind, every description I had heard of it… composed entirely of basaltic pillars as high as the roof of a cathedral, and running deep into the rock, eternally swept by a deep and swelling sea, and paved, as it were, with ruddy marble, [it] baffles all description."

The Isle of Staffa and Fingal's cave are well worth the trip if you are on the west coast. There is also the nearby Isle of Iona, itself well worth visiting, but i'll leave that for another video. You can find out more about visiting Staffa here. It's also worth mentioning that, due to the weather and daylight, trips only run in the summer months.

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