I've been to Iona again. We had some wonderful sunny days, interspersed with some real Weather (note the capital w ). The seas were so rough when we arrived, that even the sturdy ferry was cancelled for a few hours, and we had to wait patiently while the white horses subsided, and went back to their stable. Then we could set foot on the magical island.
And I finally made it - at the fourth attempt. On each of my previous visits I had failed. But this time I did it.
I found the Well of Eternal Youth.
I don't know when I first heard of the existence of a wondrous spring, high up on the craggy top of Dun I (pronounced Dun Eee) but it caught my imagination. Not that I really thought it would bring eternal youth...well..that it is...errr...but I got a bit symbolical about it I guess!
I'd found the other mythical object on Iona - a Mermaid's Tear (more of that in a future post!) Now all that eluded me was this spring called Tobar na h-Aoise (if you know how to pronounce it, can you tell me please?!) Locals were surprisingly adept at avoiding questions on its exact location, and guidebooks weren't much help. Maggie and I had hunted the northerly slopes on a brilliant summer day; Gill, Rebecca and I had scrambled over the top on a windswept September afternoon - we did find a lonely Ordnance Survey trig point though! Small solace for me.
So with Francesca as my companion on my Quest, we chose our time carefully to avoid the intermitment horizontal hail and set off - with only a small detour to the local silversmith to feed a retail therapy habit on the way.
Dun I is just 332 foot high, and the only hill on the north of the island. But it makes an interesting scramble up over incredibly ancient stones - Lewisian gneiss to be precise, some of the earth's oldest rocks at 2,800 million years old - interspersed with verdant green squelchy valleys.
At the top the wind flattened us against the cairn. We had followed custom and each carried a pebble up with us to add to it. It was no mean feat to place it. On the south side the wind flattened you to the cairn which is about seven foot high, and steadfastly refused to let you move. On the east or west you had to cling on, and hang on to anything loose about your person or it took off horizontally for Skye, far over the horizon. The only safe place was on the north. As luck would have it, this was our intended direction.
I had seen, somewhere in a long forgotten manuscript (or on the internet more likely) a reference to the Well being "due north of the cairn". I have no GPS, but had remembered the trusty compass. Holding it like a talisman, I pointed - and nearly got blown off the top as I had stepped out of the lee of the cairn!
Francesca set off over what looked like the edge of a precipice. But no, it led to a narrow col and a slightly lower outcrop of rock. Yes! A narrow sheep path led across to ...yes... water!
It was larger than I had expected, and a wonderful peaty colour. It looked dark brown, but if you hold some up to the light it is the palest green - the colour of Mermaid's Tears actually. Oh, right - that story comes later, I forgot!
A totally magical, remote and unexpected place, The rock outcrop protected it, and the lush grass around it made a comfortable place to sit and gaze at the view over the edge. The ancient croft's small fields spread far below, and beyond them was the white sand beach where I seen the seal. Then nothing but turquoise and purple sea. We sat protected from the roar of the wind - in a place that seemed beyond space and time. Bliss!
"May they all climb the Steep Path of Knowledge to the top of the hill, and drink from the Well of Antiquity" from Iona by Simon Andrew Stirling