St Conan’s Pilgrim Way2020-01-15T10:39:53+00:00

St Conan’s Pilgrim Way


“……… and you see that’s why I want to call it St Conan’s Pilgrim Way. And I think I should walk it so as to encourage others. What do you think? Do you want to come?”
I was only half listening. And you have only just arrived. So in brief.

The island of Iona is very special to us here in this beautiful diocese of Argyll & the Isles. It lies off the southwest coast of Mull- a little jewel in a turqoise sea. It’s natural beauty is there for all to see and it has inspired artists through the years. It’s spiritual beauty may not be so immediately apparent yet it is in someways tangible too. This is where St Columba, an exile from Ireland, founded a monastery in the 6th century. He lit a sanctuary lamp and from this source other lamps began to burn around the country; because he brought the light of Christ with him and, from Iona, he and the many followers he inspired, set off on journeys across Scotland and further, bringing that light to others. Thank you St Columba. And St Conan was one of those followers. Not much known about him except a reputation for a great devotion to Our Lady and there’s also a story where he bests the devil in a deal and saves souls. He is the saint associated with Dalmally (where there is still a well named after him) and Lochawe (through the famous Lochawe Kirk). That takes care of St Conan and Iona.

Then there is the whole idea of pilgrimage. Wiki says a pilgrimage is
“a journey or search of moral or spiritual significance. Typically, it is a journey to a shrine or other location of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith ….”
Very popular before the Reformation and very popular now. I think about 170,000 people walked the Camino last year. Iona was in the premier league of popular pilgrimage destinations before the Reformation and it still attracts thousands of visitors every year. We love going on pilgrimage and it was a pilgrimage to Medjugorje that led to Craig Lodge becoming a retreat centre, a community forming around it and ultimately to Mary’s Meals. So a word of warning about going on pilgrimage – your life may never be the same again. We also go on pilgrimage to Iona. Of course.

That’s pilgrimages then. Just need to put it all together now. There has been much talk over the last few years of establishing a walking route linking St Andrews on the east coast with Iona on the west. It was recently dubbed by the press as the ‘Caledonian Camino’. A lot of hard work has been done on this project but its not there yet. Meanwhile, my Dad – Calum MacFarlane-Barrow – has long wanted to get a walking pilgrimage route from Dalmally to Iona underway that could one day be part of this bigger route across Scotland. So, he has spent long hours investigating tracks and caves and mileages and accommodation and rock stacks and celtic crosses and paths and viewpoints and deserted villages from Dalmally to Oban and all along the Ross of Mull and thoroughly enjoying himself in the process. He has christened this route the St Conan’s Pilgrim Way. And he hopes it will gain recognition as pilgrims start making this journey of spiritual significance through some of God’s most beautiful Creation. To kickstart it all he thought he should walk it himself and make it a sponsored walk in support of Craig Lodge while he was at it.

So here we are setting off on the St Conan’s Pilgrim Way. I should say at this point that my Dad is 83 years old. I am less old but also much less fit. But i love my Dad and his ideas so I thought I should go too.

September 2016

Following In His Footsteps

Our first day of walking has arrived. And earlier than we had expected. Our plans changed when our volunteer support driver for the Mull part, Matthew, suddenly remembered a prior commitment. Sorry to lose you Matthew. A new support driver – thanks Joe – and a new plan.  Were off!

Stage 1 Dalmally-Taynuilt

Goodbye Craig Lodge

The place was very quiet as we set off. After a full house for a Joe Dalton healing retreat the House Community were wisely lying low and enjoying their Sabbath rest. We said a quick prayer together in the chapel and Mum (Mary Anne) waved us off from the front door. For the first part of this stage we had the company of our friend Andreas and his dog Marsco.

img_7030It was proper September walking- sunshine and wind blowing the rowan trees to and fro with their berries demonstrating all the shades of red there are from a brazen scarlet to a russetty brown. We spied the occasional ripened bramble amongst the green, hazelnuts not quite ready for picking and mushrooms and toadstools in all their fantastical shapes.

As we walked along the Stronmilchan road the mass of Cruachan reared up larger and larger ahead. This first part of the route aims for the pass into Glennoe at the top of the Castles Farm hydro road.
I think we all felt a little nervous during that first walk: would our paces match, were the aches and pains increasing, what side of the road should we go to when we meet a car. After a farcical moment when we collided with each other as we rushed to the verge we agreed to let Marsco the dog decide and run to him at the sound of a car.

Up Up And Away


Higher and higher!

Dad is very pleased with the poncho he has bought specially for this trip. It is in camouflage colours and quite voluminous. I am a bit jealous as my Medjugorje pilgrim poncho (sorry Eileen I know I promised not to buy one) is a lightweight in comparison in every sense. Today we are climbing steadily and our goal is to reach the top of the road just below the bealach.

As he has done all my life, Dad did his best to encourage me by pointing out things like: how far we have come already; that we have got the worst of the steep bit out of the way; that the road is better than we remember; that the rucksack is really light and he is happy to keep carrying it. Dad reminisces on climbs, ridge walks and stalking exploits on the hills around us. So many adventures and now another one unfolding.

We prayed for all the intentions given to us by people all those who have donated and supported Craig Lodge.

Stage 2 Taynuilt-Oban

Half way down Glen Lonan

One of Dad’s favourite things is weather forecasts. I have very few memories of him being strict with us as children but talking during the weather forecast before the 6 o’clock news was a terrible sin and the sinner dealt with severely. The advent of the internet may have done many things for mankind, good and bad, but for Dad it has given him an ability to check forecasts to his hearts content. Many of us don’t actually bother to look online we just ask Dad.  So, it was with complete faith in the warm and sunny day he promised that we dared to leave our leggings and jackets behind. As we sat in the church of the Visitation for Mass and listened to the rain thundering down on the roof, I pondered on faith and trust and wisdom.

img_7423Perhaps the prayers were extra fervent during this Mass celebrating the wonderful feast day of the Exaltation of the Cross, I don’t know, but anyway by the time we left to start walking it was dry with a hint of sunshine in the sky. Thank you Lord for your victory on the Cross which has opened up Heaven for us all! (and Happy Birthday Ken (husband) on way back from working in Papua New Guina). Glen Lonan is a beautiful road that meanders peacefully along. It has the same feel as the islands with its unfenced grazing and the verges thick with the sharp blades of seilisdeirs like raised green swords. It is quiet. A few farms and cottages, sheep and some beautiful highland cows who stared unimpressed at two pilgrims wandering down their road.

As we walked and prayed we were conscious that this road may have been used by pilgrims on their way to Iona in ages past. We prayed especially for all those we knew who are sick today and for Craig Lodge Community that began 26 years ago on this feast day. Thank you Martin and Stephen and Denis, you were the pioneers for the rest of us!

img_7420We walked through a little hazel wood laden with nuts, some prolific bramble bushes and something that looked like sloeberries. Basically free food on all sides.  Along the way we met some visitors to Scotland from Vermont and further along some from Canada . They had all stopped to admire the Highland cows. When Dad hove into view with his kilt swinging they obviously couldn’t belive their luck. Cue a whole photo shoot.
Thanks to everyone who passed us today for their friendly waves or cheery beeps on car horns.

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