St Conan’s Pilgrim Way2016-10-18T11:13:50+01:00

St Conan’s Pilgrim Way

September 2016

Following in his Footsteps

Thank you everyone for all your wonderful support.

God bless

Over the Sea to Iona?

The next morning – early – found us on the slipway at Fionnphort peering at the faint outline of Iona through sheets of rain.  And something horrible had happened to that tranquil sea of yesterday.  It had turned into a grey heaving mass.  When the ferry appeared I watched sick at heart as it pitched and plunged.  No, I am not afraid of boats, I’m afraid of drowning….  Poncho or no poncho by the time we board we are soaked to the skin.  But we had agreed a plan.  This was to be a ‘touch & go’ operation; we would set foot on the pier and get straight back on the ferry, race to Craignure and home to an afternoon Mass at Craig Lodge (thank you Fr Antonio).  We had all agreed.  How it came to be that 20 nerve-wracking minutes (for me at any rate) later we stood, 3 drenched, freezing cold pilgrims, on Iona pier watching the ferry leave without us is a long story. The info sign then flashed up a weather warning stating the ferry service was now suspended…..

Anyway… moving on, once we were back on speaking terms we decided we should track down Mass in the Prayer House in case we were going to be marooned for the day.  God is good. As the final blessing was pronounced, we saw through the chapel’s windows overlooking the Sound, that the ferry had re-started and was on its way back over. We raced down to the slipway turning down Sr Jean’s kind offer of tea.  After changing our sopping clothes and grabbing some breakfast at Fionnphort we went in search of a ferry from Craignure. As we arrived there was a ferry waiting with exactly one space left for a small car.

On reflection I am reminded of how God’s ways are not our ways.  Thanks to missing the Iona ferry we finished our pilgrimage with Mass on the island where St Columba and those who came after him must have celebrated Mass so many times through the centuries. What could have been more appropriate.  Thank you St Columba for setting out on that first journey across the sea to Iona.  Thank you for being with us during these days of pilgrimage.

And thank you Dad for letting me follow in your footsteps.

Are We There Yet

pennyghaelDespite yesterday’s very long walk (possibly foolishly long) Dad was in irritatingly cheerful mood irritatingly early in the morning. “I have never felt so good after a walk in all my life” he assures us, doing knee bends and flexing limbs. “Oh great”we reply, short on sleep and coffee.

The problem with yesterday’s triumph of 20 miles is that we can’t help having high expectations. We set out.  Pennghael is a long village. Loch Scridain is a long loch. The Ross of Mull is a long peninsula. It was another long long long long walk.

duck-sign-selfieBut the beauty of it all made every step worth the effort: little bays, a group of sheep on a  pocket of sand, wavelets breaking gently on rocks and north of us, the grandeur of the massive Burg headland. The magical Treshnish isles began to float on the horizon. Everywhere  bathed in sunshine.

At one point even Dad murmured about sore muscles and I persuaded him to have a rest on the road side. As we settled down Joe sailed passed us in the car despite our frantic waving. We caught up in Bunessan. He had bottles of juice and slices of ham at the ready and after a quick discussion we decided to keep going and just see how far we could get but that we would stop by 7pm.

entry-freeSo much kindness along the way: offers of tea, encouraging words, thumbs ups and horn toots.

We hobbled the last 2 miles into Fionnphort singing ‘Ave Ave Ave Maria’ in voices as creaky as our knees. And there was Iona lying before us across a mile of tranquil sea. Thank you St Columba and St Conan for getting us safely here.


Into The West


Managed to catch the early ferry (despite having to turn back for Dad’s infamous bubber roots!)

Ah, beautiful, blessed Mull. Lovely to see Liz Gibson and get a quick prayer to send us on our way.

support-vehicleJoe faithfully appeared at appointed times to feed us tea & pork pies & kitkats. Each time he was politely dismissed as Dad pressed on. And on. Our target destination came and went and too late I recognised a fanatical gleam in his eyes…

It was a day full of signs & wonders; doves (Columba) flying across our road; a crozier shaped cloud and finally a huge and brilliant rainbow as we reached Pennghael. Yes we did 20 miles. Praise God! Thank you St Columba and all you bright Angels.


“……… 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.