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


img_7458A short stage today that led us out of the tranquillity of Glen Lonan and into the teeming metropolis of Oban.  Some lovely ladies stopped their car to wish us well and give us a donation.  One explained how much her granddaughter loved the youth pilgrimage to Iona that Craig Lodge leads each year.  This gave us a real boost and reminded us what we are fundraising for.  Thank you!

Tired and sore legs today.  Dad is more of a mountain goat and so while he is very used to skipping up and down hills, hard, unyielding tarmac is another matter.



img_7451We walked through the town in the warm evening air to the cathedral dedicated to St Columba and thanked him for getting us this far.  Tomorrow we cross to Mull.

“May the Trinity protect me wherever I stay, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Bright angels walk with me dear presence-in every dealing…” St Columba

A High Point

Over The Top

At 7am Rory gave us a lift to the top of the Hydro Road where we had walked to the previous day. He hadn’t been up this road for a long long time. He recalled how years ago he and Dad had been up here stalking and, with a beast sighted and in shot, Dad had turned to him saying, “OK, did you remember the bullets?” That was a good day for the stag.

img_7132When we got out of the car and looked back, Dalmally was invisible under a thick blanket of cloud. Mist was swirling all around the peaks on each side of us but we were in a little clear patch. We waved goodbye to Rory and made for the first marker post on the hillside above. Mist blew back and fore over the top and then halfway up enveloped us completely. At the top we looked down into Glennoe also blanketed in mist with odd peaks sticking up like islands. Down we plunged through a sodden landscape of mist and burns and bogs and waterfalls. Because of the mist we didn’t pick up the quad track we had used on previous occasions. It was a long 3 miles down to the edge of Loch Etive. But, when we got there the sun came out and we ate lunch by the shore and had a rest.

img_7303Only a short rest though because all too soon Dad was ready to move on. We followed the road along the loch towards Inverawe. When you are walking you notice every undulation in the road ahead and suddenly become acutely sensitive to hills. Half way along we looked up and there in the west were the hills of Mull looking blue and lovely but also very, very far away.

At Inverawe we treated ourselves to a tea and it was strange being inside after so many hours out. The waitresses recognised Dad from the Oban Times article and asked if this was us doing the pilgrimage walk. People have been so kind to us.

img_7309We crossed the river Awe by the suspension bridge and joined the track that leads into Taynuilt past the old Iron Ore Furnace and on to The Visitation, our parish Church. After all that Fr Fraser wasn’t in but Jesus was, so we said a prayer and lit a candle and walked to the main street. Mum was on support driver duty today and found us a couple of miles up Glen Lonan. By then my toes were so sore that I just took my shoes off and walked the last bit in my socks. We met a couple of local ladies out walking. They also recognised Dad and stopped to speak. I was a bit self-concious I was in socks and hoped they didn’t think it was some hard core penance I was doing.

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.

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.