“……… 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.