The approach to Iona is stunning. A short ferry crossing takes foot passengers across the mile-long stretch of water between the isle and Mull’s south-west coast. Dotted along the shoreline is sheltered inlet after inlet, just waiting for little feet to run over the white sands, dip their toes and paddle in the crystal-clear waters.
The island itself is only one mile across and three in length, but the beaches and rocky outcrops that speckle Iona’s grassland – inviting intrepid pint-sized explorers to scramble up and conquer – more than justify a few days’ stay. Until recently, there wasn’t a single campsite here, but at long last Iona Campsite has thrown open its gates to tents.
The site itself is very basic. A mile’s walk from the ferry – half of it uphill – it’s really just a field located behind Cnoc-Oran B&B. The sparse facilities take the form of a small toilet and shower block, but then, what more do you need when there are so many beaches waiting to be discovered just a short walk away?
There are no designated pitches or hook-ups, but plenty of level patches of grass are interspersed among the hills and rocks that provide welcome shelter from Iona’s winds and a little privacy from other campers. A couple of picnic tables await alfresco diners and you’ll spy a few hens and sheep roaming around: amusement for the little ones while Mum and Dad pack up the day sacks before the whole family hits the beach.
There is a small toilet block with 3 hot electric showers and 3 toilets. Open space for kids to run amok and plenty of rocks to scramble up. It’s really all about those beaches...
As non-residents aren’t allowed to bring vehicles over to Iona, it’s tents only. Dogs on leads – yes. No campfires permitted, but barbecues are allowed if
they’re raised off the grass.
Fantastic beaches. The bays dotted along Iona’s coastline are sandy Shangri-Las for families. The shimmering white sands caressed by clear waves are sheltered from coastal breezes – perfect for paddling and swimming – while rockpools aplenty await scrutinising by young eyes. Iona is best explored by bike; Finlay Ross (01681 700357) have bicycles suitable for all ages to hire, including helmets and child seats, if required. Those with sea legs should hop aboard a traditional wooden sailboat with Alternative Boat Hire (01681 700537) to spot seals and learn about the sea birds. For a spot of history and culture, Iona Abbey (01681 700512) has daily guided tours. It’s a focal point on the island and played a strong role in the history of Christianity in both Ireland and Scotland. It’s also the burial ground of many ancient Scottish and European kings, as well as John Smith, the Labour Party leader in the early 1990s.
Food & Drink
Both the diminutive isle’s Argyll Hotel and Martyr’s Bay restaurant have decent menus with kids’ options. The Argyll (01681 700334) is over 140 years old and specialises in home-grown and local produce (fantastic home-baked goods are on offer). It’s worth booking in advance in the summer months. Overlooking the harbour, Martyr’s Bay (01681 700382) is Iona’s only pub and serves a great range of hearty, traditional meals and speciality seafood dinners, as well as coffees and snack.
The rocky outcrops scattered around the camping field may be fun for older kids to scramble up and over, but might be a little ambitious for less-sure-footed toddlers. Watch out in case they attempt to follow big brother or big sister!
As visitors aren’t permitted to bring vehicles onto the island, they can only visit Iona as a foot passenger via the Caledonian MacBrayne (08000 665000) ferry service from Fionnphort on Mull. The crossing takes about 10 minutes. From the ferry, turn left at the end of the pier and follow the single-track road for about 1 mile. It hugs the coastline before turning right and heading up the hill, over a small crossroads. Cnoc-Oran is signposted, on your right.
There is a taxi service on the island. To book, call Iona Taxi on 07810 325990; they can carry up to 6 and will also take passengers on a tour of the island, if desired.
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