About six miles west of the Isle of Mull lies the magical island of Staffa. This island is home to the most dramatic and famous cave in Scotland. With its remarkably symmetrical basalt columns, arched roof, and otherworldly appearance, Fingal’s Cave is a unique and enchanting place to visit.
To Swim or not to Swim
After seeing pictures of Fingal’s cave, we were determined to not only visit but also go for a swim in the magical green waters surrounding Staffa. The swell of the sea would determine whether our dream became a reality. On a rough day the waves crash dramatically and dangerously into the sharp rocks around the cave entrance. During calmer times the water caresses the stone steps invitingly. We optimistically packed our cozzies and life jackets and embarked on our trip.
Two Boats and a Bus
There are many ways and routes to reach Staffa. We opted to travel from Oban to Mull by Calmac Ferries. Then from Mull to Staffa with a family run company called Turus Mara. We boarded the 9.55 ferry from Oban to Mull where we were met by the energetic and friendly Turus Mara minibus driver. One of the great things about the Turus Mara boat trip is that they pick you up and drop you off back at the Ferry Port. Our Staffa trip lasted from 11.30-4.15 and we were dropped back at the ferry in time to catch the 17.10 boat back to Oban.
The Turus Mara trips main allure was Staffa and Fingal’s cave but it also included a visit to the Treshnish Isles to observe a colony of Atlantic Grey Seals as well as other wildlife. For £60 per adult it was well worth the price of a ticket. The crossing to Staffa is less than 1.5 hours and you get an hour to spend on Staffa before returning via the Treshnish Isles and the abundance of wildlife there.
The Spray of the Ocean
The weather was fair for our crossing but we were feeling the nip of the sea air so we opted to sit below deck with the window open. From here we could feel the spray of the sea on our cheeks and any time we got a glimpse of some wildlife we ran upstairs to enjoy a clear view. We enjoyed our packed lunch and grew excited for the prospect of Fingal’s cave. The sporadic commentary from the captain was entertaining and informative. Before we knew it Staffa Island was coming into view.
A Geometric Dream!
The first thing I noticed when approaching Staffa Island and Fingal’s cave was its remarkable hexagonal columns that stretch upwards to the vaulted ceiling. Column upon column packed together with a perfect symmetry that belies its natural formation. The captain took our small boat directly into the mouth of the cave, and we stared open mouthed at the awe-inspiring natural wonder before us. It looked like something from a geometric dream.
The Tale of Two Giants!
Fingal’s Cave was formed over 60 million years ago by the same ancient lava that created the Giants Causeway in Ireland. The two magical sites sit directly across the sea from one another. Legend has it that they are opposite ends of a bridge built by the Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill to enable his passage to Scotland to battle his gigantic Scottish rival Fingal.
There are different renditions of the tale, however my favourite is the version where the two giants hurl rocks back and forward at each other until the “bridge” is formed between them. The act exhausted the Irish giant so much that when Fingal came looking for his fight Fionn pretended to be a baby in a crib. Fingal couldn’t believe that Fionn’s baby was so huge. He was horrified at the potential size of the Irish Giant and fled back to his cave to hide out. Hence the name, Fingal’s Cave.
In reality , the ancient lava flow may well have formed a “bridge” between the two natural wonders. However, this would have been long before humans or indeed giants roamed the earth!
Hundreds of Hexagons!
As we stepped off the boat onto Staffa I was genuinely awestruck at the sight before me. It isn’t often that I am lost for words, but it’s difficult to articulate the geology of this wonderous place. We rushed with a childlike enthusiasm along the edge of the island. Traversing up and over severed basalt columns now acting as hundreds of hexagonal steps to Fingal’s Cave. There are chains running along the main “path” to assist with balance and safety. However, we soon found ourselves veering slightly off the route to beat the crowds and make it to the cave first.
As we hopped from geometric rock to geometric rock it almost felt like we had teleported into a video game. So perfectly formed are the shapes. So unusual is the landscape. It is like nothing else I’ve seen to date.
We had one goal on Staffa and that was to visit Fingal’s Cave. If we had arrived between April and July, we would have paired this with observing the Puffins however they had already headed out to sea for the winter. At least this left more time for a potential swim!
An Unforgettable Dip!
We hurried around the corner and reached the entrance of Fingal’s Cave. The path allows you to walk a little way into the cave and from in here the acoustics are incredible. I have only ever been as wowed by the inside of a structure once before at the Sagrada Familia. I had to keep reminding myself that Fingal’s cave was formed naturally. It is every bit as beautiful as Gaudi’s masterpiece.
After we had admired the cave from the safety of dry land there was only one thing left to do. The sea was surprisingly calm with only a gentle swell flowing in and out of the cave. We took our chance and leapt in from the edge!
Swimming down into the heart of this ancient cave was an experience I will remember forever. I managed to swim around halfway down the cave before the ebb and flow of the water became too frightening. I headed back and we spent time floating near the entrance of the cave. Utterly enthralled by our surroundings! I could have stayed there all day but a few panicked shouts of JELLYFISH from above were enough to coax me out of the water!
If you are planning a swim at Fingal’s cave or any other open body of water, be sure to assess the dangers first. This article provides good advice to help you swim safely!
We didn’t have too much time to get ourselves dressed, so we were thankful for our changing robes. We were a wee bit chilly as we sat back on the boat, so we opted for a downstairs seat once again. However, this was short lived! The boat made its way to the Treshnish Isles where we were spoiled with an abundance of grey seals.
I think Michelle now holds the world record for the most photographs of seals within a five-minute period. To be fair she got some crackers as you can see below! We were just a tad too early for the majority of the seal pups, but it was a fantastic experience, nonetheless.
One Last Surprise!
We were enjoying our trip back to the Isle of Mull discussing how perfect a day it had been, when suddenly the upper deck erupted in excitement! Only one thing could make this day better. A pod of playful dolphins! The dolphins followed us for a while, showing off and playing in the wake of the boat. Providing ample opportunity for more pictures and videos! Another tick on what was already a fantastic day out!
If you have ever considered going to Staffa and Fingal’s cave all I can say is DO IT! You will not be disappointed. I would also highly recommend using Turus Mara if you are making the journey from Mull! They were a friendly, efficient, and knowledgeable company. As well as being reasonably priced!! We left them feeling energised, inspired and just a wee bit cold after our Fingal’s Cave adventure!!
Remember, no matter where you go to take only pictures and leave only footprints so that Scotland can stay beautiful for all who visit!
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