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Everyone has heard of Staffa, Fingal's cave (An Uaimh Binn, the melodious cave), Mendelssohn and his Hebridean overture first performed in London in 1832. Jules Verne set the denouement of The Green Ray here, a rather wonderful 19th century novel based on his travels in Scotland (Luath Press, 2009). Even earlier, in 1772 Joseph Banks went quite overboard with admiration, quoted in Pennant's Tour in Scotland: "Compared to this what are the cathedrals or the palaces built by men? Mere models or playthings, imitations as diminutive as his works will always be when compared to those of nature. Where is now the boast of the architect?" And in 1814 Walter Scott also got his oar in too "stupendous columnar side walls....the variety of tints....august billows...circumstances elsewhere unparalleled" and so on.
But not that many people have been here. The island was gifted to the National Trust for Scotland in 1986 by Eleanor Elliott on whose behalf it had been bought for £150 000 by her husband Jock Elliott, an advertising executive from New York, for her 60th birthday. There's a nice idea for a birthday present — give your wife a Scottish island. As far as we know the island has not been inhabited for years, probably since about the late 18th century.
It is a dodgy spot to anchor, only sensible in quiet conditions, and maybe best to leave someone on board while the rest of the crew look into Fingal's cave and then you leave (land by the small pier, turn left and follow the stony path for 10 minutes where last time I was there a woman fell and broke her arm, so hold on to the railing). On a really quiet day you can take your dinghy round into the cave itself. This is another great Hebridean experience. The cave is huge, the rock is volcanic basalt and has been formed into amazing more-or-less vertical hexagonal columns. Also do the short walk up to the top of the island where you get a fabulous view.
Definitely worth a detour, a romantic must. But best done early or late in the day to avoid the many tourist boats that bring people over from Mull and Iona. Not so many in the 19th century: Jules Verne again: "Except during the visit of tourists which lasts for barely an hour twice a week, we will not be disturbed by anyone".
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The hexagonal columns forming a pavement
At anchor off the An Buachaille rock
" It is impossible to imagine a more spectacular route to take to this cave, which was in itself worthy of being inhabited by some hero from One Thousand and one Nights". Jules Verne, The Green Ray
"The greatest wonder, I verily believe, existing on the face of the globe; namely, the island of Staffa" Sarah Murray. A Companion and Useful Guide to the Beauties of Scotland, and the Hebrides. 1803.