In the last 2 weeks, my whole life has flipped upside down, literally as we took the 24-hour-long journey from Australia back home to Scotland. And what better welcome home and kick up the bum to jetlag than a weekend adventuring up Munros in the western isles!
We’d barely unpacked our suitcases or had a chance to sit down between reunions, surprising Callum’s parents with our return and a few job interviews (no rest for the wicked), and we were off again. This time with midge spray instead of sunscreen and waterproofs in place of bikinis.
Iona’s Adventures is a walking group for like-minded people of all ages to get together and have fun exploring the outdoors in Scotland and beyond. It was set up by Iona Rendall last year and has quickly grown to over 1700 members. I had been following the group’s adventures on Instagram while I was in Australia and was keen to get involved once I was back on home soil. This weekend just so happened to be the 1st-anniversary celebration of the walking group on the Isle of Mull – what better time to get stuck in!
On Friday night we packed my car up with our tent, sleeping bags, stoves, and hiking boots and set off from Callander to the little town of Oban on the west coast. After an obligatory halfway stop at the Green Welly in Tyndrum for a cuppa (a tradition since being a wee kid travelling anywhere north), we reached Oban and joined the CalMac ferry queue. If you’ve never been on a CalMac ferry, they are a right of passage in Scotland, connecting all the islands to the mainland and providing excellent scran for the journey (try the nachos). The journey across to Mull is short (less than an hour) so there was time for a quick pint and to catch up with some of the group that were on the same ferry. Finding a group of people that we’d only encountered on social media before felt a bit like a walking group version of slinking into a party to try to find your tinder date. But unlike a dodgy tinder date, we instantly felt welcomed and there was no need for a code text to a friend and impatiently await the call about the ‘emergency’ we needed to make our excuses for and urgently leave to attend to.
Once we arrived around 10pm at Craignure ferry port on Mull, the last effort was to set up camp at the nearby Sheiling Campsite. The Scottish midge is like the horrific Sunday hangover that’s forgotten by Thursday as you start to make ‘out-out’ weekend plans: it’s easy to forget how bad the wee critters can be until you are being eaten alive in the midst of a cloud of them. We shot our tent up in record speed and zipped ourselves inside for refuge to examine the damage – I counted 25 bites on just one of my exposed ankles! (Don’t let this put you off a visit to Scotland, invest in a good repellent like Smidge (and remember to put it on!)).
We woke up early on Saturday morning thanks to a combination of jet lag and the early morning light streaming into the tent. With a few hours to spare before the adventures began, we drove up the east of the island to the quaint little village of Tobermory. It’s best known for its distillery and kids TV persona ‘Ballamory’.
Back at camp, we met the rest of the group of 41(!) walkers and 3 dogs then set off to the start of the climb up the only Munro on the island, Ben More. For more details on ascending Ben More check out Walk Highlands. The weather had started to come in and the summit was fashioning a thick cloudy hat, making the mountain appear like a wise old wizard as we looked up from the start point. Continuing the strong feeling of inclusion and belonging that was evident in the group from the first moment we joined, Iona briefed us on the hike and the importance of going at the slowest persons pace, looking out for each other, and reaching the summit as a team. No matter whether it was your first Munro or you were a seasoned bagger, we would work together, have fun (and lots of snack breaks!) and no one would be left behind.
The climb was gradual as we crept up on the low lingering cloud and smirry rainfall. Soon we had our heads in the clouds and the walkers in front were sequentially engulfed by the thick grey soup. One of my favourite things about hikes like this is the conversations. It’s a very unique experience to spend 6 hours on a hill in the middle of nowhere with a bunch of people from all different backgrounds, united by a love of the outdoors. From work and hobbies to favourite chocolate bar and from dreams and aspirations to what brand of socks are best for blisters – no topic is off-limits and friendships form speedily and organically.
The second half of the climb was steeper and rockier, and as we approached the summit the ground underfoot got more challenging on the scree. We all reached the summit, ticking off the Munro (some for the first time, others for the 257 time!), and although we weren’t rewarded with spectacular views, celebrated none the less with cheers, selfies, and some well-deserved snacks.
The descent was tough on the knees and very, very wet. I was glad to finally catch a glimpse of the carpark beneath, knowing there was a towel and change of clothes in the boot of my car!
Our first pitstop back on level ground was the pub for a large glass of red (or 2) and a hot meal. We then joined the 1st-anniversary celebrations of the walking group in the camp common room – starting with a mountain quiz, balloon animals and Iona’s infamous biscoff fudge, then descending into wild strip the willows! (disclaimer: I near enough fell asleep in my wine during the quiz (blaming a combination of jetlag and it having been 9 months since I climbed a Munro), so I’m basing my description of a wild strip the willow on the sounds of cheering and swishing I heard from curled up in my sleeping bag in our nearby tent!).
Sunday morning came around too quickly and we reluctantly packed up our tent and loaded the car. But there was still one more adventure to be had before the evening ferry. A fitting end to a weekend celebrating Iona Adventuring walking group was a trip to the neighbouring island of Iona. To get there is around an hour drive from Craignure to Fionnphort to catch the trusty CalMac ferry for the short 4-minute crossing.
The sea was a beautiful clear, turquoise blue, the beaches were white sand and if it wasn’t for the rain showers you could be fooled into thinking you were on a tropical island!
The heavens opened as inevitably they do on a beach in Scotland but that didn’t put off the keen swimmers in the group from taking a dip!
Soon enough it was time to board the ferry back to Oban after a brilliant weekend of adventures, making new friends and settling back into our beautiful home country.
You can learn more about how Iona Adventuring came about and keep up to date by following on Instagram and joining the Facebook community.
Whether you’re keen on the outdoors be it walking, climbing, paddle boarding, wild swimming (for the brave!) and everything in between – or you want to try something new, meet the loveliest bunch of people and get outside and explore more, I 100,000% recommend joining Iona’s Adventures! This was my first time going along and I am so glad I did. There are always adventures to be had, big and small, with regular events posted on the Facebook page. We had so much fun this weekend and can’t wait for more adventures with the group (we already have our next one planned for two weekends time!). Huuuge thank you to Iona for setting up such an amazing community and for being so lovely and inspiring and for welcoming us with open arms. It’s incredibly refreshing to be part of such a positive and encouraging outdoors group that all started through the power of social media. Keep on spreading your sunshiney happiness and here’s to many more anniversaries!