Walk 211 – Isle of Iona, North Circuit – 6 miles

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This circular walk starts at the ferry slip on Iona and visits several idyllic white sandy beaches (have your camera at the ready!). The return is via more challenging terrain involving faint trails on moorland cliff-tops which lead you to the Bay at the Back of the Ocean and Iona Golf Course. In some places the "path" across the clifftops isn't clear so good navigation skills are essential. Several stiles.

orange circle with white dog icon inside Dog-friendly route (note: some livestock, please respect the Scottish Outdoor Access Code)

Arrive by ferry from Fionnphort on the Isle of Mull. Walk starts from the ferry slip on Iona.


There were so many potential walks we could have tried during our short trip to Mull but my mum, sister and I all agreed that hopping over to the Isle of Iona for the day was a must.

Fionnphort ferry terminal was a 1hr 20 mins drive along single track roads from our accommodation in Salen. We found parking easily enough in the public car park and headed down to find out when the next ferry was. A queue was already forming, which we joined, and when the ferry arrived staff made their way up the queue selling tickets. We prayed that their card machine would accept mobile payments, my sister being nominated as purse-holder since she was the only one with any signal. I just didn’t think to carry cash….. am I the only one who literally never has cash on them these days?

The ferry does have space for a few cars, however you need a permit to take a car across to the island and those are reserved for Iona residents and property owners. Rightly so, we decided once we arrived and started our walk: the island just wouldn’t be the same with ferry loads of tourists driving around.

The Isle of Iona has to be one of the most special places I’ve ever set foot. I’m not a religious person so I can’t say that it was anything to do with it being the alleged birthplace of Christianity. Plenty of people were visiting the Nunnery and Abbey and probably there for the sole purpose of doing so. I can’t really explain why I say it is a special place…. It was a feeling of calm I think. And I remember being immediately struck by the colour and clarity of the water – it was like nothing I’d ever experienced with my own eyes in Scotland before…

Arriving into Iona via ferry from Fionnphort

We had the choice between doing a circuit of the north of the island or a circuit of the south of the island. We fancied our chances at fitting both in before our ferry back to Mull so off we set like three kids on Christmas day.

Before we knew it we were walking along the white sands of Traigh Bhan. We had been blessed with a mild sunny day so I can’t speak for what this place looks like on a cold grey drizzly afternoon but what I can tell you is that on the day we visited it was simply the most beautiful place I could imagine. Arriving down onto that beach was a “rub your eyes”, “pinch me” moment. We spent a LOT of time wandering along taking photos, soaking it all in. It is a beach I could have spent all day on!

Traigh Bhan, Isle of Iona

Already completely buzzing by this point, imagine the level of excitement reached when we turned the corner after Traigh Bhan to realise that we were about to walk along the length of this stunner….

Looking over Traigh an t-Suidhe, Isle of Iona

Again we spent a long time getting to the other side, taking photos and picking our jaws up off the ground.

I became really fascinated by the colours in the rocks on this beach. Completely different to anything I’d seen before in other parts of Scotland and most notably in my native Ayrshire. They are smooth and grey and have a rainbow of stripes along their length: yellows, reds, oranges. I often wish I knew more about geology to explain these seemingly strange phenomenons. The Scottish Geology Trust hits the nail on the head in its description of Iona as “An island of superb geological contrasts where multiple rock types display a vast range of colours and textures, all against a backdrop of white sand, green machair and turquoise sea”.

Fascinating rock colours

Beyond this point the landscape changed significantly: gone were the idyllic beaches and extensive views and in came moorland cliff-tops as far as the eye could see.

Navigation also became more challenging as it was easy to lose your bearings. The track we were initially following petered out after a while leaving us to our own devices and we were never quite sure whether we were on “the” path or sheep paths. I was trying to pick a “path of least resistance” around the rocks and over the hills since this wasn’t exactly what my mum had signed up for a couple of years after knee surgery.

Thankful for my mobile mapping app to check on our location a few times and adjust our course, we made it safely and happily down the north-west edge of the island to Port Ban.

We arrived into Port Ban after our cliff-top adventure feeling as though we’d stumbled across a remote and secluded gem of a bay. That feeling was further confirmed by the sight of a gentleman who was dressing himself beside the rocks, having seemingly just been in for a dip. Perfect timing? We were certainly glad we hadn’t arrived two minutes earlier…. We exchanged a few pleasantries mostly relating to the temperature of the water and how we’d rather him than us and he was on his way. #

It had become very clear by this point that there was no way we were going to also have time to do the circuit of the south of the island today so there was no need to rush off anywhere. It was such a peaceful spot so we stayed a while, munching on some chocolate biscuits and reflecting on our day so far.

Imagine our surprise when we left Port Ban and realised that just over the other side of the rocks was Iona Golf Course and the “main road” back to the ferry. Not remote and secluded then….. definitely still a gem of a bay though!

The other thing over the other side of the rocks was the magnificently-named Bay at the Back of the Ocean (Camas Cuil an t-Saimh), known for its multi-coloured pebble beach. It is a wide and exposed bay overlooking the Atlantic Ocean and bordered by the golf course which I imagine gets pretty wild on wetter, windier days than today! Thankfully the route doesn’t cross the pebbles, but rather crosses the grass behind the bay. A nice easy last section.

The landscape of the north-west edge of the island. Sheep paths or our path?! We could never quite tell!
Approaching the sheep-grazed grassy bay beside Port Ban (which is on the other side of the rocks to the left of the photo)
Port Ban, Isle of Iona
Pebbles on the Bay at the Back of the Ocean. I found it mind-blowing to think that the next bit of land out over the other side of that water will be North America! This is also allegedly (and I can quite believe it!) the BEST place from which to watch the sunset. #westisbest afterall!

This was the point at which we’d have continued around the coast had we been staying to do the south circuit, but that would need to wait for another day (year). We headed across the golf course and along the road to the ferry. Perfect timing, there was one just arriving 🙂

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