The island of Iona lies a little under a mile from the western tip of the Ross of Mull at Fionnphort. It has been a place of pilgrimage for nearly 1400 years and a destination for tourists for over 300 years, and today some 140,000 people from all over the world make their way here each year. And almost all of them cover the final mile to the island on board the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry, MV Loch Buie.
The final leg of your journey to Iona begins in Fionnphort. To take a vehicle onto Iona you need a permit. The rest of us walk, meaning that although it is capable of carrying vehicles, the MV Loch Buie serves primarily as a passenger ferry.
Information about issuing of Iona Vehicle Permits (and an email contact for queries) can be found on the Argyll and Bute Council website here. This links to a more detailed set of regulations and an application form here which lists the categories of vehicles that can be issued with permits. These include vehicles of residents and those associated with essential services, and include some vehicles of disabled people who hold a blue badge.
There is plenty of parking available in Fionnphort. There are charges for using the parking spaces alongside the main road going down to the ferry terminus and harbour, but free parking is available a couple of hundred yards away, near the Columba Centre, which is reached by taking a left turn off the main road in the village.
The MV Loch Buie was built specifically for the Fionnphort-Iona service and reflects the demands of her route, being able carry 250 passengers but only 9 cars. She was built in 1992 at the shipyard of J W Miller & Sons Ltd, in the beautiful Fife fishing village of St Monans. She was named after a sea loch that bites deeply into southern Mull.
The journey time across the Sound of Iona is just 10 minutes, and minus a couple of hundred years. You leave a distant outpost of Mull's network of testing single track roads, having probably had an interesting journey down from Craignure, 38 miles but at least an hour away in normal traffic conditions.
And you arrive on an island where motor vehicles are a relative rarity and just about everyone walks from the ferry slipway through the village, past the nunnery and to the abbey: just as people have done for many centuries.
The trip from Fionnphort to Iona is a good way of getting an understanding of the layout of the island. The ferry slipway is in the island's main (and only) village, Baile Mòr. The village extends off to your right, appearing to reach almost as far as the Iona Abbey, which dominates the north end of the island.
Beyond the abbey to the north and the village to the south, there is only sporadic settlement, while your views of the west side of the island are cut by the low rocky ridge that runs up its spine.