How did a cave on an uninhabited rocky outcrop amidst the green, frothing waters of the Atlantic go on to inspire enduring works of art, like Felix Mendelssohn’s classical masterpiece The Hebrides, paintings by Turner and poetry by masters like Keats, Tennyson and Wordsworth? One look at Fingal’s Cave and the answers soon become obvious.
Perched on the island of Staffa, in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland, Fingal’s Cave has a glorious stone archway, reminiscent of a cathedral. It’s made up of hexagonally jointed columns of basalt, the result of an underwater volcanic eruption some 65 million years ago – one of nature’s many beautiful accidents.
Many visitors see Fingal’s Cave from a distance, aboard a boat, as lashing waves can make it difficult for vessels to land. Staffa’s black rock and sheer cliffs make for a dramatic approach. The cave is an imposing 72 feet tall and 270 feet deep. For those fortunate enough to step inside, it’s a remarkable experience. The basalt columns not only appear to be neatly arranged, but also vary in colour, from deep crimson to grey and almost through to gold. Pounding waves fill the cave’s floor and the sound of the rushing water fills the uniquely shaped space, enhanced by the natural acoustics. When inside, some visitors have described the ebb and flow of the waves as sounding like music. The cave certainly deserves its Gaelic name, An Uaimh Bhinn, which means “the melodious cave”.
Sightseeing cruises operate between April and September, weather permitting. They dock at a nearby jetty so visitors can clamour over the rocks to reach the cave on foot. A rather precarious-looking handrail helps aid walkers, but this is definitely an adventure for the sure-footed!
Animal lovers will adore getting up close to the island’s Atlantic puffin colony, who come ashore in vast numbers during breeding season in the spring and summer months. Almost a million puffins land on the island in March and April and these friendly, inquisitive birds aren’t averse to approaching humans. In the early Autumn, Atlantic seals also visit the island to give birth – quite a sight to behold.
Queen Victoria was one of the island’s many famous visitors. She once described the place as “extraordinary and splendid with all colours – pink, blue and green”. And this coming from a woman who spent her life surrounded by the trappings of wealth and royalty. Safely in the hands of the National Trust of Scotland, this natural wonder will hopefully continue to inspire for many generations to come.
Click here to listen to Mendelssohn, The Hebrides Overture, ‘Fingal’s Cave’, Op. 26