I didn’t know what to expect when we planned to go to Fingal’s Cave, nor did I expect to be astounded at the strength the Puffins on the island would have against the torrent of wind. This was one of the most unique tours I have taken in a long time. Fingal’s Cave on Staffa Island in Scotland is truly as inspirational as so many artists, authors, poets and folklore have also found.
The Formation of the Cave:
Rising out of the Ocean this gargantuan Oceanic cave rises 72 feet (22m) out of the water, and the depth of the cave is approximately 269 feet (82m). Geologists estimate the cave itself is 50 million years old.
Staffa island itself is mad in layers, like an onion (Shrek reference :), The first layer is the tuff layer (the part underwater), the second layer is crystalline structures that make up the top of the island, and connecting the two are the black columns of black fine-grained tertiary basalt. This type of layering bodes well for the folklore surrounding the island, and what mythological characters may have built it.
Folklore Surrounding Fingal’s Cave on Staffa
There is an Irish legend sung in Celtic, ‘Uamh-Binn’ meaning the Cave of Melody. This melodious legend sings of an Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhail who longed to go to Scotland so needed to beat his rival Benandonner.
As a little backstory to this legend, there is a geological formation in Ireland known as the Giant’s Causeway. The legend continues its verses of the Giant creating a bridge from Ireland to Scotland and Staffa Island and Fingal’s Cave are the two ends of the giants bridge.
With the storms, quick currents and fairyland like areas throughout both Ireland and Scotland — even the most non-creative souls leave feeling that this legend could be true.
Still skeptical of this legend? What if I told you that this legend could be real based of science? The island of Staffa is made entirely of volcanic rock with very unique geological formations of basalt columns. These columns were made from slow cooling of Volcanic rock, creating their characteristic hexagonal shapes. The same type of volcanic rock and basalt columns are also found 82.8 miles (133 Km) South of Staffa Island.
Another myth dating back to 250 AD regarding an Irish general Fin MacCumhaill, also known as Fingal. A traditional Irish poet, and father of many of the stories that migrated from Ireland. The Scots wanted to preserve the memory of this fabled character and named the cave after him.
In the 17th century the cave was rediscovered by Sir Joseph Banks. He inspired others to visit in steam boats, paddleboats etc… Poets were so inspired by the cave, a poem called “Fingal, and Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books” by James Macpherson was written – basically it was the translation of the poem from the Gaelic Irish Legend to English.
Beyond the legends and poems Pink Floyd, Queen Elizabeth, and many other notable artists have visited the cave specifically for the magnificent acoustics of it. Sadly due to erosion from visitors over the years, you can no longer enter the cave by foot.
The Puffin Sanctuary on Staffa
What they didn’t tell us before booking the tour, is that the rocks to Fingal’s Cave are VERY slick and precarious, so be sure to hang on to the ropes tightly. Make sure your footing is sound before turning quickly or putting your full weight on each step. The other situation I should warn you of is the VERY steep (think more like a ladder) metal grated staircase up to the top of Staffa island. At the top of the staircase, you want to turn right, follow the 15-20 minute trail to the edge of the island (on the opposite side of the island from where the cave is).
Here you will find nests of Puffins. The tiny little Toucan and Penguin cross bred looking birds that chirp like new baby birds. Their tiny little heads pop up from the long grass and look at you quizzically. They don’t seem to be afraid of humans, but it is best not to ruin this natural wonder and their nesting grounds. If you visit, please do not try to pick them up, trample to the side of the cliffs attempting to get photos with them. There are hundreds there, and we want to preserve the area for future generations of both humans and puffins to appreciate.
The thing about these birds that surprised me the most, that left me both stunned and giggling was when they took flight. I nearly missed the boat to the next destination because I was so entranced by these magnificently strong yet so delicate birds. I did not anticipate that these birds that so resembled penguins could fly so deftly against the Scottish Sea Winds.
They would plunge off the edge of the cliff, gliding along the wind, streamlined against the gusts. They would play along the cliff face, skim the water searching for fish stirred up by the waves.
So if you take a tour, make sure you allot yourself enough time to see these magnificent animals. When we had to go back to the boat, I felt a little piece of my heart was left with these adorable creatures. This place was so remote and special…..I don’t think I will ever forget how it felt to watch these birds fly, and so up close.
Tours to Fingal’s Cave on Staffa:
There are several options in order to visit this geological mysterious masterpiece.
Option 1: Commercial Boats, quick tour of the Inner Hebrides via Staffa Tours
Due to time constraints, we took a tour via Staffa Tours. It is a big company, with big ships. If you are prone to sea sickness then this is the way to go. There was a storm the day that we went, the swells were so big that my roommate, Bree, go very ill on the way back. They were timely, allotted us just enough time to make it to the island, see the cave, the puffins and then we were off to Iona Abbey. Due to erosion, going inside the cave to hear the acoustics is closed. You can still walk up to the entrance, but cannot go inside.
Option 2: Spend a multi-day trip exploring the Inner and Outer Hebrides of Scotland on a SUP, Kayak, Diving, or Snorkeling with Basking Shark Scotland Tours.
Even on a calm day, the swells in the cave can be quite large, there is only a small weather window in which you can safely enter the cave. There are so many unexplored islands around the area, but due to the currents being so fast – what should be a 30-minute boat ride can take up to three hours. So go and explore the islands of the Hebrides, see just how beautiful the beaches are, the untamed wilderness of Scotland is. The beaches of Scotland are cold, but nothing a full wetsuit couldn’t handle in the summertime. Next time I go to Scotland, I will be spending the majority of my time in the Hebrides and hope to do some diving and maybe even swim inside Fingal’s Cave.
Should you find yourself in nearby Oban Scotland, be sure you leave an entire day to be inspired by Fingal’s Cave on Staffa Island. Be careful when walking along the Basalt columns as they can get hazardously slick when the waves douse them in seawater. Get caught up in the folklore surrounding this Giant’s Bridge and let yourself believe in the unordinary and extraordinary. Be sure to leave yourself enough time to visit the Puffin Sanctuary on the other side of the island. Watch the clock and set a timer to give yourself enough time to get back to the boat. Lastly, enjoy the magic that is and always will be Scotland.
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Janiel Green is a Travel Guru with 21 years of National travel experience in the USA, and 17 years of International Travel experience. She is a highly educated, courageous, driven and dedicated individual to both her professional and personal life. She is the Founder of Culture Trekking LLC, and is dedicated to bringing a celebratory passion for humanity into her writing to make meaningful, useful, and heartfelt recommendations for a culturally enriched travel experience. For inquires please contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org