Every year before Christmas I spend a short week somewhere really bleak and miserable. This year it’s Iona, a small island off the coast off a bigger island off the coast of Scotland.

Map link.

Iona’s mainly known as being the home of the Celtic Christian church — Columba, on being exiled from Ireland in about 563 (after illegally copying a book and escalating the resulting dispute into a pitched battle which killed 3000 people, so making him the patron saint of software pirates) landed on Iona and found the abbey there. It’s still being used today, and there’s a nunnery too (now ruined); and the Book of Kells was finished at Iona; it was a major Celtic centre and was very influential for, maybe, a thousand years.

(Later, Columba travelled to Inverness. On the way, he was attacked by the Loch Ness Monster, and sent it packing. Don’t mess with the old Celtic saints.)

also faced down the Loch Ness Monster when it attacked him and terrified it. Don’t mess with the old Celtic saints.)

These days there’s only a couple of hundred full-time residents, mostly milking tourists. The abbey still runs although I don’t believe it’s a formal religious centre. Well worth a visit, though, as it’s beautiful. The place is covered with Celtic high crosses, strange symbols inscribed on the hillside, some amazing beaches, and an incredible amount of bog.