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Retreat to Iona

McCabe presents our retreat staying on the sacred Isle of Iona.

The island of Iona, off the west coast of Scotland, is the symbolic centre of Scottish Christianity. Through 1400 years of history its fortunes have fluctuated, from its heights as one of the greatest centres of learning in Mediaeval Europe, to its lows as a crumbling ruin. However, thanks to the fame of its monastic founder, St Columba, the island has always been revered as a holy place, and, over the centuries, Iona has continually been re-invented and reconstructed as a centre for pilgrimage. Iona's fame began in 563 AD when Columba, with thirteen followers, landed at the south end of the island, at St Columba's Bay, to establish a monastery.

Time can be spent exploring Iona with the option to join in with the Iona Community and attend daily services in Iona Abbey. You may take walks around the island, or spend the days on your own in quiet reflection and retreat and joining any included activities or meals as you so wish. We will also have the possibility to sail from Iona to Fingal’s Cave on the small island of Staffa. The focus is on travelling with like-minded people, accompanied by a McCabe pilgrimage leader who will offer optional opportunities for worship and reflection.

Spiritual Programme
In addition to the programme of services at Iona Abbey and any activities with the Iona Community, the pilgrimage leader will offer optional worship and reflections. Everything is optional and you may prefer to simply find your own place of peace and solitude. 



  1. Travel to Glasgow (D, DR)

    Make your own way to Glasgow with check-in from 15:00 onwards at the Leonardo Hotel Glasgow Central, within walking distance of Glasgow Central Station and overlooking the Clyde in the heart of Glasgow. On arrival you will be met by our faith leader who will assist you with check-in and be with you throughout until you return to Glasgow. If arriving earlier, to spend some time in Glasgow, luggage storage will be available until your room is ready.

    Evening: meet your fellow pilgrims and tour leader for an included get-together, welcome drinks reception followed by dinner in the hotel.

    Key to symbols: B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner, DR = Drink 

  2. Scenic drive to Fionnphort and ferry to Iona (B, D)

    Morning: a lovely scenic drive through magnificent scenery along the shores of Loch Lomond and and the Trossachs National Park and Loch Awe to Oban, gateway to the isles where you will take the scenic ferry crossing from Oban to Craignure on Mull.

    Afternoon: enjoy the hours ferry crossing to Mull and then a further scenic drive to Fionnphort, where Iona comes into view. After a short, foot passenger only, ferry crossing we arrive on Iona and check in at the St Columba Hotel, the only hotel on Iona, for a four-night stay.

    Evening: meet for included dinner in the hotel with an introductory talk on your home for the next four nights. After dinner there is a Service at the Abbey at 21:00.

    Key to symbols: B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner, DR = Drink 

  3. The Sacred Isle of Iona (B, L, D)

    Morning: after breakfast you can choose to join the Morning Service at Iona Abbey at 09:00. The rest of our day on the island can include a walk around the significant places in the life of St Columba as well as visiting the ruins of The Nunnery. Or you can spend time in quiet contemplation.

    Afternoon: meet together for an included lunch in the hotel followed by further free time to wander and relax.

    Evening: dinner in the hotel with your fellow pilgrims. After dinner there is a Service at the Abbey at 21:00.

    Key to symbols: B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner, DR = Drink 

  4. Wildlife and scenery of Iona (B, D)

    Morning: join the Morning Service at Iona Abbey at 09:00. Iona has an abundance of birdlife, its indented coastline is the ideal place to watch Oystercatchers, Ringed Plovers, Common Sandpipers, Redshanks, Curlews and other migrating birds that use its banks to rest and feed. Predatory birds such as Peregrines, Sea Eagles, Golden Eagles and Hen Harriers often take retreat on Iona too.

    Afternoon: enjoy and observe the island's wildlife in your own time by the shore and if you are lucky there can be views of otters, seals, dolphins, porpoises and the occasional glimpse of a whale. Luckily St Columba banished the snakes!

    Evening: dinner in the hotel and time to catch up with your fellow pilgrims. After dinner there is a Service at the Abbey at 21:00.

    Key to symbols: B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner, DR = Drink 

  5. A final day on Iona (B, D, DR)

    Morning: join the Morning Service at Iona Abbey at 09:00 or you may wish to book an optional boat trip today from Iona to the island of Staffa, famous for Fingal’s Cave. Local skippers have been sailing these waters all their lives and have stories to tell.

    Afternoon: on arrival at Staffa, you’ll be given at least one hour ashore to visit Fingal’s Cave, created 59 millions years ago by volcanic activity.  You’ll also have time to explore the island and appreciate the unique landscape.

    Evening: farewell drinks gathering followed by dinner in the hotel. After dinner there is a Service at the Abbey at 21:00.

    Key to symbols: B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner, DR = Drink 

  6. Homeward bound, return to Glasgow (B, L)

    After an early breakfast we have an early start to leave Iona for Mull. We sail back to Oban and make our way back to Glasgow with a packed lunch provided for the journey. Due to the seasonal ferry timetable, we expect to arrive back in Glasgow by 17:00. We recommend booking train coach or flight connections home anytime from 19:00. You may also choose to stay overnight again at the Leonardo Hotel where we have a limited number of rooms available at an additional cost.

    Key to symbols: B = Breakfast, L = Lunch, D = Dinner, DR = Drink 

Essential Information

Do note that this pilgrimage is based on making your own way to and from Glasgow. Useful advice on getting to the hotel is further on.


  • Scenic drive from Glasgow to Fionnphort
  • Scenic ferry from Oban to Mull
  • Guided retreat time
  • Morning and evening worship services at Iona abbey

Optional excursions

Staffa boat trip. Times and costs (approx £35) will be advised on Iona and payable locally on any day you choose though you may wish to join with others on day five (weather depending).

Included extras

  • All coach driver gratuities
  • Local guide gratuities
  • Hotel restaurant and other small gratuities
  • McCabe's own faith leader accompanying the group

Included meals & drinks

Meals: a full breakfast each morning, dinner each evening and two lunches. Lunch in the hotel on Iona and a packed lunch on the return to Glasgow on the final day.

drinks: welcome and farewell drinks and tea or coffee with the lunch in the St Colomba Hotel. All other drinks are at your own expense.

Our team on Iona

Our dedicated McCabe Tour Leader is there solely for our guests. They will lead worship and be available for any queries and offer advice, hints and tips for you to get maximum enjoyment of your time with us or simply allow you to retreat and contemplate. They are passionate about Iona and wish to share this wonderful experience with you.

Getting to Glasgow 

Your hotel is close to Glasgow Central Station and is the Leonardo Glasgow Central (not West End..there are two Leonardo Hotels in Glasgow!) and rooms are available from 15:00 and we meet for pre-dinner drinks at 18:30. If you arrive earlier there is a facility to store your luggage.

By train

The Leonardo Hotel is just a short walk from the Central Station. For train times and information visit the trainline website.

By coach

National Express operate services to Glasgow direct from a number of UK destinations. The Buchanan Street Bus Station is close to your hotel.

By air

Glasgow International Airport is 10 miles from the city centre with a regular bus service every 30 minutes to Glasgow Central Station.

By car

Parking is available within a 3 min walk from the hotel at Qpark Jamaica Street - with charges from £8 for 24 hours. To secure this rate make sure to get your ticket validated at the hotel reception and pay for your parking at the QPark Car Park Office.

Your accommodation

Five nights accommodation are included, one night in the centre of Glasgow close to the Central Station and four nights on Iona at the St Columba Hotel.

St Columba Hotel on Iona

With just 27 rooms the St Columba Hotel is owned by a group of locals, former islanders and individuals with a close connection to Iona. So you can be sure of the warmest welcome. They want you to experience the Iona they know and love. So whether you want to spot wildlife, find an awe-inspiring walking route or simply the best place to watch the waves crash you only have to ask. Meals are served in the dining room, with beautiful views over the Sound of Iona. The Larder is situated directly across from the hotel. Inside you will find an array of carefully sourced artisan products from around Scotland as well as take-away refreshments.

Your hotel room: each room has sea or island view and comes with tea and coffee making facilities, complimentary shortbread and free WiFi.

Your bathroom: rooms have bath or shower and provide a hairdryer and complimentary toiletries.

Room upgrades

The price is based on a standard or twin or double room with inland view. Upgrades to sea view are available.

Single room supplements

We can offer a limited number of single rooms at the St Columba Hotel and sole occupancy of double or twin rooms. Check the brochure of ask for details.

Practical information

Iona and St Columba

Iona is a tiny and beautiful Hebridean island off the west coast of Scotland, cradle of Christianity in Scotland. In 563AD, the Irish monk Columba (Columkille) established a monastic settlement, evangelising large parts of Scotland and the north of England and Iona became an important centre of European Christianity. In the Middle Ages it became the site of a Benedictine abbey, and over the centuries it has attracted many thousands of people on their own pilgrim journeys.

The Iona community

The Iona Community was founded in 1938 by George MacLeod, minister, visionary and prophetic witness for peace, in the context of the poverty and despair of the Depression. From a dockland parish in Glasgow, he took unemployed skilled craftsmen and young trainee clergy to Iona to rebuild both the monastic quarters of the mediaeval abbey and the common life by working and living together, sharing skills and effort as well as joys and achievement. That original task became a sign of hopeful rebuilding of community in Scotland and beyond. The experience shaped – and continues to shape – the practice and principles of the Iona Community. As an aside, the late Ursula MacLeod, George’s cousin, was a founder member of McCabe Pilgrimages.

Iona today

Today, Iona remains a centre for pilgrimage and the daily services of the Iona Community are open to all. There is a year-round population of over 100; long-established island families as well as more recent arrivals, including those who work for the Iona Community as staff or volunteers. The abbey itself is now managed by Historic Scotland but the Iona Community remains in residence as a living, worshipping presence. The islanders, the Iona Community and Historic Scotland work together to maintain Iona as a place of welcome.


The UK weather and Scottish spring, summer and autumn has its own mood as we are all aware. Please do cater for all eventualities remembering that the coastal winds can make warmer days still seem cooler. Comfortable trainers or boots will be ideal to wander Iona and get the best of the scenery and to view the wildlife and abundant birdlife.


There is a certain amount of walking (and stairs) involved on a daily basis on this pilgrimage so please make sure you pack comfy footwear for this so that you are prepared. Your Tour Leader will keep you updated on a daily basis with what to expect the following day. If you are finding it difficult to keep up then please make sure you tell them so they can help you to find places to rest and relax and then you can re-join the group at a later stage.

Boats feature strongly in our programme and can be a lot of fun.  Our coach travels with us on the ferry to Mull which is a large modern vessel with restaurant, bar, shop, lounges and viewing decks.  The boat has lifts so is fully accessible.

In contrast, foot passengers, bicycles and islanders’ cars only are allowed on the small ferry to cross to Iona. The hotel is a short walk from the ferry and luggage will be transported.  The Iona island taxi can assist anyone who prefers not to walk from the ferry to the hotel.

We will travel in our own coach to and from Glasgow and be accompanied by experienced McCabe leaders. On Iona we will meet members of the Iona community and offer two programmes, one involving more walking than the other. A highlight will be a service in Iona Abbey itself.

Cancellation insurance

Whilst UK residents are fully covered under the UK National Health Service we do advise that you have insurance in the event of having to cancel your travel plans and need to claim loss of deposits or payments made.

Ensuring that your holidays are appropriately protected is one of our main priorities. That’s why we have specifically chosen Holiday Extras as our *preferred travel insurance provider to ensure that you are protected before and whilst you are travelling. Holiday Extras offer McCabe Travel guests favourable rates for single trip, multi-trip and annual policies.

For more information or to obtain a quote click below for their website

Or call them on 0800 083 3551 to speak to a friendly advisor.

Please quote AG628 upon calling to receive the best rates

The McCabe Educational Trust

The McCabe Educational Trust is an independent registered charity with the aim of helping inspiring people we meet on some of our pilgrimages. As ‘the haves’ encounter the ‘have nots’ the Trust has become a practical tool for one to help the other.

McCabe Pilgrimages invite all travellers to become partners in this work. A £20 voluntary donation to the Trust’s work is added to every pilgrim’s invoice and all money raised in this way is given in full to the projects the Trust supports. This scheme is voluntary and confidential with nobody put under any pressure to participate.

Full financial security

All money paid to McCabe is fully secure. Holidays including flights are covered by our ATOL license from the Civil Aviation Authority, and holidays without flights are protected by our membership of the ABTOT bonding scheme. If a pilgrimage is cancelled, for instance through lack of numbers or for political considerations, McCabe will promptly refund all monies paid.

AITO Quality Statement

McCabe Pilgrimages is a member of the Association of Independent Tour Operators. The Association represents Britain’s leading independent tour operators and encourages high standards of quality and service. McCabe abides by the Association’s Code of Conduct and adheres to the AITO Quality Charter.

You can read McCabe reviews on the AITO website here

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