Fingal’s Cave, Staffa, Scotland

This evening, I am reporting on Fingal’s Cave, a popular visitor site off Scotland’s West Coast.

Geology

Fingal’s Cave forms part of the island of Staffa which is of volcanic origin featuring unique geological features such as numerous caves and basalt columns similar to that found at the Giant’s Causeway and Rathlin Island in Northern Ireland and closer by on the island of Ulva all of which are in relatively close proximity to Staffa. The island consists of a basement of tuff, underneath colonnades of a black fine-grained Tertiary basalt, overlying which is a third layer of basaltic lava lacking a crystalline structure. The slow cooling of the second layer of basalt resulted in an extraordinary pattern of predominantly hexagonal columns which form the faces and walls of the principal caves. The lava contracted towards each of a series of equally spaced centres as it cooled and solidified into prismatic columns. The columns typically have three to eight sides, six being most common.The volcanic geology dates back about sixty million years.

Science, Literature and Music

The island came to prominence in the late 18th century after a visit by renowned naturalist and botanist, Sir Joseph Banks who renamed the main sea cavern as ‘Fingal’s Cave’. Subsequent  visitors included Queen Victoria and composer, Felix Mendelssohn with latter promoting the island via his composition, Hebrides Overture. The name  ‘Fingal’ featured in an epic poem by 18th century Scots poet-historian James Macpherson, in turn forming part of his Ossian cycle of poems derived from old Scottish Gaelic poetry. Macpherson have adapted the the Irish mythological hero Fionn mac Cumhaill, rendering the name as Fingal (meaning “white stranger”). The legend of the Giant’s Causeway has Fionn or Finn building the causeway between Ireland and Scotland.

Visiting Fingal’s Cave

Staffa is an uninhabited island off the West Cost of Scotland which is owned by Scotland’s National Trust. Access is via a three-hour (round trip), small boat trip from Fionnphort ( Isle of Mull) or nearby Iona. The Isle of Mull is accessed by a 50 minute ferry crossing from the port of Oban on the Scottish mainland.

Fingal’s Cave, Staffa, Scotland

Fingal’s Cave, Staffa, Scotland

Fingal’s Cave, Staffa, Scotland

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