It was the inspiration for a famous musical composition as well as an epic poem, and visitors can see it for themselves.
Just off the mainland of Scotland exists a place that not many people have visited, let alone know of. It has become the topic of many a legend and myth, dating back to a century in which giant trolls were said to roam the earth and magic gateways were just a normal part of daily life. Away from the prying eyes of Scotland’s faeries, taking up residence in the middle of the sea sits a small, uninhabited island known as the Isle of Staffa.
Although puffins are its only true resident, the spectacular wonder that is this island has not been lost on the locals who do make the trek out to this natural seaport. The reason being that on the coast of this Isle, there lies a cave – and it’s been the inspiration of some of history’s most notable figures for centuries.
A Lava Flow That Created One Of The World’s Most Unique Caves
Given the name Fingal’s Cave, this former volcanic geological masterpiece is one of the most unique – and unusual – in the world. The natural structure of the cave gives it the appearance of being man-made due to tall basalt columns that create perfectly geometric walls and ‘stairways.’ These columns reach a towering height of 72 feet while the cave itself goes to an interior depth of 270 feet. It’s not nearly the largest cave, but its appearance, alone, makes it one of the most fascinating places in Scotland. What’s even more incredible is that these basalt column walkways are exactly what allows visitors to explore the cave – if they’re brave enough to do so.
The Legend Of Fingal’s Cave
The cave was known as Uamh-Binh, or ‘Cave of Melody’ to the ancient Celts, and, believe it or not, this was not the only basalt feature of its kind in existence. A nearly identical feature in Ireland, known as the Giant’s Causeway, features the exact same columns. If anyone is wondering if the two are connected, they wouldn’t be far off-base – it was believed that these two basalt formations were once one bridge, at one point in time. However, the explanation by the Irish legend versus the scientific explanation we have today is entirely different.
According to Irish legend, a giant who was known as Fionn mac Cumhail once used the bridge between the two basalt formations as a bridge to get from Ireland to Scotland. The reason being for a fight that was to take place against Benandonner, who was the known rival of Fionn mac Cumhail. So, while the theory that the two formations were once connected to bridge the gap between Scotland and Ireland was actually correct, the legend’s authenticity has yet to be confirmed.
In reality, Fingal’s Cave and the Giant’s Causeway were connected due to the ancient lava flow that created the two. It’s theorized that at one point, these rock outcroppings may have actually been connected by a bridge of sorts, which would have worn away over time by the sea. According to Atlas Obscura, it’s estimated that this happened some 60 million years ago before there would have been any significant proof of such an event.
Those Who Have Visited The Cave
In the past, there have been many notable figures throughout history who were openly inspired by its unique characteristics. The person we have to thank for re-discovering the cave, in a way, was Sir Joseph Banks, who visited Fingal’s Cave in 1772. It was he who gave the cave its name and wrote Fingal, an Ancient Epic Poem in Six Books. This book collection also had an overwhelming influence on both Goethe and Napoleon, encouraging future leaders (such as Queen Victoria), poets, artists, and musicians to visit the location.
Felix Mendelssohn, a world-renowned German composer, is also to thank for the popularity of the cave. It was he who composed the Hebrides Overture, AKA Fingal’s Cave, which was sent to his sister with a postcard detailing how the cave had inspired him to create such a masterpiece. It’s said that the overture came to the mind of Mendelssohn while he was visiting the cave, possibly inspired in part due to the noises of water within the cave.
How To Visit The Cave Today
Those interested in visiting Fingal’s Cave can do so in several ways, depending on where they’re coming from and which method they’re more comfortable with.
Hiking: Visitors looking to get an up-close view of Fingal’s Cave and its interior can hike along the coast from the Isle of Staffa.
Cost: Free (excluding the cost of transportation to the Isle of Staffa)
By Boat: Cave cruises regularly take visitors past Fingal’s Cave but do not enter the cave due to the narrow waterway which flows through.
Duration: 4 hours
Isle of Staffa Tours: Tours of the Isle of Staffa are worth considering, as well; between May and September, resident puffins can be seen nesting throughout its cliffs.
Duration: 6 hours