Scotland is a country worth visiting, one of its most interesting and surreal sights is Fingalow Cave.
Though the name Fingal doesn’t sound so good to our ears, to a Scotsman it is one of the national symbols, the hero of an 18th century author’s epic, his name translated as “the bright stranger”. The cave also has a Gaelic name, translated as “melodious cave,” because the noise of the sea waves inside the cave creates an acoustic phenomenon: they sound like cathedral music. During storms, the noise from the cave can be heard far beyond its limits.
Fingalow Cave is located on one of the small uninhabited islands, Staffa Island, one of the Hebrides Islands.
It is relatively large: about 18 meters in height and about 70 in length. Staffa is a Norwegian word that translates as “island of pillars. Indeed, Fingala Cave is not formed of ordinary boulders, but of stones of strictly hexagonal or octagonal shape, like the island itself, which scientists explain by the structure and compression of solidified lava of Paleocene times.
Many travelers are so impressed by the regular stones of the cave that they call it “a work of art by nature itself. Famous travelers and scientists have written that the cave surpasses the beauty of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Rome and even the Louvre. Currently, the island and the cave stand at number eight in the top ten most beautiful places in Britain.
The island itself is a small wonder: basalt columns, grass cover on which wild goats and deer roam, picturesque grottos and a cave. All this creates the impression of either a man-made miracle or an alien landscape.
There are many caves on the island, but only Fingalova Cave can be reached by dry land, not by boat.
The cave was conquered by the English poet John Keats, who dedicated the following lines to the “master of the cave.”
“…and here is my home, It is erected by the ocean, In it the wave hums the organ; And the pilgrim dolphins, the inhabitants of the sea abyss, Having collected the pearls at the bottom, Bringing them here as a gift to me.”
Felix Mendelssohn attempted to record the sounds he heard in the cave with notes, and so the famous Fingala Overture appeared, while August Strindberg made the Fingala Grotto the setting for one of his plays.
Walter Scott, Jules Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson and even Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were here in their time.
By the way, there is a very recent example: the band Pink Floyd also found inspiration for one of the songs on the island, also named after the cave.
This place is historic not only because of the basalt columns and famous travelers who immortalized the island and the cave in paintings, poems, and music, but also because of the view of the nearby island of Iona. According to legend, the real King Macbeth, the prototype of Shakespeare’s hero, rests on the island of Iona, where the Scots have been used to bury their Thane rulers since ancient times.
Despite its success with tourists, the island is not popular with locals: stormy winds, lack of trees and soil acceptable for agriculture on the island, plus the constant buzz from the cave made the place uninhabitable, so the last residents who tried to establish a life there, were forced to move in the 18th century.
In the mid-20th century, the place was privately owned until its owner turned the island over to the National Trust of Scotland.
The island is now open from May to September for all visitors, but experienced Scotsmen advise tourists to take into account the weather conditions and wear slip-resistant shoes when visiting the island.
You can get to the island from the nearest town, Mall, by signing up for a boat tour.
In the ridge of the Inner Hebrides there is a small island called Staffa, famous all over the world for its unique geological landmark – Fingal’s Cave. This place mesmerizes with enchanting melodies, the creator of which is nature itself.
“Island of Columns.”
Staffa itself is not much remarkable: the territory is only a kilometer long and half a kilometer wide and does not allow much scope. But it is not for nothing that the Vikings, who sailed these waters in ancient times, gave the Scottish island such a fancy name, translated as “The Island of Columns”.
The whole coast of Staffa is decorated with majestic basalt columns, which form the likeness of a grand natural theater or a cathedral. The outlines of the island from a high altitude look like the hand of a giant, stretched out toward the Atlantic.
The basalt columns of Staffa Island are mainly hexahedral, but you can also meet falling out of the general symmetry of three- and octahedral formations. All of them have been formed in ancient times as a result of massive lava flow, which has solidified and formed piles, looking at them one can hardly believe the legends saying that the giants rammed these columns into the ground.
It’s simply hard to believe that these columns, with their surfaces so perfectly smooth as if polished, were created by nature itself, rather than the representatives of an unknown civilization of giants mentioned in various Scottish myths.
The Music Cave
Nature’s most important creation is on the southern edge of Staffa Island. The majestic Fingalow Cave, the roof of which curves like a cathedral dome, is interesting not only for its impressive scale and original form, but also for its unique natural melodiousness. Due to the specifics of the cave’s dome, the wind sounds linger here for a fraction of a second, giving rise to truly impressive-sounding melodies.
In addition, the huge hall of Fingal Cave repeatedly echoes the sound of the surf, which creates the illusion that this entire natural cathedral creates unique music and literally sings. Another curious fact is that the sounds “emitted” by the cave can be heard at a considerable distance from it. Therefore, even just approaching by boat to this island of Hebrides, you can hear the unique “music of nature”.
That is why the Scots have long called this natural landmark of Staffa Island the Melodious Cave, and the name in honor of the hero of Celtic folklore – the giant Finn (more often the name Fingal) came in time. According to legend, this giant built a dam connecting Ireland with Scotland. Legends are legends, but the real fact is that there are similar basalt formations on the Irish coast nearby – the Giant’s Road.
The length of Fingalova Cave is 113 m, while the maximum width of its entrance is 16.5 m. It is impossible to get directly inside the cave by boat, but if you approach the shore by water transport, you can get off on a narrow path leading to the entrance. In addition to this attraction, there are many other small caves on Staffa Island, but all of them are accessible only from the water. You can see the entrances to them at low tide.
Inspired by the music of nature
For the first time the world knew of the existence of such a unique melodious cave in one of the Hebrides in the late 70s of the 18th century, when the English explorer-naturalist Joseph Banks visited the region on an expedition. Then he explored a number of caves on the island and discovered the unique Fingalow Cave. The explorer was so impressed by its grandeur and beauty that he compared the discovered cave to the Louvre in his notes on the exploration of Staffa Island.
Apparently, the discovery so impressed the British explorers that the world quickly spread news of the discovery of the Hebrides unique cave, and soon the island visited many guests, convinced that Banks, who considered it a creation of nature better than man-made architectural masterpieces, was not exaggerating. Such famous writers as Walter Scott and Jules Verne visited it. Queen Victoria has also visited the Fingalow Cave.
But the most indelible impression this Scottish landmark made on the author of the famous wedding march – Felix Mendelssohn, who was inspired by the musical masterpiece of nature and created the overture “The Hebrides, or Fingalow Cave,” which also brought him worldwide fame.
The artist Joseph Turner was also inspired to create this artistic masterpiece by his visit to this interesting place and put his impressions of what he saw on canvas. The impressive acoustics of the man-made cave also captivated the English poet John Keats, who spoke of this natural wonder in his poems: “… and here is my home, it is erected by the ocean, in it the wave is humming with the organ …” . Among the more modern celebrities we can mention the band Pink Floyd, who also succumbed to the magic charm of the “singing” cave and dedicated their song to it.
When to go
Between May and September, Staffa Island is available for anyone who wants to hear the enchanting melodies of Fingal Cave. But the most picturesque scenery can be seen here in spring, when the entire coast of the island is covered with colorful wildflowers.
At any time of the year on the island you can admire colonies of sea birds – petrels, gulls and long-nosed cormorants, and near the coast you can often spot dolphins and gray seals. But it’s not a good idea to go scuba diving here, as giant sharks can be found in these waters.
The best place to start your journey to Fingal’s Cave is from nearby Staffa Island, where sightseeing boats frequently depart from the local jetty for the “musical” attraction in season.