Awaken new insights. Acquire new wisdom. Find yourself.
Come join us in the “thin place” of Iona, off the coast of Scotland, where heaven and earth are said to press very close to one another. Barely three miles long and one mile wide, this small sacred isle holds a profound peace and breathtaking beauty that touches everyone who goes there. Why do we call Iona a thin place? Mother Earth’s healing is palpable. Many experience being met with their wholeness – their joy, their grief. On Iona there’s a feeling of spaciousness and lightness.
On Iona we invite ourselves to rest in the prayer of quietude. Ancient rocks. Deep listening. Direct revelation. When we open up to belonging and sense of being in reciprocity, we find our place within the larger web of creation. This is an island of inspiration where one feels the touch of Presence. How do we then respond to the mysterious?
Together we open ourselves to the companionship that the land offers. In Scotland we talk about the need to read both the big book and the Wee book together: The Big book being creation and the wee book being sacred scriptures. We need to read the big book of creation to understand spiritual traditions and incarnate them in our lives.
Together we invite the practice of singing prayers and receiving prayer through music and song. Song allows us to be in ‘dialogue’ of listening/talking with God in the mystery.
Together we immerse ourselves in the wisdom of the Celts, walking through the history, myth and nature of this ancient Isle. St. Columba (or Colum Cille, in Gaelic) established the first Celtic Church and monastic community here in 563 CE, and it is to the roots of that tradition that we will turn, to explore how contemporary spiritual practices converge with the ancient wisdom of the monks.
And together we explore monastic-inspired spiritual practices. Discipline, routine and finding a daily practice that your soul loves and wants to engage with. Life is too short and these times are too dangerous for boring or lifeless spiritual practice!
Join us for a 8-night / 9-day transformational journey, deepening our connection to the sacred through our relationship with the natural world and through mindful spiritual practices. Ritual, community worship, poetry, body prayer, meditation, journaling, music and movement will be our tools to deeply listen to the voice of The Great Mystery. We will walk the landscape of Iona together as pilgrims, wandering to special places on the island to embrace the wilderness and to pray with nature.
You will be in excellent hands on this journey. Retreat leader Rev. Simon Ruth de Voil was born and raised in Scotland and knows the island well. He first came to Iona as a baby in his mother’s womb, and he spent much of his childhood roaming her rocky hills and beaches. Simon returned to live and work at the Abbey at Iona from 2006 to 2008. Simon says of Iona, “She is ‘my island’ because in some inexplicable way I belong to her, and I am in her service.”
Kegan Refalo will be journeying alongside Simon, called by their role as his Anam Cara and in the role as the sacred crafts person. They will be holding the container for deep listening and observation that manifests in mark making and form shaping. They are a community builder with a background in fiber arts, printmaking, stone carving and sacred object birthing.
Kegan is delighted to join Ann and Simon and each of you in answer to the call of Iona.
Ann Lancaster will be journeying alongside Simon as SDI’s representative. She delights in international travel and music and spending time in nature enjoying the mysteries of life amongst fellow seekers.
On her last journey to Scotland, she insisted on visiting Loch Ness on her way to Skye “just to see for herself.”
Together we will gather as a community of kindred spirits to worship in a myriad of ways – to give thanks; to celebrate beauty; to share our awe; and to cultivate authentic connection — to one another, to ourselves, to the land, and to the Exquisite Invisible.
Each year a quarter of a million people journey to Iona (and it’s not the easiest place to get to … you need to catch ferries and buses and trains and sometimes planes to get there). Those who come tend to be seeking wholeness, transformation, leaving with a new beginning. The Iona community would describe this process as “People come seeking peace and quiet and leave seeking justice and Peace.”
Iona is a small island located in the Inner Hebrides on the West Coast of Scotland. One must embark on a long journey to reach its remote shores. Iona itself is a mere 3 miles long and one mile wide, yet in many ways it is much larger than that. The rocks of Iona are 2,700 million years old, and it seems certain that they pre-date all life, as there have been no fossil forms found amongst any of Iona’s ancient stones. The Island of Iona is an age-old sacred place.
Once home to ancient Celts, monks, and nuns, the well-known majestic book of Kells was created here. The remote, wild nature of the landscape, combined with its history and lore—raided by Vikings, steeped in tales of saints, angelic visitations, and mystical encounters with fairies, mermaids, and selkies—make Iona a well of ancient and modern day wisdom.
Iona is often described as a ‘thin place’ or a portal between worlds, where the space between heaven and earth, the material and the spiritual, is thinnest. It remains a place of pilgrimage today by those of many spiritual and religious traditions. During our journey we will explore….. how the wisdom of the Celts and the lessons within the history and environment of this ancient isle can enhance our spiritual lives today.
Iona speaks strongly to so many people—more than just an island, it is a place that invites us into deeply personal relationship and spiritual presence. Even people who have never set foot upon Iona somehow hear its call and are able to receive its healing blessing. It is our hope to bring the magic of Iona to those called to this journey.
Travel and Safety
We are aware that uncertainties remain about travel and safety in a world with covid-19. We are hopeful that with the dissemination of Vaccines in early 2021, this journey in March 2022 can proceed. We will monitor the situation carefully.
A valid passport for the duration of your time in Scotland, United Kingdom (UK) is required. To come to the UK as a general visitor, you must be able to show that:
- you are eighteen or older;
- you intend to visit the UK for no more than six months;
- you intend to leave the UK at the end of your visit;
- you have enough money to support and accommodate yourself on your trip.
- It is very likely you will need to show proof of COVID-19 vaccinations.
For other situations and more detailed information, please visit the UK Border Agency website or check with the United Kingdom embassy in your home country to verify visa requirements.
IMPORTANT: Do not pack your passport or travel documents in your luggage, as you will need them at the airport and upon boarding the plane. Keep them, as well as prescription medication, and any valuables in your carry-on bag, and keep your carry-on with you at all times while traveling.
The pilgrimage begins the moment you step out your door. If you require a flight, we recommend flying into Glasgow International Airport (GLA). Immerse yourself in Scottish hospitality as you travel to Iona. Below are the suggested steps to get to Bishop’s House:
- Flight to Glasgow International Airport (GLA)
- Shuttle bus from the airport to Glasgow’s Queen Street Train Station
- Train to Oban, Scotland
- Ferry to Craignure on the Isle of Mull
- Bus across the Isle of Mull from Craignure to Fionnphort
- Ferry from Fionnphort to the jetty on the Isle of Iona.
Glasgow International Airport (GLA) is the closest international airport to the pilgrimage location. There are flights to Glasgow from major cities including Amsterdam, Philadelphia, New York, Toronto, London, and Paris. First Glasgow Shuttle provides you with the most direct service between the airport and Glasgow city centre. This inexpensive service operates up to every ten minutes, twenty-four hours a day, and it takes approximately twenty-five minutes.
You may have heard the saying, “All the way to heaven is heaven.” In our experience, all the way to Iona is part and parcel of the pilgrimage. There are regular trains from Glasgow’s Queen Street Train Station to Oban. Total travel time for the train trip is approximately three hours. The views of Scottish hills and lochs are soul stirring. You can learn more at Scot Rail.
In Oban, it is a short walk from the train to the Caledonian MacBrayne ferry terminal, where you can purchase a ticket to cross to Craignure on the Isle of Mull. If you have time to spare, Oban is a wonderful place to explore. This would be a great place to book a room overnight if you want to make your trip more leisurely.
The ferry ride to Craignure passes stunning castles and lighthouses and lasts about an hour. A scheduled bus service by West Coast Motors meets most ferries from Craignure to Fionnphort. Buses park on the left as you disembark the ferry. Tickets are purchased from the driver.
The drive across the Isle of Mull winds past misty mountains, picturesque farms, and small villages, bringing you to the Sound of Iona at the tiny village of Fionnphort. The sound is less than a mile across and is served by a frequent ferry operated by Caledonian MacBrayne. The crossing from Fionnphort (Mull) to Iona takes about ten minutes. Tickets can be purchased at the small ticket office or, if it is closed, from staff on board the ferry.
It is about a five-minute, moderate walk from the Iona jetty to Bishop’s House; your luggage may be transported if you would like assistance. You won’t need an address because everyone on Iona knows where Bishop’s House is! In fact, it does not even have a street address beyond “Isle of Iona, Argyll, UK.” You have come far enough to leave street addresses behind!
And now for the best part: You are likely to meet other pilgrims along the way.
Currency in Scotland is pound sterling (£). You may bring cash, use credit cards, or, prior to arrival on Iona, use ATM machines (please note there are no ATM machines on Iona). Traveler’s cheques are not encouraged, as you must find a bank that will cash them.
Bring moderate clothing that you can layer. Include rain gear and sturdy walking shoes or boots for walking over hilly and sometimes damp terrain. Bordered by ocean, Iona can be windy and wet. It is impossible to predict, so be prepared for variable weather, aware that walking is the way you meet the island. Pack a sweater or jacket for potentially cool days and sunglasses and a hat for sunny days.
Bishop’s House has free wireless Internet access for their guests to use in the lounge and library. There are no computers available, so pilgrims need to provide their own. If participants bring a mobile telephone and hope to use it, you will need to make sure your provider works with O2, as that is the only reliable network on Iona. Bishop’s House has a pay telephone just outside the guest lounge that can also accept incoming calls.
Meals are provided as part of the Journey tuition.
English is the pilgrimage language and the official language in Scotland.
Frequently Asked Questions
We will work with our host organization in Iona to follow any social distancing recommendations that are in place in March of 2022. More information to come…
If a participant needs to cancel, notice of cancellation must be signed, dated, and received in writing via e-mail or postal mail. SDI will then refund your payment for services not received by you, minus applicable cancellation fees, according to the following schedule: Until September 15, 2021, the cancellation fee is USD$500. From September 16, 2021 to December 31, 2021, the cancellation fee is USD$1,000. No refunds after January 1, 2022. SDI is aware that much remains unknown about the covid pandemic and its impact on travel next year. In the event of unforeseen events that force this journey to be cancelled or rescheduled, we will reconsider this cancellation policy guided by reason and common sense.
During this Journey we will take daily walks around Iona. Distances range from 1 mile to 7.5 miles, often along un-maintained trails or over rough terrain. On any given day, a participant can skip the walk. Distances are not great, but you should be in good health. International and domestic travel can be taxing, and SDI has done its best to design the schedule with your well-being in mind.
Bishop’s House offers simple, clean accommodations. All meals are shared in a common dining area. Double rooms (no bunk beds, no dorms) are standard lodging and you may be assigned a roommate of the same gender for some of the nights. For an additional fee, you may upgrade to a single private room.
This journey’s itinerary includes several opportunities to participate in chapel services. Iona offers many services throughout the week at many different chapels and at the Iona Abbey. All these experiences are optional. The island offers its own contemplative experiences, if you open yourself to it. Throughout our time together, we will share sacred time designed to deepen our own faith. Guided prayer and the possibility of personalized spiritual guidance will be available from time to time. Optional Eucharist is available almost every day.
No, you do not need to be a member of Spiritual Directors International to join the journey, although members do receive a discount on registration. We ask only that the contemplative nature of this journey ignite your heart and spirit, and that you be eager to explore its spiritual and historical dimensions.
The $500 deposit is an administrative fee that secures your space in this intimate journey and is nonrefundable. There are no exceptions to the refund policy. We strongly suggest that you obtain travel insurance to cover financial losses from any personal emergencies or other events that require your cancellation. You are responsible for reading your policy and understanding what it covers.
Why Join Us
As a professional Spiritual Journeys manager, we excel at helping you to discover special places. Not just any vacation, but truly exceptional trips filled with inspiring and enriching experiences. We believe in seeing the world in the most unique way possible, and we want to share our knowledge and passion for travel and spirituality with all of those whom we guide. Explore our site to find out more.
Guides That Companion With You
Every SDI Journey is led by guides that are experienced both in the local landscape, history, and custom, and also as spiritual companions. Companions that listen to your story and longings with care and compassion, as they offer you deep insight into what is happening on your travel experience.
Pause. Rest. Renew.
We all need downtime. Opportunities abound to slow down, explore and pay attention, find words for the experience in poetry and creative writing, or to take a nap. Simple daily rituals call us together as a community, to share in discovery and wonder.