Staffa - A Geological Marvel
Staffa is one of the smallest islands in the Southern Hebrides that gets a separate page of its own on this website and not in the last place due to the presense of the famous Fingal's Cave. But apart from that, Staffa is a remarkable little island, located south-west off the isle of Ulva and halfway between the Ross of Mull and the Treshnish Isles. The island, small as it is with only 33 hectares, was once inhabited in the 1700s by as much as 16 people but nowadays seabirds and tourists have taken over their place. The 1700s were also the time that Staffa was part of the Ulva Estate but it was sold in 1777 and via several owners it was donated to the National Trust of Scotland by Jock Elliott from New York in 1986. Staffa is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest.
Staffa, an entirely volcanic island, is probably best known for its unique geological features such as the many caves and the unique shape of the basalt columns which are also found in the Giant's Causeway and Rathlin island in Northern Ireland and closer by on the island of Ulva. It 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. By contrast, 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 island didn't play an important role in history but was nevertheless visited by many famous people such as Felix Mendelssohn, who composed the Hebrides Overture which is also known as, and is inspired by, Fingal's Cave. Other well known people that made the trip to Staffa are Sir Walter Scott, William Wordsworth an English poet, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert, Jules Verne and Dr David Livingstone to name a few.
Staffa and Fingal's Cave (right) seen from the south
Fingal's cave itself has a large arched entrance and is filled by the sea; however, boats cannot enter. Several local cruise and charter companies include a pass by the cave in sightseeing tours from April to September. However, it is also possible to land elsewhere on the island and walk to the cave overland, where a row of fractured columns form a walkway just above high-water level permitting exploration on foot. The Cruises page gives information on cruise and charter companies who organise trips to Staffa, summer only and weather permitting.
Staffa Island Landing Stage
Top image copyright Keith Boardman, Staffa landing stage Sarah Charlesworth licensed for reuse Creative Commons Licence