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      Scotland’s Giant’s Causeway: Fingal’s Cave

      By Cecilia Mariani
      More by Cecilia

      Where is Fingal's Cave?

      Fingal's Cave as seen from the water

      Fingal’s Cave as seen from the water

      Fingal’s Cave is found on the Isle of Staffa, in the Inner Hebrides, just west of the Isle of Mull. It is a sea cave, but not like any other cave. It is formed entirely of hexagonally jointed basalt columns, similar to the ones forming the Giant’s Causeway, on the north coast of Ireland.

      When was Fingal's Cave 'Discovered'?

      Inside Fingal's Cave

      Inside Fingal’s Cave

      The Isle of Staffa was not known by many until Joseph Banks, a botanist, discovered it in 1772 and started praising its beauty to the world. After visiting the island he wrote:

      “Compared to this what are the cathedrals and palaces built by men! Mere models or playthings, imitations as his works will always be when compared to those of nature.”

      Soon after it became a must-see location, and received visits by many illustrious characters, from Queen Victoria to Lord Tennyson, Jules Verne, Robert Louise Stevenson, and John Keats.

      The island became a National Trust for Scotland property in 1986, and it was designated a National Nature Reserve in 2001.

      The Legend of Fingal

      In the Celtic world the cave was a place of myths and legends. Known as Uamh-Binn, or “The Cave of Melody”, in the common imagination it has always been linked to the Giant’s Causeway of Northern Ireland.

      According to the legend, the two places are the opposite ends of an ancient bridge built by the benevolent Irish giant Fionn mac Cumhaill. While building the pathway towards Scotland, Fionn gets informed that his enemy Scottish giant Benandonner is coming to fight him. Fionn cannot withstand Benandonner’s strength, so he asks his wife Oona to help him. She disguises Fionn, dressing him as a baby and hiding him in a cradle. Then she bakes some cakes, hiding some iron in some of them, and waits for the giant’s arrival.

      When Benandonner arrives, not finding Fionn, he waits for him in his house. At the same time, he tries to intimidate Oona by showing her his great power. At this point, Fionn’s clever wife offers Benandonner some iron-cakes, but as he bites into cakes, the iron he chips his teeth. Oona ridicules him for being weak, saying that her husband eats those cakes without troubles, and feeds one (without iron) to the camouflaged Fionn. Benandonner, having seen the baby’s strength, is scared to meet his father and runs back to Scotland, smashing the causeway behind him so Fionn couldn’t follow.

      Mendelssohn’s Overture

      Staffa pier

      Staffa pier

      After 1829, the cave is made even more famous by the visit of the German composer Felix Mendelssohn. He took the steamer service from Oban to visit the island, but the day was wild and all the passengers were ill. Mendelssohn was so seasick that he couldn’t have enjoyed his visit, but the sound of the waves crashing into the cave must have impressed him so much that he wrote his famous Hebrides Overture after the experience.

      Visit Fingal's Cave

      Staffa Cliffs

      Staffa Cliffs

      There are cruises that visit the cave regularly, even though boats cannot enter the cave. Alternatively, Staffa can be reached by boat and then one can step from one column to another and hike into the cave. Worth visiting especially in the summer months, when the northern shores of Staffa host a puffin colony.

      We take our clients to Fingal’s Cave on our Mull, Staffa, and Iona Wildlife Tour.

      What is the inside of Fingal's Cave like?

      The Scottish novelist, poet and playwright Sir Walter Scott has described exactly what it feels like to enter the cave:

      “One of the most extraordinary places I ever beheld. It exceeded, in my mind, every description I had heard of it. Composed entirely of basaltic pillars as high as the roof of a cathedral, and running deep into the rock, eternally swept by a deep and swelling sea, and paved, as it were, with ruddy marble, baffles all description.”

      Thanks to the arched roof, the waves smashing into the cave are echoed into a hypnotic melody, similar to a sound resonating through a cathedral, probably that same melody that inspired Mendelssohn’s Hebrides overture. It is definitely a unique experience.

      Fingal's Cave FAQs

      How was Fingal’s Cave formed? Read More

      The hexagonal basalt columns in the cave were formed as a consequence of a volcanic eruption that happened millions of years ago when a flow of lava spread into the ocean. The lava cooled steadily as it came in contact with the colder bedrock and as it became exposed to the weather, thus forming the columns.

      As the waves crashed against the columns through the years, eroding them, the cave was formed.

      Why is it called Fingal’s Cave? Read More

      The name probably comes from the giant Fionn mac Cumhaill, that we have already met in the myth relating the cave to the Giant’s Causeway above.

      How long is Fingal’s Cave? Read More

      The cave is roughly 72 feet (22 metres) tall and 270 feet (82 metres) deep.

      Meet the Author: Cecilia Mariani

      “When I was a child, I spent most of my summer holidays exploring the Italian Alps with my family. As I grew up, it was inevitable for me to follow my parents’ passion and to start searching for my own mountain adventures. This search brought me all over Europe, until I discovered Scotland. The Highlands are a magic place, where culture and traditions mix with the environment, offering the perfect opportunity to discover amazing places. I love to show this to people with my work, and to share it with friends in my everyday life.”

      View profileMore by Cecilia

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