In the summer of 1978 I was wandering around Europe via backpack and train. At some youth hostel (can't remember where) I met some English lass (can't remember her name) who invited me to come by her home in (can't remember which town), whenever I made it to England. I took her up on the invite and arrived a few weeks later. I was met at the door by her father whose first words were, "You can't stay here, but you're welcome to dinner."
The Pops warmed to me after a bit and he got particularly animated when I told him I was going to Scotland. He asked what I planned to see. I told him I had no idea. He said you gotta go to Oban, the Isle of Mull and Iona. Given that I didn't know Edinburgh from Inverness I followed his directions and found myself on a bus to Glasgow that night.
Turns out that was one of the best travel tips I ever got. The magic started immediately as I disembarked the Glasgow - Oban train. Passing the train station were at least 50 Scottish pipers in a parade being led by what appeared to be clan chiefs. I asked an observer, "What is this?" and was told it was the parade to the Oban Highland Games. Backpack and all, I fell in behind the last row of pipers and smothered in drones, marched with them to the grounds, just south of town.
The unnamed English dad had steered me well so far, so the next day I purchased passage on the Oban to Mull ferry. That ferry's name was "Columba." As you've already guessed, I knew practically nothing about Scotland at the time, but later learned that St. Columba was an Irish monk who is credited with bringing the Christian faith to the barbarians Picts in the 6th century. Iona, a smaller island off Mull is all about St. Columba, as this is where he is buried. I remember Iona for a "ferry" ride with a small boat full of sheep at my feet and waves coming over the gunwales. No images of that crossing, but here's one site, the Iona Abbey, in store for the visitor to this most beautiful of islands.
Nine years later, in 1987, after finding a bride in Philadelphia, I took her to Scotland. Given that she is a MacDonald, that idea worked well despite hitch hiking, sideways rain, a soaked tent and even a night in separate quarters at the Glenbrittle Hostel on Skye. We travelled poor then. Someday, I thought, we'll come back here, get on a boat and explore these islands in style. It took 26 years, but last week we were on the "Hebridean Princess", a 50-guest cruise ship. It was like a week on a floating country hotel. That dream came true. It didn't come full circle however until one evening at dinner I noticed a large, shiny, brass bell on the opposite wall. Cast into the bell was the word "Columba". We were seated at the captain's table and he told us that in 1986 the car ferry "Columba" was refitted as the "Hebridean Princess" and had been cruising the Inner & Outer Hebrides with pampered guests since 1987.