Fingal's Cave

Uamh-Binn - The Cave of Melody

Useful Information

Location: On the island of Staffa off the west coast of Scotland, near Mull and Iona.
Open: no restrictions
Fee: Cave free. Fee for boat trip.
Classification: ExplainSea cave in Tertiary basalt.
Light: none. Not necessary.
Dimension: L=85m, H=23m.
Guided tours:  
Bibliography: Martin Mills (1994): Fingals Cave, GSG Bulletin, Volume 3 Number 1, March 1994
Donald B. MacCulloch (1975): Staffa, 4th edition, North Pomfret, Vermon 1975
Jeanne K Hanson (2007): Caves, 142 pp, 16 colour and 30 B&W photos. Chelsea House, New York.
pp 69-74
Address: There are several operators running trips to Staffa:
Turus Mara, Penmore Mill, Dervaig, Isle of Mull, PA75 6QS, Tel: +44-1688-400242, Free: 08000-858786. E-mail: contact
Gordon Grant Marine, Achavaich, Isle of Iona, Tel. +44-1681-700338. E-mail: contact
Carol Kirkpatrick, Tigh na Traigh, Isle of Iona, PA76 6SJ, Tel: +44-1681-700358, Fax: +44-1681-700358. E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


AUG-1772 discovered by Sir Joseph Banks while on a natural history expedition to Iceland.
08-AUG-1829 Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy visited the cave.
1859 visited by Jules Verne.


Image: Die Fingals-Höhle, engraving from Mayer's Koversationslexikon, Germany 1905.

Fingal's Cave is a ExplainSea cave formed within Tertiary basalt lava flows which have cooled to form hexagonal columns. This place and Giants Causeway in Northern Ireland are the most famous sites of basalt columns in Britain, and maybe in the whole world. And the two places are connected by a legend, as even the Celts 2,000 years ago mentioned their similarity. See the legend of ExplainFionn mac Cumhail for more info.

Staffa is a tiny uninhabitated island, only 1.2km long and 400m wide, 46m high at its highest point. The name Staffa means "Pillar Island", much of its 2.4km circumference is cliff line, composed of the basalt of an old lava flow. The typical octogonal pillar structure of the rock is mostly vertical, which gives the fantastic look of a palisade. Fingal's Cave has been discovered by Sir Joseph Banks who landed on the island in August 1772 while on a natural history expedition to Iceland.

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy is blamed for misnaming Uamh-Binn (The Cave of Melody) into Fingal's Cave. But he increased the popularity of the cave with his Hebridean overture which was inspired by this place. During Victorian times paddle steamers landed 300 people a day on the island. Famous visitors in this times were Sir Walter Scott, John Keats, William Wordsworth, Joseph Turner, and of course Queen Victoria.

Image: Joseph Turner (1775-1851): Staffa, Fingal's Cave

In 1832 Joseph Turner made a painting called Staffa, Fingal's Cave. It shows the the cave from the south during rather windy or stormy weather, with a steam boat close to the cave. This painting was exhibited at the Royal Academy in the same year and was cited as "one of the most perfect expressions of the romanticism style of art". It was his first painting to go to the United States but remained unsold for 13 years. James Lenox, who bought the painting through a broker, expressed his disappointment with this purchase by saying the painting was "indistinct" in its execution. When Turner heard this his reply was "You should tell him that indistinctness is my forte".

As Martin Mills said in an article in the WorldGSG Bulletin, Volume 3 Number 1, March 1994: "...Fingal's Cave has to be the most famous but least visited cave in the world!". This needs some further explanation. Many people visit the cave by ship, it is the highlight of every trip from Oban to Iona, but none of them sets a foot on Staffa. Big ferries are simply not able to land on the island, so the ships pass the island off shore.

There are several small boats offering trips to the island, which land close to the cave. The boats start from the west coast of Mull, from Fionnphort or Ulva Ferry. There are no boat trips to the cave directly from Oban but it is possible to book a day trip which includes a bus ride to the east coast of Mull. The visitors can stay for about 1.5 hours on the island to enter the cave and walk along the shore on basalt columns. There is a path into the cave on one side which involves stepping from the top of one basalt column to the next. It is not particularly difficult to visit the cave, but good walking shoes and appropriate clothes are a good idea. The island has two more similar caves, which are smaller and less impressive.