Amazing Places

Fingal's Cave Is So Perfectly Geometric That It's Almost Unsettling

At the southern tip of Staffa, an uninhabited Scottish isle named by Vikings for its landscape, stands the iconic Fingal's Cave. Its view from the outside looks astonishing, almost daring passersby to pull ashore to explore. Inside, the natural beauty of its almost perfectly hexagonal basalt columns is matched only by the history that surrounds it — or waits inside.

Formed by Lava, Steeped in a Saga

Exactly like the strikingly similar Giant's Causeway at the northeast tip of Ireland, Fingal's Cave was formed by a lava flow 60 million years ago, when molten rock burst through the chalk bed and formed the striking look of smooth, jutting pieces of stone that almost beg for a mythical explanation. That's right — Giant's Causeway and Fingal's Cave look alike because they were formed by the same lava flow. At one point long ago, there may have even been a bridge connecting the two.

While the ancient Irish and Scottish Celtics weren't aware of the formations' geological origins, they did make a startling connection between them. They had a myth stating that the giant Fionn mac Cumhaill, a.k.a. Finn McCool, built a bridge from Giant's Causeway to Fingal's Cave in order to fight Benandonner, who was no slouch himself (he's known as a Celtic fighting god, after all.) But the folklore of two giants jumping into battle was only the jumping off point to the story of Fingal's Cave, which has since been the source of real-life legends.

Interior of Fingal's Cave, Isle of Staffa, Scotland.
Fingal's Cave, sea cave on the uninhabited island of Staffa.

A Basalt Muse

Composer Felix Mendelssohn created the cave's unofficial soundtrack when he wandered the wonder and discovered inspiration for Hebrides Overture. If you listen, it seems to match the rhythm of bursting and receding waves on a basalt shore. Later, artist Joseph Mallord William Turner took inspiration from the site to create his iconic oil on canvas depiction of "Staffa, Fingal's Cave," thereby making the location not only famous but also a popular tourist destination ever since. Fingal's Cave also served as inspiration for other artists such as Pink Floyd and sculptor Matthew Barney.

Feeling inspired to feel inspired? You can head to Scotland yourself to partake in one of many daily excursions to the cave. There's a lot more in the area to make your jaw drop than the jaw-dropping beauty of Fingal's Cave, though it is a particular standout.

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If you're about to visit Scotland, then you'll want to pick up Lonely Planet's guide to the country. We handpick reading recommendations we think you may like. If you choose to make a purchase through that link, Curiosity will get a share of the sale.

Written by Mike Epifani May 2, 2017

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