Within the dramatic cliffs of Staffa, one of the smallest islands in the Inner Hebrides, is an unusual basalt sea cave called Fingal’s Cave. The steep edges of the uninhabited Staffa reach a maximum height of 46 m (150.9 ft), making the island particularly striking from a boat or plane. The cave and edges of the island are made up entirely of jointed basalt columns, similar to those that form the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. The island is the result of a Paleocene lava flow. As this flow formed the top layer, exposed to the elements, cooled quickly to form a flat layer, however the inside of the flow cooled slowly to form these columns with extraordinary patterns. The outer edges of the island have cracked and eroded over time to reveal the cross-section of basalt columns inside.
The cave received its name in the 18th Century from a Scottish poem. The hero of the poem is called Fingal, but in Irish mythology Fingal is known as Finn Mac Cumhail, which is the giant said to have formed the Giant’s Causeway. The cave has a large arched entrance and inside the sea fills it, this means that it is not possible to enter the cave.
The island is only 0.33 km2 (0.12 sq mi) and is virtually a long flat grassy plain. There isn’t much to see on the island itself and it is just the impressive basalt formations that make this a popular landmark. It has been uninhabited since the 1700’s although visitors can see the cave on a boat sightseeing tour that runs from April to September. This tour passes by the island but alternatively it is also possible to land at certain places and walk across the island to the cave. Several boating companies provide excursions to the island.