Arculf was a native of Gaul and had attained the rank of bishop. Around the year AD 680 he went on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, where he spent nine months in Jerusalem, undertaking excursions to various holy sites in the vicinity. He then sailed from Joppa to Alexandria, a voyage that took 40 days! From there he visited Crete and then went to Constantinople, where he stayed from Easter till Christmas. After that he sailed the Sicily and visited Rome, but on his voyage home from Rome his ship was caught in a great storm that drove it far to the north and finally cast it ashore near Iona!

There Arculf fell in with Adamnan, the abbot of Iona, who not only entertained him but pumped him for details of his travels, jotting down copious notes on wax-covered wooden tablets. According to the Venerable Bede, Adamnan then turned these notes into an account of a journey to the Holy Land, supplementing Arculf's account with material from other writers and - to our extreme annoyance - leaving out a good deal of matter which he felt was already adequately covered by these other writers!

Bede, in his History of the English-speaking Church and People, has this to say about Adamnan:

This same man wrote a book about the Holy Places, which is most useful to many readers; its real author, by instruction and by dictation, was Arculfus, a French Bishop, who for the sake of the Holy Places had gone to Jerusalem, and having passed over all the Land of Promise, visited also Damascus, Constantinople, Alexandria, and many islands of the sea; and as he was returning to his native land by sea, he was carried by the violence of a tempest to the western shores of Britain: and after many dangers, he came to that servant of Christ, who has been mentioned, Adamnan, who found him to be learned in the Scriptures, and acquainted with the Holy Places, so that he received him most willingly, and heard him more willingly; so much so that he himself caused to be at once committed to writing whatever he testified to be worthy of mention of all that he had seen in the Holy Places. And he made a work, as I have said, which is of much use, and specially so to those who are so far distant from those places in which the patriarchs and the apostles lived that they can learn about them only what they can inform themselves of by reading. Now, Adamnan brought this book to King Aldfrid, and by his liberality it was read by men of humbler station. The writer also was himself presented by him with many gifts, and sent back to his country,

As an amusing aside, Arculf was guided in his travels by a monk called Peter who had, apparently visited the Holy Land before. Like many another tourist since, Arculf complains bitterly that Peter kept hurrying him along. I have sympathy with both men: it is annoying to have to leave some place in which you are interested before you want to, but on the other hand, the courier knows how long it will take to get to the next place and has an itinerary to which he must adhere. The tourist may feel that he can stay out late at night, but the bus driver's hours are limited by government decree and both driver and guide have families looking forward to their return and wives who will be furious if the meal is unduly delayed.