In June, I travelled north again, my second foray into Scotland this year, and this time it was to explore the west coast and part of the Hebrides with Fen and family.
From Oban, we took the car ferry to Craignure on the Isle of Mull and made our way to base-camp.
The formidable house, situated just a few miles from Salen at the inlet of Loch Na Keal, directly overlooked the Isle of Ulva and offered incredible views of the cloud-topped headland and sparkling sea. In the distance, sun-lit Iona called out to us as our party gathered around the breakfast table keenly watching out for passing white-tailed sea eagles.
Spanning 50 miles north to south, Mull is the second largest of the Hebridean islands and has a strong and warm community. Sparsely populated, there is a natural wilderness here with such splendid variety: towering sea cliffs, white sandy beaches, glistening lochs, dramatic mountains, crystal clear rivers, stunning waterfalls, mixed woodland, and undulating terrain populated with wildflowers and wildlife. It’s a natural haven for the soul.
During our stay, the weather was changeable and unseasonably cool for June but that made the experience all the more lively and evocative. Each day, we explored the beautiful and diverse isle by car, boat, and on foot. There was so much to discover…
This pretty sandy bay with a picnic area on the machair faces west towards Coll and Tiree.
We walked on the beach, mesmerised by the clear blue water, and made our way up along the foxglove-strewn high ground, spotting many large buzzards that could easily be mistaken for golden eagles from a distance.
The impressive Calgary Bay Arts Centre is here too, where we enjoyed tea, cake, art and crafts, and a joyful wander through the sculpture park.
North of the island, Tobermory was just as I’d imagined with its brightly coloured houses that inspired the children’s tv series, Balamory.
We had a warm welcome and delicious lunch at the inspiring An Tobar, Mull’s Arts Centre, which overlooks Tobermory bay.
Kilmore Standing Stones
High above the village of Dervaig, with outstanding views, are the Kilmore Standing Stones.
Once hidden within a forest plantation, the site has recently been cleared. There are 5 standing stones but only 2 remain upright, and the other 3 are recumbent. I spent a few contemplative moments with these ancient markers, mind-blown by their mysterious significance that links every standing stone and megalithic monument. And here I sensed the passage of time and no time before surrendering to the paradox.
After spending time or timelessness at Kilmore Standing Stones, we dropped down into the pretty village of Dervaig (pronounced ‘dervig’), which means ‘good inlet’ in old Norse. We enjoyed a sunny evening stroll through the quiet village before having our evening meal at The Bellachroy Hotel, which is said to be the oldest Inn on Mull.
Extending to about 17,000 acres, the Benmore estate stretches from the southern shoreline of Loch Na Keal over the summit of Benmore (the highest peak in the Inner Hebrides at 3,169ft and known as the great mountain in Gaelic) to Glen More. It’s a perfect area for spotting Golden Eagles, and there are some lovely walks on this scenic estate.
Below Loch Don on the south-east of Mull is Grass Point, which was once the main ferry point to and from the mainland. There are good views of the sea and beyond to Oban and the Isle of Kerrera.
Isle of Ulva
We took a short boat ride across the narrow strait to the oval shaped isle of Ulva. Populated since Mesolithic times, Ulva – also known as wolf island – has fewer than ten residents but was recently purchased for the community and hopes to attract more people to live and work there. Tempting!
Ulva is 7.5 miles long and about 2.5 miles wide, and is an explorer’s heaven. Although the weather on our visit was definitely dreich at times and quite wild on the exposed heights, we made the most of our day there.
Fen and I explored the woods, church, and Sheila’s Cottage before having a reviving cup of tea at The Boathouse Cafe. The rest of the group, braving the elements, went on a longer trek to the bridge linking Gometra.
The single track roadway runs from Knock in the east along the shores of Loch Na Keal, and offers stunning sea and loch views. Littered with rock fall from the high bluffs and headland cliffs, the route is breath-taking.
And there’s still so much more of Mull to see and experience. Another trip, perhaps.
Mull has a place in my heart for all kinds of reasons. The spectacular scenery and the abundant wildlife will astound you, but it’s also the people and the community, which makes the isle extra special. Our evening meal in the intimate setting of a family’s home at Ballygown was a heart-warming and taste-satisfying experience. Even the well-stocked Spar convenience store in Salen village, with welcoming staff and such a fantastic ambiance, made me think that this is the best Spar shop I’ve ever visited. They even stocked lots of organic goodies and gifts.
Eating dinner at Glenforsa hotel and restaurant overlooking the Sound of Mull was made more interesting as Glenforsa operates the island’s only airfield on a grass strip between the restaurant and water. Patrons regularly fly in for dinner in this charming setting with panoramic views.
Even though time ticks on and I returned to west Lancashire a while ago, my inner eye takes me back to the Hebrides and Scotland’s stunning west coast in a flash, and I’m there.
So, what about the wildlife on Mull. Did I see the white-tailed sea eagle? And how was the day trip to the sacred isle of Iona? Look out for my forthcoming posts…