Which ferry to take?
The most scenic ferry crossing is Oban to Craignure.It’s a glorious 50 minute sail.Oban is less than 2.5hours drive from Glasgow taking you past Loch Lomond, through lovely Glen Croe, Inveraray (and its fairytale castle, a nice little town in itself), then over the hill road to Loch Awe.Unless it’s winter, book the ferry as soon as you can.The earlier and later sailings get booked up quickly.Mid day ferries tends to have available spaces.As with all ferry sailings, always check the weather forecast re wind strength and check Calmac’s website on the day of sailing.If the Oban sailing is off, the other two ferry options may still be operating on the more sheltered Sound of Mull.
Corran Ferry – Ardgour – Lochaline to Fishnish.I don’t enjoy the extra driving part of this journey.It’s scenic enough and Lochaline is a very lovely , tiny place but as you can’t book either ferry, I don’t like the ‘will we get on/or not’ uncertainty as I’m an impatient sort and don’t like waiting around.In contrast my husband loves this route and it does give you a taste of beautiful and wild Ardnamurchan, though not the loveliest part.But that 45 minute race from Ardgour to Lochaline, usually in the company of other cars racing to the next ferry – and all the stop- starting on the single track road as you meet cars doing the trip in the opposite direction – can be a pain.But needs must sometimes.It’s a short 15 minute ferry crossing.
Kilchoan to Tobermory ferry(30 mins) – beautiful.But it’s 40miles plus of the most winding, twisting single track you can imagine from Ardgour to Kilchoan , so unless you have the time and want to explore superb, off the beaten track Ardnamurchan,( as wild and beautiful a corner of Scotland as you will get), or you are travelling from Mallaig, it’s around a 90min to two hour drive and a very tiring , if very beautiful, one.
IONA AND STAFFA
I find it difficult NOT to factor in Iona when on Mull for a few days.
I always give myself two hours to drive and enjoy the single track road to Fionnphort from Craignure. If you’re lucky and moving at speed, you can just about do it in an hour, maybe 75 mins.But I wouldn’t rely on it.It can be very stop start. The drive along Loch Scridain is glorious, once you are through the high green hills of Glen More.
The Ross of Mull is a wonderful part of this big, peaceful and unspoilt island and well worth exploring in itself. I like some time too, to footer about getting parked and geared up for Iona and on occasion, the ferry trip out to Staffa.Use the free car park signposted behind the village.Otherwise, nearer the jetty, you pay and are tied in to getting back at a specific time.The ferry is five minutes walk away from the free car park though you also need time to queue up and buy your ticket.You can’t get it on board.
After all that, you will no doubt see a ferry just departing, unless you’ve been organised and planned for a particular sailing.In summer at least, they are frequent.In winter, there is an annoying lunch break, so check the timetable.We drove a long way one winter’s day, only to realise we had a two hour wait for the next one.Hell mend us for not casting a glance at the timetable in advance!
It’s a five minute sailing across the pale emerald, crystal clear waters of the Sound of Iona.A truly gorgeous area, with the tiny pink sand beach of Fionnphort backed by stunning pink rocks.Just wandering around this area itself is a joy in fine weather.There are little tracks in and out of the rocky landscape and its fairly easy ground to hike along (if wettish at times).
Then the pretty string of village houses on Iona grow nearer and the pinkish grey stone of the Abbey is made out and then you are up the slipway past the village’s white sand beach.You have arrived into an even more peaceful, delightful world – despite the hordes of day trippers. Somehow, the island never loses that special atmosphere of calm and serenity. A holy isle indeed. There are almost no cars, just birdsong, as you wander up the quiet road past the lovely pink stone ruins of the Nunnery, with wildflowers growing out of the masonry; a building perhaps even lovelier than the Abbey itself.
North End, Iona
North End is lovelier than the more often mentioned Bay at the Back of the Ocean, a beautiful area of white shell sand beaches, black and pink rocks and emerald seas. It’s a 25 min flattish walk to this area from the jetty and past the Abbey.The views to Mull’s Wilderness headland and the ethereal Treshnish Isles are a delight from North End.This was the favoured spot of the Scottish Colourists, renowned painters of the early 20th Century – Cadell, Peploe and Fergusson – who were inspired by the islands light and colour.
The Abbey buildings
One of the most important Christian sites in Europe, founded by St Columba and where the Book of Kells was most probably written.Burial place of over 40 Scottish Kings and several Norwegian kings.St Oran’s Chapel is even older than the Abbey itself.
The chapel is a little disappointing inside but the adjacent Museum is a gem with the original towering stone Celtic crosses on display as well as warrior graveslabs.
There are some 150 ancient graveslabs in the Abbey, some of which are displayed in the lovely cloisters.Each is decorated with carved galleys, swords, hunting scenes and other intricate designs.Just wonderful.
The burial ground of the chapel has been in use since around the 8th century. King of the Picts and first King of Scots, Kenneth MacAlpin, is buried here, as is Macbeth.The Chapel and burial ground are free entry but you must pay to see the Abbey/Museum, unless you have a Historic Scotland pass.
Dun I(pron.doon ee)
The island’s highest point at a mere 333 feet(101m) but what a viewpoint! There’s a signposted track to the top, of no difficulty, though rough underfoot and sometimes muddy. 25mins up approx.The ocean and a sea of islands all around.
Turus Mara (from Ulva Ferry on Mull) or Staffa Tours from Fionnphort or Iona, go out to Staffa, a wonderous site which knocks the Giant’s Causeway for six.May to early August also sees hundreds of puffins nesting on top of the island and they are fairly tame.Turus Mara also offer a longer trip to include Lunga, with even more puffins and huge guillemot colonies nesting on spectacular cliff ledges.Fabulous trip, whichever you have time for.But even in summer it can be very cold, so hats and warm gear are required against significant windchill.This is the North Atlantic after all!
ROSS OF MULL
There are several beaches worth a stroll at low tide.Ardalanish is a beach of hard packed sand , nicest at its eastern end and offering fine views of the Paps of Jura on a clear day.Not quite in Iona’s class but a pleasant spot nonetheless.That view is the thing, for me – if the light is right.
Knockvologan has an unattractive approach beside scruffy farmland but at low tide, what a beautiful series of sandy coves, backed by lovely rocky knolls, await.
LOCH NA KEAL (trans – loch of the church)
Wildlife central.Otters galore, along each side of the rocky shore.Golden eagles nesting on the hillside beyond Gruline as the loch comes into view.Sea eagles nest on the other side of the loch almost opposite.Both are ‘served’ by small parking areas of rough ground.You’ll see the wildife watchers with binocluars and scopes! We had the excitement of watching a male sea eagle awaiting the sea eagle boat, which throws a fish into the water for it to pick up.Sure enough, the boat arrived and he took off then swooped across the water to get the fish.What a sight. Just behind us, an otter was grooming itself on rocks! Where to look!
There are various wildlife watching tours which will do their best to let you see some of these sights.No guarantees however.A rising tide is generally best for spotting otters though we’ve seen them at all tides states in winter.
Mull also has the highest density of breeding golden eagles in Europe and we have seen them all over the island.
The drive from Loch Scridain over the hill pass, is a lovely one. Stop at the top for superb views over the ocean and the ethereal Treshnish Isles and admire the brooding cliffs and emerald fields of this superb part of Mull.Sunsets here are wonderful.Then head carefully down, down the winding road and along by Gribun, hugging the sea and with the broken rocky hillsides towering above you.Always good to get past this section as there can be rock fall! Then suddenly you are at Loch na Keal’s gentle shores.Ben More rears 3000 feet up from the sea, a fine hillwalk on a good day with no difficulty.
There is a lovely little cafe/restaursnt Ulva island.A boatman will take you across for £6 return, on demand.Good seafood and other choices – and one of the loveliest views of any restaurant from the outdoor tables.Pleasant walks to be had on the island,all signposted.
From the north shore of Loch na Keal towards Calagry is an area officially designated one of Scotland’s Top 40 Outstanding Landscapes.
It’s a cracker of a drive up and over the north end of Loch na Keal and then Loch Tuath. It all feels very remote and wild and then across empty moorland and down to Calgary beach.Well worth a stroll , though unless it’s off season you won’t be alone.A walk out along the rough track to Calgary Point is also well worth it.We surprised a sea eagle sitting on a rock, surveying its hunting grounds and watched an otter negotiate the deep kelp and rocky shore below the path.Have also seen golden eagles flying above the headlands around the beach too.
A forty minute walk from the Forestry car park will bring you to this series of delightful shell sand coves, very quiet and peaceful.We camped here one night and watched four Orcas cruising well offshore one early summer, the sea flat calm.Beautiful area all round.
It’s a nice walk round the grass and rocks to Port na Geal, with more deserted little beaches and fine views to Rum.
A lovely spot to contemplate the peace and beauty of this quiet, off the beaten track part of Mull.Only visited it once but it made an impression.
A very pleasant little harbour village with some nice shops, a good butchers (Glengorm Castle estate venison and beef ), good chocolate shop and a well known pub, The Mishnish.Good restaurant @ Cafe Fish though I haven’t tried it yet.
A winding 4 mile drive north of Tobermory.I stayed here once and it is well worth it though not cheap any more. Beautiful spot and quite a sight although it is now all holiday accommodation.But there are walks through the estate, with superb views to Rum and the Outer Hebrides. Nice tearoom in the converted Stables block with very good home-baking.
Accommodation:plenty websites showing a very wide range of usually excellent accommodation.Some I’ve tried, all self catering:-
Tigh Sgeir Gael – Gribun.May be off the market now as owners were moving in.
Ach na Brae – excellent large house in Ross of Mull, five mins drive from the Iona ferry.
Tostary cottage – North Mull, above Loch Tuath.Feels remote, great views but well above the shore.
Glengorm Castle – north of Tobermory.Stunning site.
Shore Cottage , Torosay Castle near Craignure.Secluded and with nice shore walking.
Wild camping…Loch Ba, Loch na Keal, Carsaig, Kinloch, Langamull, Kinloch.