THE ISLE OF MULL : a Skye alternative

I love Skye but I am beginning to love Mull even more. Quieter, sublimely beautiful in the south and west/north west (the road from Craignure up to Tobermory is not a good example of what Mull offers being relatively ordinary).Fine places to stay and eat, superb wildlife, great beaches and much, much quieter, wilder and more remote in feel than much of Skye. There is a wealth of history on Mull also (as there is on Skye of course).The island has many big country estates, which Skye does not; the rich have always had a knack of finding the finer places to base themselves.

Mull and Iona deserve a few days at least.We are on Mull every year, winter and summer and managed  – a bit of a record – to visit it 5 times in 2017!  It enthralled every time.

Mull from Oban in winter

WHICH WAY TO GET THERE?

The most scenic ferry crossing is Oban to Craignure.It’s a glorious 46 minute sail.Oban is less than  2.5 hours drive from Glasgow, a fine route in itself, taking you past Loch Lomond, through lovely Glen Croe, Inveraray  (and its fairytale castle, a nice little town), then over the hill road to Loch Awe.Book the ferry as soon as you can.The earlier and later sailings in summer get booked up quickly. Mid day ferries tends to have available spaces but not always. 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.

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Lighthouse at end of Lismore island
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Duart Castle, 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.So saying, we have always got on! In contrast my husband loves this route and it does give you a taste of beautiful and wild Ardnamurchan, though not the loveliest part.The Corran ferry crossing is  only 5 mins and it’s a nice one but pricey. 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, rarely disrupted by weather so worth considering. Ideal if you are coming from Fort William or Glencoe.

Kilchoan to Tobermory ferry(30 mins)  – beautiful.But it’s 40 miles 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

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I find it difficult NOT to factor in Iona when on Mull for a few days. It is simply beautiful.  Most recently, we did the Staffa and the Treshnish Isles trip in May 2017, on a glorious if cool day and wow…what an amazing day out! Staffa has to be seen to be believed; it’s the Giant’s Causeway to a factor of 10 I would say. For a real up close and personal experience with puffins, do the trip that includes the Treshnish Isles.For more detail on our experience of this trip see – STAFFA AND THE TRESHNISH ISLES (AKA Puffin Therapy)

I always give myself two hours to drive to Fionnphort from Craignure but you can o it , if quiet in just over an hour or , if summer, 75 minutes if you are not stopping and pushing it a bit.The drive along Loch Scridain is glorious, once you are through the high green hills of Glen More.So much to stop and stare at, to enjoy and savour.

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The Ross of Mull is a wonderful part of this big, peaceful and unspoilt island and well worth exploring in itself. Some time too, to footer about getting yourself geared up for Iona and possibly, 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 two hour wait for the next one.Hell mend us for not casting a glance at the timetable in advance!

NINTH WAVE  restaurant

We ate at this famous little converted croft house fine dining restaurant in May 2017 and it exceeded expectations!I was a bit sceptical of the hefty price tag but , wow….best lobster dish I have ever tasted.Quirky too.Loved it. Special occasion type of place.

 

IONA

A magical island. 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 sand beach of Fionnphort backed by stunning pink rocks.

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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 a 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.It’s perhaps even lovelier than the Abbey itself.

North End, Iona

Isle of Iona

Much lovelier than the more often mentioned Bay at the Back of the Ocean, the North End is a beautiful area of white shell sand beaches, black and pink rocks and emerald seas. It’s a 25 min flattish walk approx from the jetty, 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 island’s light and colour.

The Abbey buildings

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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, including Macbeth –  and several Norwegian kings.St Oran’s Chapel is even older than the Abbey itself.

The Abbey church itself, to me,  is a little disappointing inside but the adjacent Museum is a gem with the original towering  stone Celtic crosses in 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. The King of the  Picts and first King of Scots, Kenneth MacAlpin, is buried here. The Chapel and burial ground are free entry but you must pay to see the Abbey/Museum, unless you have a Historic Scotland pass.

https://www.historicenvironment.scot/visit-a-place/places/iona-abbey-and-nunnery

Dun I(pron.doon ee)

Cairn View

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.

STAFFA (and Fingal’s Cave)

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 , much closer (around your feet) 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!

For a more detailed description of our latest experience on this great trip: STAFFA AND THE TRESHNISH ISLES (AKA Puffin Therapy)

Fingal’s Cave

ROSS OF MULL

Stunning part of Mull.There are several lovely often deserted 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.

Ardalanish Beach and Jura

Knockvologan at low tide, offers a stunningly beautiful series of sandy coves, backed by lovely rocky knolls.Gorgeous place.Big favourite of mine.Usually seals around.Make for the furthest beach , about a 10 min walk from the start of the sands.You won’t want to leave.

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Knockvologan’s 3rd and best beach

Kilvickeon – a superb short 5 minute stroll takes you to this beautiful stretch of white sand.There’s a knolls little peninsula to explore.It’s a rough old 15 minute drive to the parking area but a ‘normal’ car will make it with care.

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Traigh na Margaidh (Market beach).We found this one in 2017, and it is a wee beauty. Pinkish/white pristine sands, beautiful pink rocks, turquoise water.And not a soul around.About a 30-40 minute often boggy flat walk on the Ross of Mull, signposted to Camus.But you will need a map! I didn’t want to leave.

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LOCH NA KEAL (translation –  loch of the church)

Stunningly beautiful especially around Gribun and its north shore. Wildlife central. Otters galore along each side, north and south,  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 sites 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.

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Sea Eagle

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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.

The ethereal Treshnish Isles

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!

Spectacular road at Gribun

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.

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ULVA FERRY

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.

Boat going over to Ulva

TO CALGARY BAY

From the north shore of Loch na Keal towards Calagry is an area officially designated one of Scotland’s Top 40 Outstanding Landscapes.

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CALGARY BEACH

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.

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LANGAMULL

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 offshore one early summer, the sea flat calm.Beautiful area all round.

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It’s a nice walk round the grass and rocks to Port na Geal, with more deserted little beaches and fine views to Rum.

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BIG WALKS:  BEN MORE

A very easy ‘Munro’   – a mountain over 3,000 feet in Scotland – and the views are stunning.For our experience on New year’s Day 2019: Mull’s Ben More – a superb island Munro

TOBERMORY

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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.

 GLENGORM CASTLE

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

There are plenty websites if you google showing a very wide range of usually excellent accommodation, self catering, B&B etc. Some I have tried and really enjoyed:-

Ach na Brae – excellent large self catering house in Ross of Mull, five mins drive from the Iona ferry. http://www.isleofmullholidays.com/self-catering-cottages/ach-na-brae

Tostary cottage – North Mull, above Loch Tuath.Feels remote, great views high above the shore. https://www.tostarycottage.co.uk/the-cottage

Glengorm Castle – north of Tobermory. Stunning and now very expensive.We stayed, some time ago, in the Terrace Flat. http://www.glengormcastle.co.uk

Caol-Ithe Bed and Breakfast, Fionnphort, Ross of Mull. Excellent place.Great for Iona and exploring the south end of Mull. http://www.holidayisleofmull.co.uk

Ardness House – excellent B&B.Owners are also local farmers and own Ach Na Brae too.Again, near the Iona Ferry (if you have a car.) http://www.isleofmullholidays.com/bed-breakfast

Ross of Mull Bunkhouse –  hubby stayed here and thought it was first class.  https://www.hostel-scotland.co.uk/hostels/Ross-of-Mull-Bunkhouse

We also enjoy wild camping on the island at Loch Ba(walk in) , Loch na Keal, Carsaig, Kinloch, Langamull, Loch Scridain.

12 thoughts on “THE ISLE OF MULL : a Skye alternative

  1. Love the post – stunning photos; we’ve done the Ardnamurchan route to Mull on occasion – unfortunately on a day when there was a farming festival on with the route clogged by tractors. You can imagine the delay! We’ve been bewitched by Skye and don’t think we’ve seen Mull at its best, though love Iona…. out of high season.

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  2. Thanks nexi – glad you enjoyed it! Skye is wonderful, no doubt about it.We are up there a lot given my husband’s family live there.But there are some exquisite areas of Mull which have really captured my heart over the past few years.Half decent weather does help though.
    I know that road up to Kilchoan very well – it’s slow enough at the best of times. Must have been a tad frustrating, to put it mildly:):)

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    1. Mull is fantastic! Very different in feel to Skye.I really hope you manage to get over there.The drive from Loch Scridain over to Loch na Keal (via Gribun) or vice versa, is just superb.The islands are just wonderful places to explore.All so different.

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  3. Visiting for the first time in July and really enjoyed reading your tips and fabulous photos. As a keen (very) amateur wildlife photographer I can’t wait to see what Mull has to offer. Hopefully we get some sunshine as the light looks superb.

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    1. Hi David

      Really glad to hear the post helped. You won’t be disappointed in Mull – it’s wildlife central as well as having great landscapes and light. Around Loch na Keal is brilliant for regular otter sightings and also the golden and sea eagles nest around there too.Look for the groups with telescopes!

      Anne

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  4. Really interesting to read your post as I sit here on Mull having experienced some of the places you’ve mentioned. My first visit here but I hope it won’t be my last! It’s a long way from Devon but well worth the effort. During our week here we have visited Staffa and Lunga, Ulva and Gometra and today we went to Iona. All such different islands with a wealth of beautiful scenery. If you enjoy walking it’s the ideal place to visit. Ben More was my first munro but sadly we had very little visibility. Hey ho….

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  5. Great to hear you’ve found Mull , Susie! And congratulations on your 1st Munro too.Always a great feeling of achievement, to reach a summit. Yes..the islands are all so different.We seem to find a new beautiful corner every trip.I really hope you manage to return!
    Anne

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