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Isle of Mull Wildlife Highlights of 2017

The varied and spectacular Isle of Mull wildlife is one of the island’s biggest attractions. Here are some of the most unique Mull wildlife moments spotted in 2017.

The King of our Seas

On Mull we’re fortunate to be able to observe kings of the airwaves on a regular basis: Golden and White-Tailed Eagles. But Mull being an island, it is surrounded by the largest habitat on planet Earth, the ocean. On a rare occasion you may even get to see marine royalty and the ocean’s top predator patrolling the big blue… Orca.

On the 1st March 2017 I was in a privileged position in north-west Mull to observe two members of one of the rarest animal communities on the whole planet! They are known as the ‘West Coast Community’ and consist of 6-8 Killer Whales that are observed year-round in UK waters. Whilst sea-watching, I got onto two very distant blows on the horizon and once I got the spotting scope on the area, I saw a huge, tall black dorsal fin breaking the surface, like the motion of a conveyor-belt.

I observed two bull Orcas. I had met both of them before in Hebridean seas – Aquarius and the alpha male John Coe. Due to an increasing threat with toxins bioaccumulating through their food chain, this tiny community could very soon be yet another ecological disaster thanks to the actions of humans.

The Sky’s the Limit!

On the evening of the Killer Whale encounter I was still on an “Orca High’ when good old mother nature decided to serve me a double helping! One natural spectacle, which you could say is as sought after as a wild Orca encounter, is the Northern Lights. That evening I was blessed with an auroral arc and pulsating columns before the clouds rolled in to end the showing.

2017 was even more challenging to see the Aurora Borealis. We entered a ‘Solar Minimum’, which is a recorded cycle of the sun’s ejected energy. This energy is the ingredient for sparking a Northern Lights display in our atmosphere.

Solar cycles have an average duration of about 11 years. Solar maximum and solar minimum refer respectively to periods of maximum and minimum sunspot counts. Cycles span from one minimum to the next with the current cycle ‘Cycle 24’ peaking in 2011 – 2014. Now in 2018 we are heading towards a time of low solar radiation.

Ewan Miles of Mull based Nature Scotland gives us his Isle of Mull Wildlife Highlights of 2017 including seeing Orcas from Mull's north coast...

Whale Meet Again?

It’s not often you can say that you’re on first name terms with a wild whale, but I’m lucky to be able to know an individual Minke Whale and recognise her by appearance. She has deep sharp cuts out of the trailing edge of her dorsal fin and is known as ‘Kasey’. We know she is a female because she has been recorded with two small calves in 2007 and 2008.

Whilst crewing for a Whalewatch company on Mull over the last few years, I have experienced this animal perform strong associations with everyone aboard on a few occasions. She has a very curious nature, often circling the boat. She has even stuck her rostrum out of the water, making eye contact with individuals, including myself.

On the 1st August 2017 we were aboard Sula Beag on a Whalewatch for a Nature Scotland package holiday with TV presenter Iolo Williams. Early on in the excursion we had three Minke Whales feeding around the boat. After we managed to get some photo ID shots of their dorsal fins we discovered that one of the animals was an old friend… Kasey! She was first recorded in these waters in 2000 and the last time I’d seen her was May 24th 2014.

Ewan Miles of Mull based Nature Scotland gives us his Isle of Mull Wildlife Highlights of 2017 including seeing Orcas from Mull's north coast...

Once in a Lifetime?

There’s one bird that comes straight out of a fairytale story, with it’s heraldic pose and golden crown. It is the overlord of the mountains and is the second fastest species in the animal kingdom. It is of course the Golden Eagle, one of the stars among the Isle of Mull wildlife.

During a Nature Scotland wildlife tour in October 2017, myself and the guests witnessed a Golden Eagle performing a very bold move. The eagle was mobbing a herd of Red Deer! The bird was targeting a young fawn and managed to flush it from the nursery group, then amazingly attempted to grasp the mammal with it’s huge talons. This action was brilliantly captured on camera by one of our guests, Dawid Banasiak.

I’ve read about this behaviour in Golden Eagle literature but feel privileged to have been in the right place to witness this eagle ecology taking place. Golden Eagles are highly opportunistic hunters. They can prey on anything from a Meadow Pipit of 15g to a new born Red Deer at 15kg.

Ewan Miles of Mull based Nature Scotland gives us his Isle of Mull Wildlife Highlights of 2017 including seeing Orcas from Mull's north coast...

Living Jewellery 

A day of sunshine and low winds in 2017 was almost as rare as the sightings above, but when they did appear, so did a very special avian animal!  Their fossil records date back 300 million years and during the carboniferous period they were almost equivalent to our eagles today –  the sky’s superiors, with a wingspan reaching 3 1/2 feet! I’m talking about dragonflies and on one sunny Nature Scotland ‘Ardnamurchan Tour’ we observed five species during one excursion! Golden-ringed, Common Hawker, Beautiful Damoiselle, Common Darter and Four-spotted Chaser.

Ewan Miles of Mull based Nature Scotland gives us his Isle of Mull Wildlife Highlights of 2017 including seeing Orcas from Mull's north coast...

Words and Images: Ewan Miles

Ewan runs the Mull based, award-winning eco-tourism operator Nature Scotland (www.naturescotland.com) and offers a variety of tours and experiences that can help you unlock some of the wildlife highlights of the Isle of Mull.

Find out more about Mull wildlife in our guide here.

What was your best Mull wildlife experience? 

 

 

5 of the Best Ways to Spend Rainy Days on Mull

Whether you’ve visited Scotland and its many islands before or not, news of the nation’s frequent spells of wet weather travels fast. But while it’s also no stranger to sunshine, the Isle of Mull is an island borne of exactly such weather systems. The waterfalls, rivers and verdant, green landscapes are in part carved out and created by rainy days on Mull, so the wet conditions could even be something worth celebrating.

If you’d like to make the most of your visit, whatever the weather, then try these five ideas for damper days. With something for everyone, from families to crafters to wildlife enthusiasts, your day will be anything but a wash out.

1. Uncover Mull’s history

While rainy days on Mull might not be the best for exploring the grounds, Duart Castle still makes an excellent wet weather activity. History buffs should make their first stop the Maclean clan exhibition to discover the clan and castle’s past and secrets. Armed with new knowledge, exploring the Great Hall and impressive rooms of Duart Castle will be all the more impressive.

2. Taste the island’s spirits

Tobermory Distillery is the only distillery on the island, producing two different single malt whiskies – the Tobermory and the Ledaig. If you’re a whisky connoisseur, a visit will be one of your favourite ways to spend rainy days on Mull. But don’t just take our word for it! Enjoy a tour of the distillery and taste a dram or two for yourself… When you’re finished, brave a dash through the rain along Tobermory’s colourful main street. You’ll soon step into a cosy pub, bakery or café for a warming treat of a different kind.

3. Learn the traditional art of willow weaving

On a willow croft in Ardtun, close to Bunessan in the southwest of the island, you’ll find Mull Willow. With a choice of half or full-day courses, you can learn to weave everything from a basket to a bird box. You’ll begin to master this traditional craft from the cosy comfort of the workshop. Inside, a wood-burning stove keeps crafters toasty.

Team a half-day course with a visit to Ardalanish Weavers. They are conveniently located just a few minutes’ drive down the road. Here, you’ll see how wool from the island’s own flocks is spun and woven into luxurious and ultra-warm blankets. Have a look around the mill and shop, then pick up a warming cup of coffee before heading back to your holiday cottage after a crafter’s perfect day out.

4. Get close to nature with a wildlife tour

Inclement weather might mean some species stay under cover, but Mull’s island status means that many of its wild residents are at home in the water. Keep your eyes peeled for waders and otters in the shallows and deer seeking shelter in forested thickets. You can see many from the dry comfort of the minibus with the help of a pair of binoculars.

It’s not even unheard of to see a white-tailed sea eagle perched on rainy days on Mull. If you’re lucky enough to get a sighting, your guide will get the best views possible with their scope.

 

5. Redefine what it means to stay in

There are few places in the British Isles that offer such untouched, wild and breath-taking scenery within such easy reach. In our hand-picked portfolio of charming holiday cottages on Mull, you’ll find plenty that boast large windows with far-reaching views, a log burner to keep you warm and even characterful tin roofs that provide a gently pattering soundtrack to rainy days on Mull.

Guests therefore have the luxury of any wet weather day spent at their cottage not being a waste at all. Where in the world could you enjoy a duvet day, board games with the family and hearty, homemade food with such dramatic views? You might even be lucky enough to see one of the many waterfalls cascading off the rocks nearby…

Find the cottage with the perfect view for you here.

 

Self-Catering Holidays on Mull: Where to Buy Food During Your Stay

Self-catering holidays on Mull are arguably the best way to explore the island if you want to balance luxury and flexibility. Our portfolio of 80 hand-picked cottages boast some of the best views on the island, and you can choose the one with an interior to suit your style.

You won’t be tied to your hotel’s restaurant this way, so you can eat whatever you want, whenever you want, with the option to eat out any time you fancy it too. To help you make the most of your island getaway, here we round up Mull’s impressive offering of stores, farm shops, produce markets and even homemade ready meals delivered to your door!

Supermarkets on Mull

While there are no large supermarkets on Mull, the island is home to several very well stocked shops (full list here). In Tobermory is the largest, a Co-op Food, where you’ll find everything from fresh vegetables to fish to cakes.

You’ll find a well stocked Premier shop in Dervaig, and there are also SPAR shops in Salen (to the south of Tobermory), Craignure (where the ferry comes in) and in Bunessan, in the southwest of the island.  Fionnphort has ‘The Ferry Shop’ which also stcoks a range of produce.   So, while there isn’t a large-scale supermarket to stock up at, you’ll never be too far from shop-bought provisions in a holiday cottage on Mull. The smaller stores will also have a good supply of logs and kindling available to purchase, should you wish to top up your cottage’s supplies.

Farm shops in the South of Mull

One of the beauties of self-catering holidays on Mull is the flexibility and choice they give you. You can venture out on any number of nights to sample the local area’s restaurant and pub scene (more on that here, if you feel so inclined). But, it also couldn’t be easier to light the log burner and cosy up with a delicious dinner at home. And while doing so is lovely and relaxing in itself, it’s also kind to your budget, freeing up more of your hard-earned money for wildlife trips and other attractions.

Make self-catering holidays on Mull even more authentic by investing in quality, local food, fresh from the island. True to its island nature, you’ll find the freshest mussels, fish and seafood on offer locally here, both to buy and to taste in restaurants. Inverlussa Shellfish at Loch Spelve have a ready supply of mussels for sale.

Several farms also offer local meat and produce for sale. If you’ll be paying the Ardalanish Weavers a visit, remember to enquire about their meat. It’s an excellent place to source locally reared, high quality beef, especially if your holiday cottage is located close by, perhaps in Fionnphort, Bunessan or Ardtun on the Ross of Mull.

Also nearby is The Crofter’s Kitchen in Kintra. Open from April to October, you’ll find a hearty stock of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as eggs and local meats, including beef, pork and venison. Enticing jars of jams and preserves will also tempt you.

Farm shops in the North of Mull

In Tobermory, Mull’s only – and incredibly charming– town, you’ll find a selection of independent producers alongside the Coop. Try the Tobermory Bakery for a homemade treat, or visit The Tobermory Fish Company to purchase that night’s dinner. Just outside Tobermory is the base for Isle of Mull Cheese, where you can sample the island’s own cheese, as well as several others and meat too. What better to return home to after a day out exploring Mull’s wild spaces, than a delicious cheeseboard and a bottle of red wine?

Depending on how long you intend to stay, self-catering holidays on Mull also give you the opportunity to visit one of the the local producers markets, which take place in Tobermory, Dervaig and Craignure for more local, homemade and artisan fare.

Ready meals on Mull

While you may think of supermarket, mass produced dishes when you think of ready meals, the entrepreneurial residents of Mull have brought their own approach to them on the island, helping out those on self-catering holidays on Mull who fancy a night off from cooking.

Visit Loch Buie Larder for a whole host of fresh produce stocked in The Old Post Office. They also operate a ready meal delivery scheme, right to your holiday cottage door. Place your order and enjoy a homemade dinner without the hassle. Ready meals have never looked so luxurious or inviting!

 

Where are your favourite places for food on self-catering holidays to Mull?

How to Choose the Best Holiday Cottages on Mull

Whether you come for the wildlife, the untouched landscapes or the colorful charm of Tobermory, the first step to planning your holiday on Mull is to choose where on the island you actually want to stay.

From beaches to loch shores and remote retreats, there are many idyllic holiday cottages on Mull for you to make your base. And wherever you choose, the beauty of this island is that nowhere is out of reach. Hop in the car and the entire island is within reach (and a few others too, if you don’t mind swapping the car for a boat!).

Here, we share six of our favourite locations for holiday cottages on Mull to help you find the best one for you. And if you know what you want to see but not where to go to see it, get in touch with our family-run business to pick our brains for ten years’ worth of local knowledge. With an exclusive collection of over 80 cottages on the island, choose your destination and your perfect island getaway won’t be far away.

Planning a trip to the Isle of Mull? Experience the freedom, luxury and scenery you desire with a stay at one of our holiday cottages on Mull

Craignure

Few places on Mull could be more convenient than Craignure, especially if you want to explore the entire island. Stay here and you’ll be perfectly placed whether you want to drive up the road to Salen, visit the colourful town of Tobermory in the north or venture west along the Ross of Mull, wildlife watching as you go.

Even better, the CalMac ferry from Oban delivers you virtually to the doorstep of Craignure Bay House, accessed over a quaint bridge. Once inside, the enormous glazed windows let you soak up those stunning sea views whatever the weather. Craignure Golf Club is also just a mile and a half away, should you like to play.

Planning a trip to the Isle of Mull? Experience the freedom, luxury and scenery you desire with a stay at one of our holiday cottages on Mull

Tobermory

When you picture the postcards that are sent from Mull, many feature the quirky, colourful scene of houses that line Tobermory’s harbour and main street. And if this scene feels a little nostalgic, that’s probably because you once saw these very same buildings on the children’s television show, Balamory.

The front is lined with a selection of cafes, restaurants and shops. You’ll find a handy and impressively stocked Coop here, as well as a bakery to tempt you. Tobermory is brilliant for all the family, with a whisky distillery to attract the adults, alongside independent shops like the Tobermory Soap Co, and an aquarium and boat trips to excite the kids.

To experience Tobermory’s character for every moment of your trip, stay at Bookend Cottage in the old town. You’ll enjoy design brilliance, luxurious furnishings and staggeringly beautiful views over Tobermory Harbour.

Planning a trip to the Isle of Mull? Experience the freedom, luxury and scenery you desire with a stay at one of our holiday cottages on Mull

Calgary Beach

If there’s one beach you’ll have heard of on Mull, it’ll be this one. Calgary Beach is famed for its fantastic views, beautiful white sands and perfectly blue sea. Where else in the world could you experience all of this, and sometimes even have the beach to yourselves?

If the romance, relaxation and beauty of Calgary have caught your eye, then the best of all holiday cottages on Mull for you will be Calgary Cottage. Boasting three bedrooms and three bathrooms, there’s room for all the family (and two dogs) to stay. You’ll spend your holiday less than a mile from the beach, with a cosy tea room to fuel up or warm up in en route.

Just a five-mile drive down the road from Calgary Beach, you’ll find the village of Dervaig. Charming in its own right, Dervaig is also the home of Isle of Mull Cottages and makes another fantastic place to stay, tucked by a loch and within easy reach of Tobermory.

Planning a trip to the Isle of Mull? Experience the freedom, luxury and scenery you desire with a stay at one of our holiday cottages on Mull

Ross of Mull

Make your base on the south west of the island, otherwise known as the Ross of Mull, for wilder views and easy access to Iona. The village of Bunessan boasts a beautiful, curving view over Loch na Lathaich, with a pub, shop and the Blackbird Bistro adding to its appeal. Travel slightly further down the road and you’ll reach Fionnphort, which is where the boats sail from for Iona and Staffa.

Just outside Bunessan lies the hamlet of Ardtun. You can walk into Bunessan comfortably from here, while also benefitting from expansive, rugged views. To one side lies gently rolling but windswept meadows, where you’ll often spot a hen harrier hunting or deer roaming. To the other, your views once again reach down to the water of Loch Na Keal and its towering granite cliffs. Keills Cottage offers the perfect place to stay, with two bedrooms, a cosy log burner and sightings of hen harriers from the kitchen window all to its credit.

Planning a trip to the Isle of Mull? Experience the freedom, luxury and scenery you desire with a stay at one of our holiday cottages on Mull

Loch Buie

It won’t take long for the charms of Loch Buie to capture your imagination. From the scenic drive up past smaller lochs, hills and rock faces to the sea loch vista that stretches out before you when you park, there’s no denying it’s a magical place.

Wait quietly in your car for a few minutes more. If you’re lucky with the timing, the magic only gets better. It was down here on Loch Buie that a group of brave chaffinches decided to hop right up onto our wing mirrors and – with some edible encouragement – right onto our hands!

There are few such wild places that allow you to get quite so close to nature as this. Where better to soak up Mull’s magic than at Dobhran Croft on Loch Buie? This old crofter’s cottage has been smartly renovated and is perfect for two, with the perk of being pet friendly. At Isle of Mull Cottages, we visit each and every property that we work with. We also regularly recommend updates, so you can be sure your stay will be every bit as lovely as the photographs.

 

Feeling inspired to plan your next holiday to Mull? Check out our unrivalled and hand-picked portfolio of over 80 holiday cottages on Mull. It’s never been easier to make your dream island getaway happen.

Which of our holiday cottages on Mull is your favourite?

 

A Visit During Autumn On Mull

Autumn on Mull can be spectacular, from its starry, dark skies to the changing colours of the landscape and the wildlife waiting to be discovered...

Author looking over Loch na Keal near Kellan Mill Lodge

I was a latecomer to Mull. Shamefully late in fact. Having moved to Scotland in 2003 and consciously making the decision at that point to explore every corner of my adopted home, it was 12 long years before I set foot on the island. It wasn’t until my second visit that I experienced autumn on Mull.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

My first obstacle was an earnest but naïve fixation on climbing munros (Scotland’s 282 hills over 3000ft) and ONLY munros. I did so with single-minded determination for the first few years. In so doing I completely overlooked the walking potential of rugged ‘lesser’ hills on the islands or the unique atmosphere and challenges of their wild, convoluted coastlines… two things Mull has in spades. But when that fixation happily abated, a second and unexpected obstacle took its place.

For years I’d heard from legions of other people about the beguiling beauty and uniqueness of Mull. Whether it was via first hand accounts from my friends and colleagues, articles I read in magazines, or programmes I watched on the telly, all were gushing with praise to the point of cultish adoration. They waxed lyrical about the grandeur and the charm, the wildlife and the views, the beaches and the coast, the moors and the mountains, not to mention the wonderfully scenic roads and the world-class geological heritage.

Now, maybe it’s just me, but there comes a point when mass raving about something actually starts to count against it. When all I hear are glowing reports and gushing reviews, I start to get a sense of trepidation. Could anything possibly live up to such enormous expectations? I dare say that’s why I still haven’t seen either of the Trainspotting films. Yes, seriously. You think to yourself….”Good grief, it can’t be THAT good, can it?”

Well in Mull’s case… yes, frankly. It can.

I, like most other people who go there, fell under Mull’s spell pretty much the moment I set foot on the island. I then duly slapped myself in the face for having stayed away from 12 long years and, to further exonerate myself somewhat, in the two years since then I have been back twice, which I hope speaks for itself.

Autumn on Mull can be spectacular, from its starry, dark skies to the changing colours of the landscape and the wildlife waiting to be discovered...

BITESIZE CHUNKS

Return visits are typical of the way in which I approach holidays more generally in Scotland. To do a place justice, I like to get to know smaller geographical areas well rather than zooming about all over the place and trying to see absolutely everything in one visit. Others would perhaps be content to range farther afield in the space of a week on Mull but for me, as someone who likes to be walking or cycling while I can still taste breakfast, I don’t really want to be spending the best part of the week driving the length and breadth of the island. Don’t get me wrong, driving Mull’s roads is a pleasure in itself, but as anyone who has visited the island will tell you, though small in area Mull’s (in)famous single track roads effectively double the island’s size and, pleasurable as it might be, you can easily find you spend much of the week inside rather than outside your car.

So, on my very first visit to Mull back in March 2015 I based myself in Bunessan and focused purely on the Ross of Mull, Iona and the southern shore of Loch na Keal. To be honest even this was too much for one small week. There was a ludicrous variety of walking, exploring and wildlife watching on offer in just that one relatively small area.

My most recent visit was in November 2016 and was based at Kellan Mill Lodge on the north shore of Loch na Keal, which I booked through Isle of Mull Cottages. From there I focused on a part of the island I’d not visited before, mostly north of the narrow neck of land between Gruline and Salen, and along the southern shore of Loch Ba.

Autumn on Mull can be spectacular, from its starry, dark skies to the changing colours of the landscape and the wildlife waiting to be discovered...

View from Kellan Mill Lodge shore

AN OFF SEASON VISIT: AUTUMN ON MULL

You might be surprised to hear that all of the visits I’ve made to Mull have been during the ‘off’ months. i.e. after the October half term and before the Easter holidays, which is the norm for me when I go away for any kind of long break in Scotland. I typically like to go in late February or March, or at the other end of the year in early November. And every now and then I relish the prospect of a deep midwinter break mid-December or late January. Is that crazy, you’re perhaps wondering?

Well, I certainly don’t think so. For starters it’s much cheaper in the quieter months and there are some great last minute deals to be had on self catering accommodation. There’s plenty of space on the ferries, and once you’re on the island the roads are wonderfully quiet, the viewpoints are empty and you’ll spend less time sitting in passing places.

When you head out for a walk the hills and beaches are mostly deserted, and when you stop for lunch you can get a seat in cafes and restaurants. Lingering in one place for more than 30 seconds isn’t a problem as there are no midges and no clegs. I’ve yet to be bitten by a tick in those off-season months.

In high summer the night sky never really gets truly dark, and even then you need to stay up until 1 or 2am to see it at its darkest. But in those off months the sky is properly dark before you even start thinking about going to bed, so the chances of seeing Mull’s beautiful night sky, devoid of light pollution, are increased. And if you’re as lucky as I was in my first year, you also stand a good chance of glimpsing the northern lights shimmering overhead.

At a landscape level you also get to see the ‘off season’ colours from glen to summit, rather than the uniform green of summer. Not that summer isn’t beautiful in Scotland of course. It most certainly is, but outwith the summer months the landscape truly comes alive and looks its absolute vivid best. Yes there’s still green to be seen, but it’s restricted to the lower elevations and is capped with a beautiful progression of browns, reds and, at the top of the hills in colder spells, snowy whites – signatures of autumn on Mull. As a keen photographer, I find it a much more photogenic prospect than in the summer months, not least because the lower light and long shadows bring greater definition and contrast to the landscape.

Then there’s the chance of storms. I imagine they’re not everyone’s cup of tea but there’s nothing quite like being on an island in a storm, taking refuge in a welcoming pub or watching the waves crashing around the coast and feeling that sense of being on the edge.

However, numerous as the off-season advantages undoubtedly are I’m certainly not blind to the disadvantages. Storms, for example, are all well and good if you’ve managed to get to the island before they rattle in off the Atlantic, but they’re not so much fun when you’re sat in a car park in Oban, being hypnotised by your windscreen wipers because your ferry has been cancelled. But even in good weather some of the key attractions on Mull are still seasonal in nature. I’ve not yet been able to go to Staffa for instance, as the boats tend not to sail until Easter. The seabird colonies are largely empty, some cafes and restaurants are either closed or on reduced hours, and there’s less chance of seeing big marine wildlife like basking sharks. And of course it goes without saying that you don’t get those long summer days.

But none of those are deal breakers for me. Even in early spring or autumn on Mull, the days aren’t TOO short, and with a bit of planning it’s easy to find shops and eateries that are open. Yes, the weather can be mixed and have greater extremes, but again that is a plus point for me. I like the drama and the variety. And if wildlife is your thing, there is wildlife aplenty even in the off months. In fact, with fewer cars driving the roads, fewer vehicles stopping in laybys and fewer people snapping way with cameras, it’s easy to find your very own quiet spot to sit and watch and indulge in a little optimism… because you stand a very good chance of seeing something special.

MY AUTUMNAL WEEK AT KELLAN MILL LODGE

During my week at Kellan Mill Lodge in autumn on Mull, I didn’t even have to leave the cottage to see some of the most sought after wildlife Scotland has to offer. On the very first morning I opened the bedroom curtains and was greeted by two golden eagles spiralling over Loch na Keal. 15 minutes later an otter casually swam along the shore in front of the house, and throughout the week there were always seals bobbing about in the water. At one point, as I was sat writing at the kitchen table, I saw five seals swim past at speed, breaching like dolphins as they went. Out on the hills that week, a pair of white tailed eagles flew low over my head as I cycled along a farm track, I had a very close encounter with a short eared owl, and on several occasions I sat for an hour at a time watching otters foraging in the lochs.

Autumn on Mull can be spectacular, from its starry, dark skies to the changing colours of the landscape and the wildlife waiting to be discovered...

Autumn on Mull can be spectacular, from its starry, dark skies to the changing colours of the landscape and the wildlife waiting to be discovered...

Surprise SE owl encounter!

Autumn on Mull can be spectacular, from its starry, dark skies to the changing colours of the landscape and the wildlife waiting to be discovered...

Weather-wise it was a typical week in autumn on Mull – a real mix of everything. I had one stunning blue sky day, a couple of very wet ones and the rest were overcast but benign. I used the blue sky day to cycle along Loch Ba and go for a hike in some remote, pathless hills where I saw absolutely no one all day. The wet days were fantastic for visiting waterfalls in spate, especially Eas Fors between Kilbrennan and Lagganulva, where the lower of the three falls plunges vertically onto the stony beach below. And the overcast days were perfect for some coastal walking out to the abandoned village of Crakaig. A grey, moody day brings an air of melancholy to those places that you just can’t equal in summer sunshine.

Autumn on Mull can be spectacular, from its starry, dark skies to the changing colours of the landscape and the wildlife waiting to be discovered...

There were a couple of clear, cloudless nights when Mull’s lack of light pollution really brought the heavens to life, but perhaps best thing of all were the remarkable colours of autumn on Mull. The general consensus in the Scottish outdoors community at the tail end of 2016 was that we were experiencing the most vivid autumn display in years. You might not immediately associate Mull with the kinds of places that might give rise to landscape scale transformations of the kind you’ll find in the forests of Perthshire or the Trossachs, but remember that much of upland Scotland is grass, and there are pockets of old Atlantic oak woodland around the coast, all of which create gorgeous rusty colours everywhere you look. Best of all was Aros Park just outside Tobermory, which was nothing short of a revelation when I paid it a visit, for it was easily the most beautiful autumn scene I had set eyes upon anywhere in Scotland that year.

Happily for me, a third visit to Mull is already beckoning, as I’m well aware I’ve barely scratched the surface of this amazing place. I’ve not yet set foot in the southeastern corner around Lochbuie, Loch Spelve and Croggan. I haven’t made the rough coastal walk to Carsaig. And I never got a chance to visit Ulva. There’s way too much to pack into three weeks on Mull, let alone just one week! So yes, I’m sure I will be back and yes, it will again be in those ‘off months’.

KELLAN MILL LODGE

Autumn on Mull can be spectacular, from its starry, dark skies to the changing colours of the landscape and the wildlife waiting to be discovered...

Kellan Mill Lodge was a cosy wee cottage for the week, making a warm and welcoming place to return to at the end of the day. The weather was too cool and damp to enjoy the garden, but the house’s bright southerly aspect made the most of the shorter daylight hours.

Its location, right on Loch na Keal was superb and I relished opening the curtains every morning to reveal the views across to A’Chioch and Ben More. As already indicated, the house was effectively one of the best nature hides you could hope for. All manner of wildlife was seen from the bedroom and kitchen windows.

The reliable internet connection was appreciated as I had a writing deadline while I was away.  I did wonder whether, as the cottage sits near the road, it might be busy or noisy with traffic, but in truth there was hardly any traffic, and what little there was didn’t disturb us at all.

Ben Dolphin – Ranger and Blogger

 

What is your favourite experience of autumn on Mull?

Remote Holiday Cottages in Scotland

One of the special things about being on an island is that sense of removal from the hustle and bustle of mainland life.  With water all around, the peace and quiet and breathtaking views can begin to work their magic!  We’ve put together a selection of our most remote holiday cottages on the Isle of Mull. These cottages offer guests a sense of total privacy and solitude in the most stunning of scenery.

 

  1. Located in Mull’s south east corner, Portfield sleeps four people.  The cottage is reached via a 4×4 only track and is entirely off grid, meaning a total break from the electronic age!  If the splendid isolation wasn’t attractive enough, Portfield also has its own sandy beach located just below the house and backed by deciduous woodlands. Few remote holiday cottages have such idyllic scenes on their doorstep.Two of the Isle of Mull's biggest attractions are the scenery and the wildlife, so make the most of both by booking one of these remote holiday cottagesTwo of the Isle of Mull's biggest attractions are the scenery and the wildlife, so make the most of both by booking one of these remote holiday cottages
  2. Shepherd’s Light. Those seeking a holiday cottage that combines luxury with a truly peaceful and private setting will love Shepherd’s Light.  Sleeping up to four people, this remote cottage on the Isle of Mull’s west coast combines all the comforts of a modern property with stunning views. There’s a great beach within easy walking distance too! Two of the Isle of Mull's biggest attractions are the scenery and the wildlife, so make the most of both by booking one of these remote holiday cottagesTwo of the Isle of Mull's biggest attractions are the scenery and the wildlife, so make the most of both by booking one of these remote holiday cottages
  3. Torr na Locha. With its pretty setting at Ardtun on the Ross of Mull, Torr na Locha offers total privacy in a most beautiful setting.  Reached via a 4×4 track the house is set in a sheltered position with expansive views up Loch Scridain towards Mull’s highest point Ben More.  The house sleeps up to eight people and retains the quirky character of this old croft building.  It’s a really inspirational setting, making it another brilliant option for remote holiday cottages on Mull.                                                                          Two of the Isle of Mull's biggest attractions are the scenery and the wildlife, so make the most of both by booking one of these remote holiday cottagesTwo of the Isle of Mull's biggest attractions are the scenery and the wildlife, so make the most of both by booking one of these remote holiday cottages
  4. The Bothy. Get a taste of the Isle of Mull’s most breathtaking scenery with a stay at The Bothy.  Sleeping two, The Bothy is located at Laggan Farm in Lochbuie.  The Bothy overlooks the beautiful Loch Buie, a large sea loch with a stunning wide sandy beach at Laggan.  The views are just spectacular. Woodland, mountains, beaches, old castles, wildlife – it’s all here, and you could be too!
  5. Two of the Isle of Mull's biggest attractions are the scenery and the wildlife, so make the most of both by booking one of these remote holiday cottagesTwo of the Isle of Mull's biggest attractions are the scenery and the wildlife, so make the most of both by booking one of these remote holiday cottages
  6. Experience the solitude and beauty of one of Mull’s most majestic glens with a stay at Kilbeg Cottage. Kilbeg is accessed via a gravel track that heads up Glen Forsa; a glen of stunning river pools, high mountains and abundant wildlife.  This beautifully kept cottage sleeps four people and sits within an enclosed garden.  There is a nice bathing pool in the river just a short walk from the cottage.
  7. Two of the Isle of Mull's biggest attractions are the scenery and the wildlife, so make the most of both by booking one of these remote holiday cottagesTwo of the Isle of Mull's biggest attractions are the scenery and the wildlife, so make the most of both by booking one of these remote holiday cottages

These are just a few picks from our stunning remote holiday cottages throughout Mull.  With over eighty properties in our handpicked portfolio, throughout the island, we are sure to have just what you are looking for.  Just get in touch if you’d like any advice on where to stay.

 

Have you stayed in any of our remote holiday cottages on Mull?

A Guide To Visiting MacKinnon’s Cave on Mull

MacKinnon’s Cave is situated on the Isle of Mull’s west coast near Gribun.  The area is dominated by sheer cliffs and very broken country that affords a great view of several important geological time periods.  MacKinnon’s Cave is also said to be the longest sea cave in the Hebrides, at around 500 feet in length.  A torch is therefore essential to explore the cave, and as the mouth of the cave is tidal you must consult the tide times before setting off and plan your visit on a low tide.

MacKinnon's Cave shore at low tide

Walking from the parking area at Balmeanach Farm, you follow the fence line before reaching the coast. Here, you get stunning views west along Ardmeanach.

Walking to MacKinnon's Cave

On the shore and in the vicinity of MacKinnon’s Cave, the main rock type is called psammite and it belongs to the “Moine Supergroup”, which are around 1000 million years old.  This rock is mainly comprised of  sandstones that have been subjected to heat and pressure, which causes the rock to change “metamorphose” into a much harder, crystalline rock, the psammite.  The rocks dip at an angle of about 40 degrees, making it difficult to walk.  Great care should be taken while scrambling toward the entrance to the cave.  The psammites continue all the way round the coast and provide the bedrock for some of the most rugged coastal scenery that Scotland has to offer, a wild landscape of sea stacks, caves, fissures and natural arches.

MacKinnon’s Cave consists of a large main chamber with a sand filled floor.  Some light enters this part of the cave and plants thrive near the entrance.  A narrower tunnel leads deeper into the dark of the cave before arriving at a second chamber, where rockfall blocks the way.  Deep caves usually have a good geological reason for their formation and Mackinnon’s Cave is no exception, having been eroded out along the line of a fault by the relentless pounding of the waves.

MacKinnon's Cave on Mull

Above the psammites, there are rocks that are much younger, although still very old. These are sediments of Triassic age (200 to 250 million years old). The shore around MacKinnon’s Cave is strewn with large boulders that have fallen from the cliffs above of these Triassic conglomerates, which resemble mixed concrete.  Most of the lumps, technically called “clasts” in the conglomerate are of the Moine psammites from which they were derived. Heading further west along Ardmeanach, the way is largely pathless, skirting between the cliffs both above you and below to the coast.  The views over the sea to Iona, Staffa and Treshnish Isles are mesmerising!

Deep inside MacKinnon's Cave

Above the Triassic conglomerates can be found on the obvious “terrace” of cliffs. These were formed by great flows of lava dating to the Palaeogene period ca. 60 million years ago. At this point, the Isle of Mull was volcanically very active and great flows of lava poured over the landscape.

Geology of MacKinnon's Cave and Ardmeanch, Mull

In this part of Mull, the stepped terracing in the lavas is very clear. Each layer is a distinct, separate lava flow, a topography known as “trap”.  The westernmost area of Ardmeanach is known as ‘The Wilderness’ and it certainly feels like an apt name as you venture below the towering crags.  The fossil tree is close by too, but most of people will walk to it from Burg – another adventure we will cover at some point!

 

Feeling inspired? Get your itinerary planned and book your perfect holiday cottage on Mull to see MacKinnon’s Cave for yourself!

 

Will you visit MacKinnon’s Cave on your next holiday to Mull?

A Guide to Visiting the Treshnish Isles and Staffa

Boat trip to the Treshnish Isles and Staffa

With Dave Sexton, RSPB Mull Officer

Stand on a high point and gaze out to sea off Mull’s west coast and you will see them. A chain of mysterious, glistening jewels in the Hebridean sea that will set your pulse racing. The sense of anticipation of the wildlife gems they might hold is palpable. From Staffa in the south, up to the Dutchman’s Cap, onwards to Lunga and Fladda and finally to Cairn na Burgh Beg in the north, the Treshnish Isles archipelago will lure you in.

Luckily for us all, they are not ‘forbidden islands’. We are blessed here on Mull and Iona with a variety of choices of ways to get to the Treshnish Isles and Staffa, with daily boat trips in season leaving from Ulva Ferry, Fionnphort, Iona and Tobermory. Skippers and crews who know these waters intimately will welcome you on board, provide a warming brew en route and set sail for these distant, enticing lands.

Mull is an island surrounded by many other magical islands, home to seabird colonies and amazing marine sightings en route. We recommend the Treshnish Isles

Watch our video guide to visiting the Treshnish Isles:

The Treshnish Isles are owned and managed by the Hebridean Trust and a range of boat operators will land you there for a few hours. If you’d rather, you can simply cruise the coasts and view the seabird spectacular from the ocean.

Lunga and Harp Rock is the island and location to aim at for the densest concentrations of breeding seabirds from May to July. All your favourites are here: guillemot, razorbill, kittiwake, fulmar and yes, plenty of puffins. Some people expect them to be the size of penguins and are surprised at their diminutive stature, but they will enthral and amuse you with their constant busying to and fro, their nesting burrows and territorial bickering with neighbours.

Please heed the advice of the skippers and the Trust: keep well back from all burrows (they may collapse with eggs or baby ‘pufflings’ inside) and leave your dog at home – seabird islands are really not the place for them.  The much sought after ‘puffin therapy’ will soothe your soul and you’ll leave refreshed and with the tang of seabird guano filtering through your senses.

Mull is an island surrounded by many other magical islands, home to seabird colonies and amazing marine sightings en route. We recommend the Treshnish Isles

Mull is an island surrounded by many other magical islands, home to seabird colonies and amazing marine sightings en route. We recommend the Treshnish Isles

Venture across the sea to mesmerising Staffa. Much has already been written about the geological wonders, the echoing caves and friendly puffins (some wait until visitors arrive on the island to scare off predatory gulls and skuas from the colony, before returning to their burrows) so by dropping by to say hello you’ll be doing them a good turn. But linger a little longer if the boat and sea conditions allow and you might hear the sporadic blast of a secretive corncrake rasping from the iris beds, nettles and reeds that the National Trust for Scotland, which cares for this iconic and special place, are helping to manage.

Mull is an island surrounded by many other magical islands, home to seabird colonies and amazing marine sightings en route. We recommend the Treshnish Isles

During your voyage you may see some of the ‘auks’ at sea, diving for sand eels to return to the cliffs to feed hungry chicks. Small parties of them will rattle past the boat, some heading out to deeper, richer waters while others are heading home with beaks full of silvery offerings. As you near the colonies, the energy, kittiwake-cacophony and activity (and smell) is breathtaking – but in a good way. Menacing bully-boy ‘bonxies’ – great skuas – nest in these islands too. They won’t miss an opportunity to chase and grab a fleeing puffin or force a gannet offshore to throw up its hard-won catch of mackerel. It’s not always a sight you want to see after a few hours of rolling swell!

Sightings of cetaceans like minke whales, porpoises, bottle-nosed dolphins and the giant fish of the deep (but here, thankfully, at the surface) – basking sharks– are all highly possible on these trips. But don’t think or wait too long before booking your place. Boats fill up fast in high season and for puffins especially, the season can be surprisingly short. Delay until late July or August and you might be disappointed as most seabirds will have fledged and vanished far out to sea beyond the range of the boat trips. You might get lucky and see small flotillas of guillemot and razorbill families closer in, but it’s the seabird cities in action, mid-breeding season, which is the sight to behold. (Much later in the season, as autumn digs in, the Treshnish Isles again has another world-class wildlife spectacle on offer as the Atlantic grey seals gather to pup – but for now, that can wait for another day…)

Mull is an island surrounded by many other magical islands, home to seabird colonies and amazing marine sightings en route. We recommend the Treshnish Isles

As your trip concludes and the boat arcs round in the surf to head for your home port, look north and west to a remote isolated skerry called Sgeir na h-Iolaire – ‘rock of the eagle’. It will have been named centuries ago for the presence of visiting (or more likely nesting) white-tailed eagles, long before we eradicated them from these shores. Well, thankfully, once again the eagles are back among us. If you look hard enough, you might just glimpse one perched proudly back on eagle rock with the waves crashing all around. They have good reason to visit these islands – and so do we.

See more about visiting the islands around Mull at The Isle of Mull’s islands and a guide to Isle of Mull boat trip operators

Map showing the Treshnish Isles and Staffa

Mull is an island surrounded by many other magical islands, home to seabird colonies and amazing marine sightings en route. We recommend the Treshnish Isles

 

Where To Visit On The Sound of Mull

Make the most of your journey alongside the Sound of Mull

Stretching along the Isle of Mull’s eastern shore, the Sound of Mull is the strip of water that divides the island from the west coast of mainland Britain. Visitors will cross it on either the Oban or Lochaline CalMac ferry. Naturally, many set straight off for their accommodation around the island, but there are lots of places to visit along the Sound on the way, and plenty lying within too! So take a bit of time to explore the Sound of Mull and all of its interesting sights en route with this guide.

Summer view over Grasspoint on the Sound of Mull

Looking over Grasspoint at the southern end of the Sound of Mull

Grasspoint

At the southern end of the Sound of Mull is Grasspoint. Located at the mouth of beautiful Loch Don, this is where 18th-century cattle drovers who had grazed their cattle on Mull’s abundant grass would ship their cattle to the small island of Kerrera. From there, the cattle would swim the narrow channel of water to Oban. Back on dry land, they would continue their journey further south to the Lowlands and England. These days, Grasspoint offers some wonderful views of the mainland and the mouth of Loch Linnhe. Wildlife such as otters are regularly seen in the shallow waters. The small quay here is a reminder  from the cattle’s past here.

Fishnish

Those interested in Mull’s abundant birdlife will also enjoy visiting Fishnish, just north of Craignure. White Tailed Eagles can be spotted from the timber built hide here. Those with a spring in their step and the energy for a day’s hike might like to take off up Glen Forsa with the uniquely-shaped hill Ben Talaidh in their sights. This is also located along the double-track road that leads north along the Sound of Mull.

At 748 metres high, Ben Talaidh is by no means Mull’s highest hill (this acclaim goes to Ben More, a munro standing at 966 metres) but it is a steep and challenging climb. On a sunny day, the summit yields views of the peaks of Mull, the Sound itself, and beyond the Sound, to the peaks of the Nevis range.

The Sound of Mull stretches along one side of the island's coast, with treasures including Grasspoint, Salen, Tobermory and even dive sites to be enjoyed!

Salen

There is just one settlement of any size along the stretch of road that borders the Sound of Mull. The pretty village of Salen boasts this claim, lying about halfway between Craignure, where the ferry arrives from Oban, and Tobermory, the only town on the island.

A couple of miles to the north of Salen lie the ruins of Aros Castle. This was built around the same time as Duart Castle, its better known neighbour, in the 1200s. But while Duart is a day out in itself, with tea rooms and tours, the remains of Aros Castle, perched on a spit of land at the mouth of the Aros River, are perfect for leisurely outdoor exploring. Take care of its steep sides, though. From the promontory, there are fantastic views up and down the Sound of Mull, and over to Morvern on the other side.

The Sound of Mull stretches along one side of the island's coast, with treasures including Grasspoint, Salen, Tobermory and even dive sites to be enjoyed!

Tobermory

At the north end of the Sound lies Tobermory, a pretty fishing harbour and home to many good restaurants and pubs. The excellent Mull Aquarium, a catch and release aquarium, and An Tobar fine arts centre, run by the organisation Comar, are also found here.

During spring and summer, boat trips go out to Staffa and the Treshnish Isles from Tobermory, where sharp-eyed visitors can see puffins and whales. For those looking for a bit of underwater adventure, the Sound of Mull has some of the best wreck diving in the British Isles. The stretch of water has a rich history of shipwrecks, including the SS Hispania, a Swedish merchant vessel that went down in 1954, well-known for being a well-preserved and interesting dive-site. There is a dive centre in Lochaline, on the mainland, that specialises in wreck diving.

The Sound of Mull stretches along one side of the island's coast, with treasures including Grasspoint, Salen, Tobermory and even dive sites to be enjoyed!

Mull’s “motorway”

Mull’s “motorway” is the road that travels the length of the Sound. It is the only double-track road on the island, making it a lot faster moving than the rest of the roads. Don’t be tempted to overlook its many treasures along the way, though. At almost any point along its route, otters, seals, birds and deer can be spotted (sometimes in the road, so take care!), as well as birds overhead. Take some time to enjoy it and all that it offers.

The Sound of Mull stretches along one side of the island's coast, with treasures including Grasspoint, Salen, Tobermory and even dive sites to be enjoyed!

Cars journey along the Sound of Mull on a late summer evening

 

Where is your favourite spot along the Sound of Mull?

Winter Wildlife You Could See On The Isle of Mull

A winter wildlife wonderland on the Isle of Mull    

With Dave Sexton RSPB Mull Officer

There can’t be many places on the planet that are better to visit to view wildlife in the depths of winter than they are in high summer, but Mull might just be one of them. Don’t get me wrong. Summer, spring and autumn are all lovely and the wildlife is here throughout the year. But a winter’s day on Mull can be magical.

Loch na keal on the Isle of Mull, winter wildlife

With shorter days, the island’s wildlife has to pack a lot in and the longer evenings mean more time for you to pull the chair up by the fire in your Isle of Mull Cottage. Pour yourself a dram of Tobermory malt and open a good book to plan your next day spotting the winter wildlife that is here.

Mull and Iona birdwatching after a day of winter wildlife spotting on Mull

Reading “Birdwatching on Mull and Iona” while relaxing at your cottage

White-Tailed and Golden Eagles

Winter is so good because all the young eagles that fledged last autumn are now confident on the wing and will be joining up with other young eagles. White-tailed eagle immatures and sub-adults in particular are very sociable. They will often cruise around together in small, loose groups. It’s not unusual to see 4 or 5 young sea eagles out on an off-shore skerry at this time of year, but bigger gatherings of 10 or more have been reported.

Young golden eagles will often join these youngsters, especially at roost time. Meanwhile the adult eagles will be busy visiting old eyries, preparing for next spring and re-establishing their territorial boundaries through dramatic displays and calling.

Eagle on Mull skerry - incredible winter wildlife awaits

Otters

Otters seem easier to see in the winter months. With fewer cars and people about they appear more ‘relaxed’. Mull’s big sea lochs of Loch Scridain and Loch na Keal are prime hunting grounds for them. As ever, keep your distance. Sit hidden somewhere downwind and wait patiently along a lonely stretch of coast and sooner or later, an otter will appear.  You can watch us getting a great otter sighting on a winter’s day in our seasonal review:

Red Deer and Fallow Deer

The red deer are now long past the rut and have settled into their winter routine. They’re often down off the hills. With them being lower in the glens, they are easier to find. Stags will have forgotten the testosterone charged battles of the autumn and ‘buddy up’ with each other in small herds. The hinds and this year’s calves will do the same.

It’s a harsh existence for winter wildlife, the deer included, but the most testing time of late winter is yet to come. Meanwhile the island’s fallow deer herds at Loch Buie and Gruline are also often glimpsed from the roadside or as they skip across the road in front of you. Deer are often near the roads at night especially, so beware.

Harbour Seals and Grey Seals

Offshore, harbour and grey seals are all around Mull’s 300 miles of coastline. Pupping for the greys on the Treshnish Isles is over now, so they can pop up anywhere. Salen Bay is still your best bet to spot the harbour seals.

Salen Bay on Mull, a winter wildlife haven for harbour seals

Geese

Winter thrushes have largely moved through, stripping out berries as they go, but many remain. Winter wildlife also heralds new arrivals, with rare Greenland white-fronted geese on the Ross of Mull and barnacle geese on Inch Kenneth. It’s always worth a scan of the native, resident greylag geese flocks in case a rare vagrant has joined them.

Person with telescope on Mull, looking out for winter wildlife

So whatever the weather this winter, Mull has it all. From spectacular wildlife and scenery to wonderful places to stay cosy and warm on the days that look less inviting to venture out… my advice? Go out anyway. The weather will change and the winter wildlife is all there, just waiting to be discovered. Enjoy!

Browse the rest of our website for more information about things to do, and places to stay on the Isle of Mull www.isleofmullcottages.com