Call us on 01688 400682

Blog

An Autumnal Visit to the Isle of Mull

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.

GREAT EXPECTATIONS

My first obstacle was an earnest but naïve fixation on climbing munros (Scotland’s 282 hills over 3000ft) and ONLY munros, which I did with singled-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, wondering whether anything could 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.

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 as 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

View from Kellan Mill Lodge shore

AN OFF SEASON VISIT

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 in 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, and 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. 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 late autumn 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 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.

Surprise SE owl encounter!

Weather-wise it was a typical spring week, 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.

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 autumn colours. 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

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, as 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, whether 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

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, which offer guests a sense of total privacy and solitude.

  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 attraction enough, Portfield also has its own sandy beach located just below the house and backed by deciduous woodlands.
  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, and a great beach within easy walking distance too! 
  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.  A really inspirational setting.                                                                           
  4. The Bothy. Get a taste of the Isle of Mull’s most breath taking 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. 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 with an enclosed garden.  There is a nice bathing pool in the river just a short walk from the cottage.

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

MacKinnon’s Cave

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 afford a great view of several important geological time periods.  MacKinnon’s Cave is 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, where 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 which makes for difficult walking.  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 consist 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.

MacKinnons 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 that were formed by great flows of lava dating to the Palaeogene period ca. 60 million years ago, when the Isle of Mull was volcanically very active and great flows of lava poured over the landscape.

Geology of Mackinnons cave and Ardmeanch Mull

In this part of Mull the stepped terracing in the lavas is very clear, each layer being 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!

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. And 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 them 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.

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 – or if you’d rather, 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.

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 which the National Trust for Scotland, which cares for this iconic and special place, are helping to manage.

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 and 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. 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 about 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…)

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 amongst us and 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

 

The Sound of Mull

Make the most of your journey alongside the Sound

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 and set off for their accommodation around the island, but there are lots of places to visit along the Sound, and plenty lying within too! So take a bit of time to explore the Sound and all of its interesting sights along the way.

Summer view over Grasspoint on Mull

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

At the southern end of the Sound is Grasspoint, at the mouth of beautiful Loch Don, where in the 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 and 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, and wildlife such as otters are regularly seen in the shallow waters. The small quay here is a remainder  from the days when cattle were shipped to the mainland.

Those interested in Mull’s abundant birdlife will also enjoy visiting Fishnish, just north past Craignure, where White Tailed Eagle can be spotted from the timber built hide. 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, also located along the double-track road which leads north along the Sound. At 748 metres high, Ben Talaidh it 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 and gives views on a sunny day of the peaks of Mull, the Sound itself, and beyond the Sound, to the peaks of the Nevis range.

There is just one settlement of any size along the stretch of road that borders the Sound, the pretty village of Salen, which is about half way between Craignure (where the ferry arrives from Oban) to Tobermory, the only town on the island. A couple of miles to the north of Salen lie the ruins of Aros Castle, 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 (though be careful of its steep sides). From the promontory, there are fantastic views up and down the Sound, and over to Morvern on the other side.

At the north end of the Sound lies Tobermory, a pretty fishing harbour and home to many good restaurants and pubs, as well as an excellent Mull Aquarium a catch and release aquarium, and An Tobar a fine arts centre run by the organisation Comar. From here, during the spring/summer boat trips go out to Staffa and the Treshnish Isles, where sharp-eyes 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, as the stretch of water has a rich history of shipwrecks, including the SS Hispania, a Swedish merchant vessel which 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, which specialises in wreck diving.

Mull’s “motorway” – the road that travels the length of the Sound is the only double-track road on the island – is a lot faster moving than the rest of the roads on the island, but don’t be tempted to overlook its many treasures along the way. 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, so take some time to enjoy it and all that it offers.

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

Isle of Mull Winter Wildlife

A winter wildlife wonderland      

With Dave Sexton RSPB Mull Officer

There can’t be many places on the planet where it can be better to visit to view wildlife in the depths of winter than it is in high summer but Mull might just be one of them. Don’t get me wrong. Summer, spring and autumn are all lovely and all have their appeal 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

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 closer to 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.

Mull and Iona birdwatching b

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

Winter is so good because all the young eagles which fledged last autumn are now confident on the wing and will be joining up with other young eagles. White-tailed eagle immatures and sub-adult in particular are very sociable and 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

Otters seem easier to see in the winter months. With fewer cars and people about they appear more ‘relaxed’ and Mull’s big sea lochs of Loch Scridain and Loch na Keal are prime hunting grounds. As ever, keep your distance; just 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 winters day in our seasonal review:

The red deer are now long past the rut and have settled into their winter routine. They’re often down off the hills, lower in the glens and 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 them but the most difficult 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.

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

Salen bay on Mull in winter

Winter thrushes have largely moved through stripping our berries as they go but many remain; the winter geese are here: 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

So whatever the weather this winter, Mull has it all. Spectacular wildlife and scenery and wonderful places to stay cosy and warm on the days which look less inviting to venture out. My advice? Go out anyway. The weather will change and the 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


 

How to get to the Isle of Mull?

Travelling to Mull

Road along Loch na Keal on Mull

The wild and rugged Isle of Mull is one of the most accessible of the Inner Hebridean islands, only a short ferry ride away from the pretty port town of Oban on the west of Scotland. Even though the island, with its craggy shores, inland lochs and high peaks has managed to keep a remote charm about it, cheaper and more frequent ferries mean that a journey to Mull is now easier than ever.

Isle of Mull Location Map

Map showing the Isle of Mull’s location off the west coast of Scotland

For overseas visitors, the international airport at Glasgow is just a couple of hours’ drive away from Oban, meaning you can make the hop to the Isle of Mull for a relaxing break in no time at all.

Oban and fishing boats at night

Oban from where the ferry departs to the Isle of Mull

And the journey to the Isle of Mull is all part of the fun. It begins in Oban, a small port town perched on the west coast of Scotland, where with a couple of hours to spare before the ferry you can visit the legendary Oban whisky distillery, have a dish of delicious locally caught shellfish on the pier, and watch the fishing boats bobbing in the bay. In the summer the ferries to Mull leave around every hour, and with the new scheme, a ticket is now around half the usual price for a car journey, making trip more affordable than ever. Hop on the ferry, take in the views and the fresh sea air from the top deck and enjoy the cruise through the islands over to the Isle of Mull.

Lismore lighthouse with the mainland mountains in the distance

Lismore lighthouse with the mainland mountains in the distance

Around half way through the journey to Craignure on the Isle of Mull, you’ll pass on the right hand side the beautiful lighthouse at Lismore, one of the smaller islands in the Inner Hebrides, which lies long and narrow in the waters of Loch Linhe. Beyond the island, and on a clear day, you’ll be able to see the highest mountain in Britain, Ben Nevis, surrounded by the rest of the Grampians which in winter are white-peaked and make for a beautiful back-drop as you cruise towards Mull. Travelling onwards, the rocky ridges of Morvern, the most westerly part of mainland Britain, come into view, as the ferry travels up the Sound of Mull towards Craignure. In summer, whales, dolphins and porpoises swim these waters so be sure to take a boat trip out to see if you can catch a glimpse of them. When the stone edifice of Duart Castle, a 13th century castle perched on the rocky shores of Mull, loom into view, you know you’ve nearly arrived on the island.

Duart Castle, a key landmark on the Isle of Mull

Duart Castle, a key landmark on the Isle of Mull

It’s just a 45 minute journey from Oban to Craignure, but whether you’ve been taking in the view and sunning yourself on the top deck or watching the landscape pass by from within the cozy ferry bar (if the weather is being particularly Scottish!), you’ll already have started to enjoy your holiday.

The Isle of Mull Ferry passing Lismore on the sailing to Mull

The Isle of Mull Ferry passing Lismore on the sailing to Mull

Once you arrive on Mull, it’s just a few minutes before you’ll be heading toward your chosen Holiday Cottage   The majority of the roads on the island are single track and offer a great way to see the landscapes and wildlife of Mull, just remember to allow cars behind to pass using the passing places provided.  Car hire is available on the Isle of Mull, though with limited availability it is worth booking in advance.  West Coast Motors operate the island’s main bus services and there are taxi services here too.  Bicycle is another good option for exploring Mull once you are here.  Mull Electric Bikes offer electric bikes for hire and can deliver them to your cottage.  A range of mountain and road bikes can also be hired from On Yer Bike in Salen.

Bus on the Isle of Mull

West Coast Motors bus heads past Ben More on the Isle of Mull

You can also find more information and contact details for getting to and travelling around the Isle of Mull on this page.

A winter walk up Ben More, Mull’s Munro

A winter ascent of Ben More

As the highest point on the Isle of Mull, and Scotland’s only Munro accessible only by boat, a walk up Ben More is often on the ‘to do’ list for visitors to the island.

Ben More on the Isle of Mull with a covering of snow

Looking across Loch na Keal and Eorsa at Ben More on Mull

At 966 meters in height, Ben More towers over the island’s other hills.  Not only do you get a stunning, 360 degree view, this sort of elevation also creates an acute sense of altitude.  With no neighbouring mountains of comparable height Ben More really does feel like the highest point around!

The simplest route to the summit starts on the shore of Loch na Keal at Dhiseig.  From here a marked path leads up the broad flank of the hill to the circular summit cairn.  Simple.  To experience our island Munro at its most dramatic though, arguably the best route is a circular traverse of Beinn Fhada to A’Chioch and then along the ridge to Ben More – a route that involves some scrambling (see map below).  Let’s take a look at this route as it was on a fine winter’s day!

Beinn Fhada ridge with a person walking

Walking along the Bheinn Fhada ridge with Gribun and Ulva in the distance

Ben More on Mull's north face and snowdirfts

Hiker walking through snow drifts with the north face of Ben More in the distance

Parking the car off the road along the shore of Loch na Keal we began the walk by following the burn (Abhainn na h-Uamha) which has a series of spectacular waterfalls along its course.   Feeling lucky we had chosen such a clear, crisp day, we then headed uphill to crest the ridge of Beinn Fhada.  At this point the views are just incredible.  Looking back you can see the curve of the Gribun cliffs, the islands of Ulva and Eorsa, Staffa, and the Treshnish Isles and ahead Ben More and the ridge look really inviting.

The Ben More circuit walk on the Isle of Mull

Frozen lochan on Beinn Fhada with walker surveying the scene

Walker climbs A'Chioch on Mull

Climbing A’Chioch with Glen Clachaig below and to the right

A'Chioch on Mull in winter with the sun

Winter sun blazing as a walker climbs the A’Chioch ridge on Mull

After a short sharp climb to the summit of Beinn Fhada (702m), with jelly babies providing the extra fuel we needed, we headed west and began the climb of A’Chioch (867m).  The views here are superb, and picking our way up towards the summit through snow drifts was great fun!  We were lucky that the winds weren’t strong at this point and able to enjoy settled conditions and sunshine.

The final traverse over the ridge to Ben More was relatively straightforward, though the final section involves some scrambling.   Just at the point where your legs are starting to ask for a rest, the ridge narrows to just a few meters wide and has significant drops on both sides, which help sharpen the senses!

View over Mull's interior

Looking west over the Isle of Mull with the mainland mountains visible in the distance

Ben More ridge on Mull in winter

Surveying the way ahead to the summit of Ben More

Walker heads towards the Ben More ridge

Stating the traverse of the Ben More ridge

A'Chioch on Mull

Looking back along the ridge to A’Chioch

wind-blowing-snow-mull

Wind swirls snow into the air on Ben More

descending-ben-more-mull

Beginning the descent

From the summit of Ben More we followed the line of cairns that descend the hill back towards Loch na Keal.  After the rugged drama of the east face of the hill this side seems very rounded and gentle, and the walking easy.   The wind picked up at this point for us blowing ice around and creating some spectacular conditions:

ben-more-winter-mull

Ice and snow blows across the hill during the descent

walker-mull-cairns

Following the cairns with the Treshnish Isles in the distance

We finished the walk feeling battered but not broken.  No matter which time of year or by which route you choose to climb Ben More it is always a memorable experience and well worth the effort.

www.isleofmullcottages.com/isle-of-mull-walking.html

ben-more-map

Ben More OS map route

 

Note: Hill walking has inherent risks and dangers.  Conditions change quickly and navigation can be difficult.  Always make sure you are well prepared for any conditions and have the correct level of experience for your chosen route.

 

 

 

Top tips for stargazing and treasure hunting on Mull in winter

What do you do in the winter?

What is Mull like in the winter and what is there to see?  Whether it is aspiring for adventure or searching for solitude, the Isle of Mull has something for everyone. I am going to share with you some of my memorable adventures and encounters that I’ve had on Mull during the winter season…

A time travelling geo-adventure!

I’ve always been curious about the origin of our landscapes and the rocks themselves. Observing the magnificent, diverse topography on Mull can inspire a life-long interest in the subject of geology and severely enhance any outdoor adventure of the natural world.

On a wet winters day on Mull you don’t need to put on the DVD of Jurassic Park to travel back to the age of the dinosaurs, as small parts of our exposed sedimentary coastline date back 183 – 197 million years to the Jurassic period. When the tide ebbs to low water it reveals a time machine, transporting you back to the mesozoic era, immerse yourself and explore ancient fossilised species.

One memorable winter geo-excursion I had on the south coast of Mull was exploring the mudstone dominated Jurassic coast to see what fossils I could find and try to visualise what the planet would have been like during that time period. The key thing I wanted to see was large congregations of Belemnite fossils which I noticed last time I was there. After discovering why they’re embedded in big concentrations I wanted to see the fossils again with a fresh understanding.

fossil2  undersea1  fossil1

As you can see from the photo these bullet shaped, ancient squid died in large numbers and in tight groups. Geologists think that this was not due to a catastrophic climatic event but a species orientated natural fatality after a sexual gathering had taken place, in the same way present day squid do. They shared the same fate as the dinosaurs, marine and flying reptiles, and ammonites at this time. There is no fossil evidence of these animals beyond the end of the Cretaceous period, 65 million years ago.

One of the great things about enjoying rocks and minerals is that the weather conditions aren’t a problem. The rocks have been there for millions of years, and they’re not going anywhere in a hurry. So whatever the weather, get out and explore the cornerstone of life on our wonderful planet!

 

Photography – capturing the motion

Due to the dynamic weather systems often experienced on the island, the photography opportunities are endless, with angry seas, moody skies and constantly changing light patterns. A later sunrise and earlier sunset also makes the ‘golden hour’ more accessible.

Just last month we had a fresh autumnal easterly wind blowing at force five which provided a great opportunity to photograph the power of the ocean continuously crashing into Mull’s easterly coastline, usually more sheltered. I checked the tide table and planned out the areas that I would cover, enhancing photography opportunities. It was a cool breeze so I wrapped up warm and headed out with my camera gear, excited about capturing images out in the wilds!

I arrived at my intended location in mid-afternoon so that the position of the sun was more suitable and the state of tide exposed some good photography subjects in the beautifully coloured seaweed. I watched the dramatic surge crash in to the shoreline a number of times in admiration and then planned out how I would compress that time into a single frame to capture the power of the motion.

I found a location with the Duart Castle showing distantly in the backdrop and a nice varied shoreline of rocky outcrops and seaweed. Using a dark filter to slow down the amount of light reaching my cameras sensor I was able to shoot frames consisting of a few seconds. Once I was happy with my composition I attempted to time the pressing of the shutter button in sync with a stronger wave crashing against the shore. After about half an hour persevering I managed to get a frame that I went home happy with!

duart bay waves

 

A ‘Natural Treasure’ hunt

Winter time in the Hebrides brings a number of Atlantic storms, which is to be expected with islands located on the edge of one the world’s youngest oceans. These storms bring an increased chance of natural treasures being brought in with the seas. The best place to look is in the strand lines at low tide. They are long lengths of seaweed stretched across the coast, potentially full of natural wonders!

One winter walk with my family (who were staying in one of the Isle of Mull Cottages on the south coast of the island) produced an exciting find when I was looking for shark egg cases in the strand lines. I ended up finding a ‘Sea Heart’ on the beach!

I since discovered that they’re large, heart-shaped seeds that drop from their tropical vines in Costa Rica and ride the ocean currents of the world. Sea Heart vines are locally known as ‘monkey ladders’, because they actually provide arboreal thoroughfares for monkeys high in the rain forest canopy.

heart      heart-rush

See what you can find this winter on the Isle of Mull. Whether it’s Mermaids Purses (egg cases), Sea Beans or absolutely any other tidal treasures, the wonderful unpredictability of nature makes it hugely exciting every time.

The dark side of Mull

I’ve had some unbelievable nights out under the dark skies of Mull over the years. Once I finish guiding on a wildlife tour during the day, I am always curious to see what else mother nature has to offer me, providing never ending beauty, wonder and learnings. Mull lies under some of the darkest skies in Europe, due to minimal light pollution.

One of those many nights was in the late winter of 2014/15 when I was out in the field with a friend monitoring owls at dusk. The early evening was very productive as we heard Long-eared Owls vocalising as they prepared for the breeding season. We looked to the north and noticed a pale green glow on the horizon, an auroral arc commonly known as the Northern Lights!

Our perseverance out in the wilds paid off throughout the night as we were treated to dancing columns rippling throughout the northern sky at 40 degrees high! The spectacle of the Aurora Borealis was improved with the accompanying soundscapes of Barn Owls screeching and the odd shooting star overhead!

mull aurora borealis      northern lights over mull

Like geology and any natural history subject, if you know more about the origins of the topic, it greatly improves your all round experience. With the Aurora Borealis, when you’ve been waiting for many years to see it, it is worth considering how long a single display really has been in the making.

We need to go to the centre of our solar system to understand where the Aurora was truly born. Fifteen million degrees celsius and crushing gravitational pressure – these are the conditions required in the core of our sun to generate the energy to seed the Aurora Borealis. It can take thousands of years for these electrically charged particles to reach the cooler outer parts of the sun. From there, they are released into outer space through moderate solar winds or a more explosive mass ejection. It can take 48 hours for these solar winds to reach our planet and when drawn towards our magnetic poles they can trigger the wonderful showing.

In this modern age we have more accurate space weather reports and also increased networking of local aurora sightings. With Mull’s higher latitude and unpolluted skies, if you put yourself in a position to be lucky, just maybe, you’ll get rewarded with a sighting of the greatest show on earth, thousands of years in the making!

I hope these stories exemplify how exciting it can be out in wild winter areas on Mull. There is so much to admire, explore and discover on the island during winter season and we would be delighted to share it with you.

 

Kick start your winter exploration of Mull with stargazing experiences, wildlife and photography tours provided by Nature Scotland who operate year round on the island: info@naturescotland.com

Browse our range of winter breaks with short stays and special deals available on holiday cottages throughout Mull: Winter Breaks

 

Top 10 things to do with kids on the Isle of Mull

The outdoors is certainly one of the Isle of Mull’s greatest attractions.  With miles of unspoilt coastline and stunning views around every corner you’re never short of things to see.  So if you are in the midst of planning your next family holiday and are thinking about days out and activities to do with the kids, you might find this list of our top 10 things to do with children on the Isle of Mull a helpful starting point.  We’ve put together this little list to help entertain your little ones no matter what the weather.

1.Explore life from the seas around Mull at the Isle of Mull Aquarium

Sea anemones Mull Aquarium

The Isle of Mull Aquarium in Tobermory

Located in Tobermory the Mull Aquarium is a ‘catch and release’ Aquarium.  This means the species on display are ‘resident’ for a maximum of four weeks before being returned to the water.  As a result there is always something new to see on each visit.  Kids will love the interactive touch pool sessions and there are a good selection of toys and souvenirs too, not to mention the mesmerising contour sand pit!  Contact 01688 302 876

2. Mull Pony Trekking

ponies wading through water on Mull

Kids will love seeing Mull from the saddle!

Catering to both experienced and first time riders Mull Pony Trekking offers a superb opportunity for kids to gain experience with the ponies whilst seeing some of Mull’s finest scenery.  Taster sessions can also be booked, ideal for the very youngest riders and those who are a bit unsure.  Perfect for toddlers are the shetland pony rides, after a quick brush and pat you can lead your little ones out on a short ride.  The more experienced riders will love cantering along the shore on the beach trek.  Contact Liz: 07748807447

3. Rainydays indoor soft play and cafe

rainydays-tobermory-mull

Located with Aros Hall on Tobermory’s Main Street Rainydays soft play will let the little ones burn off that excess energy no matter what the weather!  There are a range of ‘climbing blocks’ slides and a ball pit.  Drinks and snacks can also be purchased and there are a selection of books and magazines too.  Contact:  rainydaysaroshall@gmail.com

4. Visit Duart castle and tearoom

duart castle on mull

Duart Castle on the Isle of Mull as viewed from across the bay

Kids will love a visit to Mull’s Duart castle.  The castle is the seat of clan MacLean and dates back to the 13th century.  You explore the inside of Duart where there are exhibits and displays detailing the castle’s history.   Steps lead right up to the roof terrace where the are outstanding views.  After looking around the castle you can enjoy a sit down and some delicious food and drinks in the tearoom.  Walking trails lead around Duart point.  There is a millennium woodland walk and even a small sandy beach to find!  Duart Castle also hosts a range of events and attractions that take place throughout the summer.  Contact: 01680 812 309

5. Explore the stunning gardens at Lip na Cloiche

path through plants at garden on Mull

Paths weave through the stunning gardens at Lip na Cloiche

Situated on the Isle of Mull’s west coast, Lip na Cloiche gardens will be a firm favourite with kids and adults alike.  Entry is by donation and a maze of footpaths let you explore this stunning hillside garden.  The gardens are densely planted with a wide range of plants that thrive in the warm sea air.  The gardens feature a mix of beach-combed and ‘found’ items that are beautifully incorporated into the planting in a way that will surprise and engage children and adults too.  You can also purchase craft items and plants and a proportion of the proceeds are donated back to local charities.  Contact: 01688 500 257

6. Take a family friendly walk

Autumn trees in aros park Mull

Aros park is perfect for a family walk

Walks on the Isle of Mull for kids don’t have to involve climbing Ben More, the island’s Munro – you can see some great views at lower levels and with little effort.  Aros Park is a great option for walking with kids on Mull; located just south of Tobermory Aros Park has a network of maintained tracks including some that are suitable for pushchairs too.  In sunny weather children will enjoy ball games on the grass where there is also a climbing frame and picnic areas.  In heavy rain the park is stunning with its many impressive waterfalls that thunder into the sea of Tobermory harbour.  There are trails into the woods with adventure courses to complete and stunning views over the harbour to Tobermory.  See details and maps on our walking page.

7. Make waves at the Isle of Mull Swimming Pool

Kids jumping into swimming pool Mull

Kids enjoying the Mull swimming pool

The Isle of Mull Swimming pool is centrally located in Craignure at the Isle of Mull Hotel.  This 17m long pool is great for kids, the depth is 1.2m and there is also a shallower toddler/learner pool too.  Adults can also enjoy use of the Spa which has a sauna, steam room and outdoor jacuzzi.  A range of beauty treatments are available and there is a Rasul Mud room.  After everyone has enjoyed the pool you can head over for a bite to eat in the hotel lounge bar.

8. Discover the Isle of Mull’s past at the Old Byre

The entrance to the Old Byre

The Old Byre heritage centre near Dervaig, Mull

The Old Byre heritage centre is located just outside of Dervaig in north Mull.  Children can play in the covered play area which has a selection of toys and games.  There are picnic benches where you can enjoy food and drinks from the cafe.  The heritage centre has a excellent display of models that show life like scenes from Mull’s past.  There are also informative films you can watch and a gift shop too.  Contact: 01688 400 229

9. Hit the beach for sandcastles and paddling!

kids at beach isle of mull

Kids playing on the beach at Calgary on Mull

A trip to a beach is also a good bet and Mull has some of the finest beaches you could wish for.  Whether it’s picnics or sandcastle building, paddling or fishing, children always seem to have a way of making their own fun and games given an expanse of sand to do it on!  Mull has such a beautiful range of beaches and coastline to enjoy with sands of every colour.  Kick start your next beach day with our guide to beaches on the Isle of Mull

10. Become an island explorer and take a boat trip!

staffa from the sea

Staffa and basalt columns

Mull offers some amazing boat trips exploring the waters and small islands around its coast.  The trip to Staffa is an ideal short trip to do with children.  The sail takes around 40 minutes from Mull and you have a chance of see wildlife along the way.  Landing on Staffa you get an hour ashore to explore the island on foot (taking care!).  You can guide kids around to the impressive Fingal’s cave, and watch waves crash inside making a tremendous noise!  In spring and summer puffins arrive on Staffa and young children will enjoy watching these colourful birds.  This is an ideal first boat trip, being shorter in length but big in drama!  See more about Staffa and a list of Mull boat trip operators to contact

 

These are just a sample of some things to do with kids on the Isle of Mull but you’ll find plenty more.  You’ll also see we have a brilliant range of holiday cottages that our great for families.  See our full range at Isle of Mull Cottages and do get in touch if you’d like any help or advice: 01688 400 682 or mail@isleofmullcottages.com