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March, 2017 Archive

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