Magnificent Mull with Calmac Ferries
This blog and trip to Isle of Mull was sponsored by Calmac Ferries. If you are thinking of visiting the island soon, here is what I got up to and my hints and tips. If you weren't planning to visit Isle of Mull, I hope this blog will inspire you to add it to your must see Scottish island.
Hotel Perle Oban
After 3 hours of driving from Edinburgh in heavy rain, we arrived at the newly opened luxury hotel Perle Oban located in the harbour town of Oban on the west coast of Scotland. It was starting to get dark and the cosy room at the hotel offered a welcomed shelter for the night. The room faced the beautiful harbour and I could see our ferry for next day through the neon shimmering raindrops on the window. We dropped our bags off and decided to walk the harbour to soak in the atmosphere. Although Oban is the gateway to many Scottish islands, the small town itself can be a holiday destination where there are plenty of activities you can do. As the rain started to get heavier and the darkness of the night got deeper, we decided to go for couple of cocktails at the Perle hotel.
In the morning, we checked out and headed towards the ferry terminal which was about 5 minutes drive from the hotel. We took the 8:40 Ferry from Oban Terminal to Criagnure in Isle of Mull.
Sightings on the Ferry to Isle of Mull: Lighthouse, Castle, Seagulls and Garnets
Although Isle of Mull is one the closer islands to get to via ferry from the mainland, landing on Isle of Mull instantly transports you to the slow island living where time runs twice as slow and you feel your body preserving and your life prolonging the minute you step in it. We headed towards Ulva Ferry Terminal looking for our next island hopping adventures.
The Drive to Ulva Ferry takes about 1 hour from Criagnure where we took a local boat operator Turus Mara. The Ferry is run by the owner Iain Morrison and his son Colin who were both very knowledgeable and welcoming.
On the day the boat was fully booked so I would recommend if you are planning to take the boat to the the wonderful Treshnish Isles to book early. The tour leaves at 11:30 am and returns to Ulva Ferry Terminal for approx 6pm. I wasn't surprised that tour was fully booked as these islands are stocked with a number of wildlife unique to the mysterious Treshnish Isles.
First stop off the boat was the unusually formed volcanic island Staffa which is an island owned and looked after by National Trust of Scotland. We were lucky when we arrived in Staffa the weather was glorious and sun was shinning.
We had couple of hours in Staffa to explore so these are the things we did on the island:
Walk on the striking Hexagon rock columns formed thousands of years ago by volcanic eruptions to Fingal's Cave (to my surprise the columns weren't slippery and walking on each one felt like a stepping stone to the next).
Listen to the astonishing acoustics of Fingal’s Cave, which inspired Mendelssohn to compose his Hebrides Overture
Hike to the highest point of the island and spot few Puffins along the way
Look at the haunting caves from above the cliffs
The final island stop was to the largest of the Treshnish Isles - Isle of Lunga. We were promised a Puffin Therapy when we got on the boat from Staffa and it was time we experienced this unusual therapy. When you arrive at the island and walk to the top of the cliffs, you can see why the island is often described as "a green jewel in a Peacock sea". The number of endangered wildlife inhabited in the island is also mind blogging. There was an abundance of Puffins and I couldn't believe how close we got to them.
Bird watching wasn't the only fun thing to do on the island but watching tourists lying on the grass to get their selfies taken with the Puffins was just as comical! Everyone was totally Puffinised and it was the most relaxing therapy I have ever had!
On the way back to Mull, Iain, the boat owner, pointed out a White Tailed Sea Eagle nest on top of the trees with the Sea Eagle soaring above it. Just when the day couldn't get any better, a group of Bottlenose Dolphins decided to chase our boat and put on a show. Their performance continued for half an hour while everyone in the boat cheered and smirked at their luck!
Sightings on the Ferry to Isle of Ulva - Grey Seals, Dolphins, Puffins, Sea Eagle, Razorbills, Guillemot, Kittiwakes and Seagulls
Buzzing with excitement at the number of wildlife seen and starting to feel peckish, we headed towards our hotel in Tobermory. Tobermory Hotel wasn't hard to find as its the pink building on the main street. It is a small boutique style family run hotel with a restaurant and a bar, ideal location as it is close to the shops and the main attractions in the village. We checked in and headed towards the restaurant for dinner, If you happen to find yourself in the restaurant, I would recommend the scallops which is locally sourced melt in the mouth goodness.
When I woke up the next morning in Tobermory Hotel first thing I did was peek out the window but it was pouring down with rain. The view of the harbour and boats out the window looked blurry with raindrops spitting on the window. The colourful village looked very different from the sunning day before. I was initially feeling disheartened that that my usual Holiday early morning walk was ruined but it was soon forgotten by the lure of delicious Full Scottish breakfast, perfect for a long day ahead.
After breakfast we checked out and drove to Craignure where we called into the Visit Scotland Visitor Information Centre to pick up details on getting to the Eagle Hide (South) later that afternoon. There were some local roadworks in place en route to the Eagle Hide and we got the latest information on the route at the Visitor Centre.
Finally we continued on to Duart Castle which has been the home of Clan Maclean for over 400 years. Its stands proudly on the clifftop above the Sound of Mull and can be seen from the ferry as you approach Craignure. Duart Castle is a small and lovingly restored family home and is one of the last privately owned Clan Homes in Scotland and owned by Sir Lachlan Maclean. I did a tour round the castle and learned a few things about the history of the clan and the castle. They’re currently making some essential repairs to the castle so there is some scaffolding to be seen. The good news is it will soon be looking better than ever once work is complete! Repairs will cost £1.2 million, and there’s still £600K to raise. The story of the castle touched our hearts so before we went, we left a little something that could go towards the repair of the castle.
What I loved seeing inside the castle was the personal photos of the family and the group gatherings of numerous Clan congresses. I loved the idea how the Maclean's from all around the world visited year after year for a week of Clan celebration. The happy photos dotted around the castle added a feeling of cosiness.
After exploring the castle, we headed towards the Castle Tearoom which was recently awarded Taste Our Best Accreditation for their home baking and use of local produce, If you decide to go for some tea, ask to sit at the famous table that has been there since the cafe opened and everyone who has ever worked in the castle cafe have signed the table, On the lunch menu they offered sandwiches and cakes, I had my eye on the castles own venison stew, which sounded delicious!
Just as we were leaving the castle grounds we saw a huge bird that looked like what we were going to see next! (still not sure if it was a Golden Eagle or some other bird of prey, but it was huge)
Eagle Watch Hide
There are 2 Eagles Hides – one in the North near Dervaig and one in the South at Tioran. With food in our belly and cakes consumed for our spirit we powered on towards the South Eagle Hide. The drive to Tioran is breathtaking and is one of my favourite roads in Isle of Mull.
The eagles are of huge importance to tourism on Mull. Interest and visitors to the Eagle Watch contribute around £1million in revenue each year so as well as wonderful thing to see as part of our visit to Mull, they are also a significant contributor to the local economy. The Ranger led trips run seven days a week between the two viewing hides and booking is essential. The booking is through the Visit Scotland Information Centre at Craignure which we had visited earlier in the day. Trips usually run twice daily and last around 2 hours. Our visit was arranged with Jan Dunlop, Head of the Ranger Service.
On arrival to the site, we were greeted by the lovely seasonal ranger, Jan, a young lady in her twenties and with in seconds of saying hello, she moved her attention towards the wide sky, quickly grabbed her binocular and shouted with excitement "Sparrow Hawk, thats a Sparrow Hawk right there". Right then I knew it was going to be fun filled two hours for a amateur bird watcher like myself. She then lead us towards the White Tailed Sea Eagle hide and pointed towards the nest. We could see the female Sea Eagle, Iona, protecting her young chick, which was yet to be named. We were lucky enough to see both parent sea Eagles visit the nest and feeding the chick through our scopes.
Sightings during the Eagle Watch: Sparrow Hawk, Buzzards, White Tailed Sea Eagle, Deer trails, Woodpeckers, Chaffinches, Yellow Wagtails and zillions of Midges
After another eventful and exciting day, we headed towards our last hotel stay.
Isle of Mull Hotel and Spa
After about 10 photo stops we finally got to our hotel which is close to Craignure ferry terminal, in the crescent of Craignure Bay with gardens stretching to the water’s edge. The facilities in the Isle of Mull Hotel and Spa included a 17-metre swimming pool, outdoor hot tub, sauna and specialist Rasul Mud Room as well as bar and restaurant serving locally sourced produce. Just what we needed after a long day outdoors! I spent most of the evening looking out the window day dreaming before we headed for a 6 course dinner.
After a goodnight sleep at the hotel and eating Kedgeree for breakfast. I headed out for a blissful morning walk towards the the hotels water edge. I sat on the bench and watched the morning Calmac ferry reach the terminal and few herons fly past, an ideal spot to stop and wonder about the things I saw the past few days in the island. Today was the last day and my final chance to explore the island before heading back to mainland on the same ferry that I watch get in the harbour.
Ulva is a privately owned island off the west coast of Mull. It is separated from Mull by a narrow strait, and connected to the neighbouring island of Gometra by a bridge. Much of the island is formed from Cenozoic basalt rocks, which is formed into columns in places. To summon the Ulva ferry, you have to uncover the red panel fixed on the white house then cover the red panel as the boat approaches. I found this simple and old fashioned but effective concept amusing. The return ticket prices are £6.00 for adults and £3.00 for children which you buy from the boathouse cafe in Ulva.
We had limited time on Ulva as we had lunch reservations near Calgary so we decided to explore Shiela's Cottage and do part of the native woodland walk. On the way back on the ferry, I quizzed the local about the population of Ulva which I had read somewhere to be 16, he said that his family and two other bachelors were the only occupants left on the island. I met his wife and kids in the boathouse. Sadly there were Chinese whispers that the owners of the island were perhaps thinking to sell the island over the next few months.
After a short drive from Ulva ferry, we arrived for our afternoon meal. Am Berlin resturant is located midway between Dervaig and Calgary. It’s housed in a contemporary wooden building in a beautiful location just off the Dervaig. The restaurant is owned by the local wildlife operators Turus Mara whom I met on my trip to Staffa and the Treshnish Isles and one of the producers of sea food was Donald who I had met on the way to Ulva. It felt like I had met few of the local Heroes in my short stay! Everything in the menu looked delicious and we were totally spoilt for choice!
After our lunch we headed towards Calgary beach for a short walk. On the way there I had to get out of the car to move along few unwilling local sheep lying on the road (which got in me fits of laughter).
Next to the car park I found the cutest ice cream shop I have ever seen! The shop is made out of boats.
Sightings on Day 3: Deer, sheep, Eagles, Buzzards and finally an Otter crossing the road on the way to Calmac Ferry.
Sadly our adventures at the island came to an end and we had to head towards Craignure to return to Oban on Calmac Ferry,
Additional information and Useful Links for general information on Mull visit:
Some photos taken during our many stops at day 2 and 3