Islands of wonder
Rugged coastlines, enchanted caves and secret bathing pools are just some of the natural treasures that abound on Mull and surrounding islands. So head off on an enthralling journey of discovery in our exclusive extract from Wild Guide Scotland
THE largest island in Argyll is a wild and beautiful one with something to please every preference. Board the ferry from Oban or Kilchoan and discover Mull’s stunning sandy bays and beaches, deep forests, dramatic coastal scenery, high mountains and the magical islands scattered around its western seaboard.
The island’s 300 miles of wild, rugged coastline are deeply cut by lochs and contain some of the most breathtaking cliff scenery and coastal features on the Scottish isles. Explore a series of spectacular natural arches at Carsaig or head deep inside the mythical Mackinnon’s Cave.
Mull has earned a reputation for its exceptional wildlife, on- and offshore. Look out for eagles soaring in the beautiful Glen More, which lies next to the island’s only Munro, or red deer hiding in the woods. In summer, journey to the Isle of Staffa and find hundreds of colourful puffins congregating on the cliffs. Confident swimmers can dive off the basalt columns and into the mouth of the legendary Fingal’s Cave, allowing the tide to carry them inside on their back beneath the cavern’s strikingly coloured roof. In the south-west there are beautiful bays like Tràigh Gheal and Uisken, where soft sands are lapped by crystalline turquoise waters, and further west along the coastline kayakers glide between the rocky islets at Fidden Bay and families watch from the popular farm campsite. From here you can walk or swim across to the tidal island of Erraid and wild camp by the delightful cove hidden in its south side.
Colourful buildings wrap around the harbour in the lively main town of Tobermory, which is definitely worth visiting – but there are plenty of other places to eat and stay across the island. Devour incredible fresh shellfish at Creel Seafood Bar, close to the Iona ferry, and sample local dishes in The Boathouse on beautiful Ulva. Those looking for peace and quiet can head to Gometra and spend a few nights in a remote, off-grid bothy or wild camp by the waterfalls at Eas Fors. BEACHES & WILD SWIMMING Tràigh Gheal, Knockvologan Remote, beautiful white sand beach hidden amongst rocky outcrops and sheltered by the islet of Eilean Mòr. The cove is approached by a trail through a nature reserve, home to much wildlife, flowering plants and the ruined Tìr Fhearagain village. Fidden Beach On a sunny day the bay at Fidden could be easily mistaken for the Caribbean. The beautiful west-facing beach with its crystalclear waters and pink granite outcrops is a perfect place for wild swimming, kayaking and watching sunsets over the islets lying in front of Iona. Uisken Bay, Bunessan Sleepy, rock-encircled bay with a white sand beach, informal camping and fine views to Colonsay and the Paps of Jura. Calgary Bay Broad, white shell-sand beach, glorious machair and bright blue water stretch as far as the eye can see, all framed by low hills and craggy headlands. Calgary Bay is a true Scottish gem and one of Mull’s most popular wilder camping spots. Make a day of it here and also take time to visit the nearby Calgary Art In Nature gallery and view some of the sculptures in the surrounding woodlands. Dùn Ara Bathing Pool Enjoy a peaceful swim in a lovely spot sheltered from the waves, which was constructed as a bathing pool. The pool, revealed at low tide, is by the site of an old medieval fort and surrounded by striking land and seascapes. There are other inlets around to the R, and this rugged coast is good for spotting seals. Eas Fors, Ballygown Series of waterfalls with small plunge pools, the final fall plummeting 30m over a cliff into the sea. There are some great places for a picnic or take a dip by the middle and upper cascades, and a couple
of wild camping spots for those who don’t mind the midges. MAGICAL ISLANDS Staffa The “island of pillars” is home to summer colonies of puffins, wild flowers ungrazed by any mammals, and of course one of the most majestic places in Scotland, the remarkable Fingal’s Cave. This sea cavern, over 20m high, is formed of fantastically beautiful hexagonal basalt columns and arches. During calm seas there is the opportunity to jump into the freezing cold sea and swim to the end of the cave. Listen closely to the eerie acoustics of the waves echoing at the back of “the melodious cave”, as the original Gaelic name of An Uaimh Bhinn describes it. Turus Mara from Ulva Ferry, 01688 400242. Turusmara.com Staffa Tours from Oban or Fionnphort, 07831 885985. Staffatours.com Ulva This beautiful privately owned island, thickly wooded in parts and with striking basalt columns and cliffs, is home to native wildlife including red deer, seals and golden eagles. Around 16 people still live on the island and make a living from sheep, cattle, oyster- and fish-farming and tourism. The wonderful Boathouse restaurant sits just above the pier. Tràig Bhàn, Iona The full name Tràigh Bàn nam Monach translates as “white strand of the monk”, fitting for this quiet sandy beach on the northern tip of Iona. Perfect for an earlymorning swim. On the way is Iona Abbey, a religious site since 586AD, with ancient high crosses, medieval cloisters and the burial ground for the Lords of the Isles. Erraid This small island featured in Robert Louis Stevenson’s adventure story Kidnapped, in which the hero wrecked there did not realise that it is accessible at low tide by a sandy causeway. Privately owned, it is home to a small Findhorn community in the north, and has a beautiful cove on its south side. Garbh Eilean At least 10 isles and islets share this name, which translates as “rough isle”. This one is a dome-shaped tidal island connected to the shore by a wonderful arced sandbar at Kilvickeon beach (not named on maps, but the accepted name). CAMP & SLEEP Fidden Farm Campsite Wonderful large informal farm campsite located right by the beautiful Fidden Beach. Great base for kayaking and swimming. Knockvologan Road, Nr Fionnphort, PA66 6BN, 01681 700427. Calgary Bay Wild Camping Free wild camping by the beach with great views and toilet facilities. A very sociable camp spot and often busy. Large motorhomes and caravans not permitted, no drinking water. S end of Calgary Bay just off B8073, S of PA75 6QQ. Shieling Holidays Seaside campsite with pitches for tents, campers and caravans, large “shielings” (permanent tent-like structures with basic furniture and electricity) and two charming cottages. Common room with stove and free wi-fi. Craignure, PA65 6AY, 01680 812496. Shielingholidays.co.uk Gometra Bothies Remote off-grid cottages located a 7-8 mile walk away from Ulva ferry on the roadless Isle of Gometra, itself practically off any grid there is. Very basic but charming interiors offering just a little more comfort than public mountain bothies. Enjoy the beautiful views and an abundance of wildlife on the island. Gometra, Ulva Ferry, PA73 6NA, text 07525 751171. Gometra.org Lip Na Cloiche Delightful B&B housed in a traditional style cottage and situated amid a beautiful densely planted garden and nursery. Great food at The Ballygown Restaurant is three houses along. Ballygown, nr Ulva Ferry, PA73 6LU, 01688 500257. Lipnacloiche.co.uk Extracted from Wild Guide Scotland: Hidden Places, Great Adventures & the Good Life by Kimberley Grant, Richard Gaston and David Cooper (£16.99). EXCLUSIVE READER OFFER: Readers can enjoy 20 per cent off and free P&P with code ‘sundayherald’ at checkout at www.wildthingspublishing.com
Calgary Bay Mull: the perfect place to watch the sunset and share stories around the fire
Confident swimmers can dive off the basalt columns and into the mouth of the legendary Fingal’s Cave on Staffa