The Lowdown on the Isle of Mull

by Keith Savage · 2 comments


The View Toward Tobermory, Northeast Mull, Scotland

The Isle of Mull, the second largest of the Inner Hebrides, hunkers down in the sea just 45 minutes west of Oban. The Morvern and Ardnamurchan peninsulas of the mainland cup mountainous Mull against the coast of Argyll, all of a similar kind yet separated by waterways. Mull’s history is splashed with sunken Spanish galleons, the Lordship of the Isles, and the backdrop of Robert Louis Stevenson stories. Perhaps more than anything, however, Mull is known as a wilderness burgeoning with wildlife like eagles, deer, seals, otters, and dolphins.

My previous travels around Scotland had taken me through Oban and around Scotland’s west coast, but I had never made the journey to Mull until my previous trip around the Inner Hebrides this past September. Unlike Islay, Mull is exceedingly easy to visit and many visitors make it a day trip on a longer travel around Scotland.

Not me. After my week on Islay, I ferried back to Kennacraig and sped north to Oban through a blinding rainstorm and over intestinal roads just in time to make my ferry to Mull. So began my week on this beguiling island and a shift from whisky to wildlife.

The Lowdown

Mull is a vast island, large swaths of which are inaccessible by road. The accessible parts, however, are incredibly gorgeous with loads of elevation and huge views over Scotland’s west coast. Most of Mull’s population resides along the island’s east coast, particularly in Tobermory, and at 2,700 total people it’s even smaller than Islay! As you venture west, large wind-blown glens cut through tall hills on their way to the sea. The Treshnish Isles, Ulva, Staffa, and scads of smaller islands fleck the sea off Mull’s west coast and make popular wildlife-watching destinations. The Ross of Mull in the south shoots west toward the holy Isle of Iona, which marks the main tourist attraction in the south and west of Mull.

While the whole of Islay felt like one big community, Mull feels more like an outpost of civilization. It’s much wilder and more spread out. There’s something in this feeling that makes it unique in all the places I’ve visited in Scotland. The Isle of Skye often gets the visitor’s attention for the “island getaway” portion of trips to Scotland (I think the bridge helps), but for my time and money I’d rather visit Mull.

Orientation

The 45-minute ferry from Oban to Craignure is the most common way to reach Mull, though if you happen to be in Morvern or Ardnamurchan you can catch the small Lochaline-Fishnish and Kilchoan-Tobermory ferries. From Craignure, the main road runs north to Tobermory and south and then west to Fionnphort and Iona. Most of the action on Mull is situated in the northern portion, the Aros Peninsula, starting at Salen. Dervaig and Calgary in the northwest are small yet worthy stops on trips from Tobermory, and the wild “B” roads that curl around and down the west coast make for exciting driving and heavenly views.

Southern Mull is quieter with Bunessan and Fionnphort in the west of the Ross of Mull marking the largest towns. The 10-minute ferry to Iona is always busy and the small island is full of pilgrims walking to Iona Abbey – the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland. I stayed in Dervaig and Tobermory, and this region is the ideal place to stay on Mull.

Sights & Activities

Torosay Castle and Duart Castle welcome visitors on the Oban-Craignure ferry to Mull, while Glengorm Castle sits majestically on the northern tip of the island. For simple fishing port beauty, a stroll around stepped Tobermory’s port can’t be beat. While you’re there, be sure to stop at Tobermory Distillery and sample the wares. Calgary is something of an artist’s enclave in Mull’s wooded west and sun-flooded Dervaig makes a beautiful stop en route. A trip of any length to Mull can’t exclude a visit to the ancient Iona Abbey, so head there through the immense Glen More valley.

Mull is famous for its eagles, and the RSPB has an Eagle Watch station where these beautiful birds can be viewed. Several companies on Mull also provide wildlife tours that take in much of Mull’s wilderness at a relaxing pace. Finally, day-long boat trips to the small isles and Fingal’s Cave on Staffa also provide the opportunity to witness seals, dolphins, porpoises, and whales.

Eating & Drinking

Mull has several nice places to eat and drink mostly located in the north. In Tobermory, the Mishnish Hotel, the MacDonald Arms, MacGough’s, and the Western Isles Hotel all serve food and drinks. I liked the Mishnish’s ambience, though I recommend testing your brew before you start chugging. Of particular note are the Galleon Grill and Café Fish – recently voted the best seafood restaurant in the UK – which require reservations days in advance. Tobermory also has run-of-the-mill Indian and Chinese restaurants as well as a decent fish cart near the docks.

I can’t recommend the Bellachory Hotel in Dervaig highly enough. It happened to be just up the road from my accommodations, and I became a regular there for my week on the island. Friendly bartenders and waitresses serve delicious food and excellent ales. Further west there’s the Calgary Farmhouse which has a cozy café and the upscale Am Birlinn which sources its produce locally – as in getting oysters from the beach not five minutes away. On Iona, check out the restaurant at the Argyll Hotel for the small island’s best food. I also heard that Mediterranea in Salen puts together some nice meals.

Notes from the Field

Mull is so easy to reach from Oban I can’t believe I hadn’t visited before. A two- or three-night stay on Mull would be perfect as part of a larger trip to Scotland. With that amount of time you can easily see and do the things that interest you. There was a really good vibe about the whole island that lifted my spirits and I look forward to returning. I want to give a special thanks to Neil at Holiday Mull and Iona for helping me arrange my visit.


KenNo Gravatar November 29, 2011 at 6:56 AM

Mull looks like a great place to visit! Your photos make me eager to see more of the island. Is it very touristy? That would be my worry if it’s so easy to reach. Tobermory would definitely be on my agenda. Their 15 year old is very fine whisky!

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Keith SavageNo Gravatar November 29, 2011 at 8:24 AM

Surprisingly no, it’s not touristy. Granted, I visited in mid-September and I’m sure Tobermory sees its fair share of tourists in the summer, but the infrastructure of the island didn’t reek of overtourism.

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