Mull Rewind: A Look Back and a Week of Bests

by Keith Savage · 10 comments

Tobermory Bay

The Isle of Mull off Scotland’s west coast is a sanctuary, a peaceful, wild island teeming with wildlife and resonating with powerful good vibes. As I’m gearing up to move on to posts about Glasgow and to fill in the gaps of my previous trips, I thought it’d be nice to collect my writings on Mull first. I wrote a similar post to wrap up my writing about Islay and many found it helpful. This isn’t the end of Mull on Traveling Savage – there are plenty of tidbits left to convey and it’s likely I will return – but consider this the bow on a nicely wrapped-up package.

I experimented with writing vignettes during my trip, and my first Mull vignette relayed how welcoming the island felt – I certainly felt like no stranger. After a few wildlife journeys and a meeting with the champions of Mull Eagle Watch, I came to appreciate Mull’s winged guardians and think of the place as the eagle island.

Upon returning home, I approached Mull with my typical lowdown, which summarizes my experience and orients readers to the place. Mull struck me with its beauty, which I feel bests even Skye. I had many options for Picture This posts, despite the frequent rain, from standing ten yards from a seal pup to the shores of Iona. I captured the ferry ride to Mull by taking in islands in the Firth of Lorn and arrived to a place that first impressed me as a kingdom of wind. Throughout the week I experienced moments of inspiration and connection, from the misty hillsides of Glen More to nightfall in Dervaig to solitude on the isle of Staffa. Finally, I found some knowledge in the heart of Iona Abbey.

The week was filled with good sleeps, eats, and activities. I enjoyed my own apartment at Druimnacroish just south of Dervaig for the first half of the week and moved to the Western Isles Hotel in Tobermory for the second half. Taking in the bounty of Mull’s natural beauty was paramount, so I boarded a boat for a tour of Staffa and the Treshnish Isles and hit the roads for wildlife ranging around northern Mull. Staffa was so gorgeous in the perfect weather that I posted a compact photo essay of the island and Fingal’s Cave. Finally, no Traveling Savage trip would be complete without a stop at a distillery. I popped into Tobermory Distillery and sampled the wares with Graham Brown, the manager.

A Week of Bests

Scribbling down the best things of each day on the road is a little ritual I picked up from Sarah. Without further ado…

Best Meal

After my first full day on Mull, I decided I needed some high quality sustenance. I headed west from Dervaig to a beautiful outpost in Alaistair’s Woods called Am Birlinn. The owners of Am Birlinn pride themselves on sourcing local and wild food – they can even tell you who caught the fish you’re eating. I started the meal with a trio of oysters harvested from Croig beach just up the road. They were briny, tangy, and a refreshing way to kick off the meal. I moved on to the main course, which was a massive slab of pork belly on a bed of buttery grains with braised purple cabbage. Hearty, rich, and delicious! The amount of pork belly I received would make four plates in other restaurants.

Best Communion with Wildlife

I managed to sight many of Mull’s wild species during the week, but one moment stands out. On the ten-minute ferry ride from Iona back to Fionnphort on Mull, a pod of dolphins surfaced next to the ferry – just outside the window I happened to be staring out. My fellow ferry-goers spoke exclaimed in German and crowded around the window. There’s something different in the way dolphins move from other animals. Their intelligence is visible. They actually seemed to be playing with the ferry, cresting the water repeatedly and showing off their swimming skills. All of 20 feet and a ferry window separated us, but we felt a lot closer than that.

Best Moment of Utter Meltdown

Travel can draw out the worst in me. Little things are magnified, emotions are amplified. I’m generally a very even-keeled guy; I take things on the chin and keep moving. But when I arrived at the Western Isles Hotel, the site of the three-night stay to conclude my week on Mull, and found out they didn’t have wifi in the rooms, I lost it. I imagine watching me “lose it” would be pretty funny since it generally involves me sitting quietly and staring out a window. I’m a wifi crackhead when I travel so this was a pretty big deal. I thought the withdrawal might kill me. I managed to leech wifi in the halls and sate my cravings, and I’ve heard that wifi is now freely available in all Western Isles Hotel rooms now.

Best Feeling of Life-as-Video-Game

My rangings in Scotland generally have destinations, but I drove around Mull a couple times without specific ideas of where I wanted to go. On a sunny Wednesday I drove north out of Tobermory and followed a rough road to the coast. I left the car in a parking lot and hiked an old trail through some woods and over wind-blasted hills. I stopped to appreciate the scenery and turned around to see the massive and glorious Glengorm Castle towering above me. It was the kind of find that harkened back to hours spent adventuring in RPGs. When I say “harkened back,” I really mean “reminds me of yesterday” when I spent something like eight hours playing Skyrim.

Best Local Watering Hole

By the end of my week on Mull, I’m fairly certain the staff of the Bellachroy Hotel thought I was trying to drain them of cask ales. Dervaig is a tiny town ensconced in north-central Mull, and the Bellachroy Hotel has been offering refreshments to weary travelers there for 400 years. I must have visited the place four or five times during the week to sample their ales and enjoy some meals – they serve a mean seafood platter. I traded stories with locals and learned a thing or two about getting my keister whooped in Shanghai darts. It’s a very homey, welcoming place, and Mull is lucky to have such a gem.

Best Vista

I won’t soon forget standing above Fingal’s Cave on Staffa and gazing on the islands dotting the horizon. It was all birds upon the air and boats upon the sea, waves bellowing in hollow caves and flinty sea air wrestling the clouds. The footprint of mankind was nowhere to be seen other than a few respectful plaques. These places are disappearing, and it’s worth remembering what the world originally looked like.

Erik RasmussenNo Gravatar March 18, 2014 at 10:19 AM

Thanks for another enticing and evocative piece on Scotland. Where on Mull was that photo taken of the three lochs? I’ve only been to Mull for a day trip but plan to return and explore more of it–including that spot.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar March 18, 2014 at 10:44 AM

Hi Erik,

I shot that photo from the A849 on the way back from Iona driving east toward Bunnessan. That whole road is a gorgeous stretch.

Romania travelerNo Gravatar January 30, 2012 at 9:15 AM

Wow, never had the chance to taste pork belly and it sounds quite interesting. Is it tasty? How do they make it?
Also, I know it is not about this topic, but where can I find some tips for a Scotland budget travel? I would love to visit the country, but am from Eastern Europe and would be on a tight budget. Thanks in advance.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 31, 2012 at 8:51 AM

Pork belly is delicious and I believe it’s a different preparation of the same part of the pig that yields bacon. I can provide you with budget advice for Scotland. Feel free to email specific questions to me at travelingsavage [at] gmail [dot] com.

Tours to ChinaNo Gravatar January 18, 2012 at 10:00 PM

Yummy food… made my mouth water!

LaneNo Gravatar January 10, 2012 at 9:48 PM

You’ve sold us on Scotland — and pork belly.

Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 18, 2012 at 10:28 PM

It’s not too tough of a sell, is it?

Carolina J.No Gravatar January 10, 2012 at 4:30 AM

Oh, dear, what a delicious plate! And the amount of pork belly is simply astounding!

Keith SavageNo Gravatar January 18, 2012 at 10:28 PM

It was a ridiculous amount – I couldn’t finish it!

KenNo Gravatar January 9, 2012 at 1:36 PM

Sounds simply wonderful. I’m adding Mull to the Scotland I have to see before my dirt nap. ;>)

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