Scotland has a couple of vast islands off its west coast. Most visitors are intimately familiar with the Isle of Skye by the time they step off the plane in Scotland, but the other island, the Isle of Mull, snares only a fraction of Skye’s limelight. Perhaps it is unfair to compare the two islands – their primary similarity being that they are both large islands on Scotland’s west coast – but the fact is they fill similar roles in visitors’ itineraries. Today I’m giving Mull the rightful attention it deserves in the latest installment of my Scotland Itinerary Ideas series.
I have largely focused on specific topics throughout the life of Traveling Savage, but now I’m providing you with information at a higher level to help in your Scotland trip-planning, idea-generation phase. These Scotland Itinerary Ideas articles collect many of my previous posts on the selected region into one place, along with my assessment of their criticality for the visitor and a bevy of useful tidbits that might’ve gotten lost along the way. At the end of the day, these articles should be useful cheat sheets to refer to when you begin planning your next trip to Scotland.
Questions and suggestions are always welcome!
The Isle of Mull
The memory of the Isle of Mull is like a warm handprint upon my mind where eagles soared in the skies and otters scampered along the endless jagged coastline, where dolphin pods arced above waters that splashed upon geological wonders thrusting from the sea, where narrow roads pulled me through vast glens echoing with the primordial hammer strokes of creation. Mull is a thriving wilderness that propositions the visitor with communion. Will you stop and allow this outside world to help you look inward? Out on the lonely roads and in the wild places or hunched over a pint amidst the pub’s clamor there is a sense of being connected to something greater here on Mull, and in all my travels it is a special feeling I hold in reverence.
Things You Can’t Miss
Staffa and Fingal’s Cave. Truly the stuff of legend, the tiny island of Staffa pokes from the sea to the west of Mull looking like a sheaf of straw clutched tight by a titan’s hand. The dark maw of Fingal’s Cave opens on the southern face and provides an intense look upon the island’s incredible geology. Boat trips from Oban and Ulva Ferry, Fionnphort, and Iona regularly ply the waters and give visitors an unforgettable experience – some, like Turus Mara, even “abandon” you on the island for a short time. Soak in the distant views and the singular location.
Tobermory. Often cited as Scotland’s most beautiful village, Tobermory’s stepped streets descend toward a perfect harbor surrounded by a multicolored waterfront. Mull’s primary town has more than a few great places to eat and drink that serve up delicious local seafood and batches of cask ale. Tobermory is a calm place that makes an excellent spot to retire to after a long day rambling across Mull’s hills or sailing among the islands of the Inner Hebrides.
Iona Abbey. Just a five-minute ferry crossing from the western tip of the Ross of Mull sits the Isle of Iona with its famous abbey. Iona Abbey was the focal point of the spread of Christianity throughout Scotland, and untold thousands make the pilgrimage here each year to pay respects and look upon the abbey’s religious wonders. Iona Abbey is a worthy day out even for the non-religious as the interesting history of the place dates all the way back to 563 AD – plus, the Argyll Hotel on Iona serves up some tasty menu items.
Things You Shouldn’t Miss
Castles. Mull is home to a couple of stunning castles. Duart, perched majestically on a rocky promontory overlooking the Firth of Lorn, will be incredibly hard to miss as you’ll pass right by it on the ferry from Oban. Much further afield, in the far north hinterland, stands gorgeous Victorian Glengorm castle (pictured below). Both castles are worth a look inside and make good bad-weather excursions. If opulent seclusion is your modus operandi, you can even stay at Glengorm.
A wildlife tour. Several companies offer wildlife tours around Mull and you will be shocked at how good the tour guides are at leading you to some amazing wildlife sightings. I spent a day with Discover Mull and, though the weather was terrible, enjoyed seeing several golden eagles, sea otters, seal pups, and huge red deer traveling along the tops of hills. Mull is truly one of the best places in Scotland to spot wildlife and a compelling reason to visit the island.
The impeccably clear night sky. When the weather is clear, Mull has some of the clearest night sky in Britain for stargazing thanks to the utter lack of light pollution. Many have captured amazing images of the Northern Lights on these nights, and there’s even a Web site that tracks the level of geomagnetic activity and thus the likelihood of spotting the Aurora Borealis.
Things to Do Off the Beaten Path
Explore Glen More. Austere Glen More is a windswept gash in Mull’s western reaches. The towering hills are largely unpeopled and make for excellent hill walking and exploration. Hidden lochs await beyond the view from the road. Always take suitable precautions when hiking in the hills, especially when doing so alone.
Meditate at Calgary Bay. West of Dervaig in northwest Mull hides the gorgeous white-sand beach at Calgary Bay. A great span of low, green grass fades into the sand where picnic tables and birds accentuate the natural vista. The bay, which gave its name to the city of Calgary, Alberta, is the right place to lose yourself in artistic or meditative endeavors and makes an ideal stop on your way to Ulva Ferry from Tobermory.
Get “Kidnapped” on Erraid. Erraid is little more than a rocky, deserted tidal island, but for literature nerds it might very well be worth the effort to visit as it was one of the locations in Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous novel Kidnapped. David Balfour, the hero of the novel, was marooned on Erraid, a place the author was familiar with since his father built a lighthouse there.
Logistics and Salient Bits
Bases. The vast majority of Muileachs live in the northern section of Mull near Tobermory, and that’s where I recommend basing yourself during a visit. This means you’ll have a bit of a drive if you arrive by ferry to Craignure and also if you mean to visit Iona on the far distant side of the island, but those will be good excuses to get out and explore regions you might otherwise miss. I spent time in Dervaig and Tobermory and found both to be well situated for all the activities I had planned. Self-catering is a great idea, though there are plenty of B&Bs scattered across the island that won’t disappoint.
Transportation. Getting to Mull generally requires a ferry ride from Oban, though there are some flights to the island (I never saw an airport). Other ferries sail from the smaller islands and from Kilchoan on the Ardnamurchan peninsula. I recommend sailing over with a rental car from Oban. The ride is not long, especially compared to getting to Islay, and you will be ecstatic to have the freedom a car offers in a wild place like Mull.
Food & Drink. I enjoyed some surprisingly good food and drink on Mull. My favorite pub quickly became the Bellachroy Hotel near Dervaig, which served plenty of good whisky and cask ales in addition to hearty local fare prepared with a skilled touch. Am Birlinn prepared the pork belly pictured below out in a secluded, forested setting west of Dervaig, and everything on their menu was delicious. In Tobermory, Café Fish is renown for its seafood and often wins awards as the best seafood restaurant in Scotland, and the Galleon Grill is a worthy stop as well. The Mishnish and MacDonald Arms make for a pair of decent pubs, but also consider The Western Isles Hotel for a drink with a great view. Don’t miss the fish carts along the harbor or the excellent Tobermory distillery!
I hope this article has filled you with an impulse to visit Mull. I really loved my time on the island and found that I might even prefer it to Skye, but that seems like an opinion that changes with the weather. The last thing you should do is write-off Mull because you’re planning to visit Skye. The two islands are dissimilar in so many different ways and both worthy of your visit.