A time to Mull
Determined to grab the final slivers of autumnal sunshine, Ferment’s Adele Juraža and Calum Sey head to the Hebridean Isle of Mull
Adele Juraža and Calum Sey
Saturday 15 January 2022
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As the second largest isle of the Hebrides, Mull is host to a great array of sights and history, and is particularly renowned for its pure white sands and incredible views, no matter where you are on the Isle. It also ticks all the boxes for someone that loves the outdoors: cozy cafes to put your feet up in, lively bars that may have you singing by the end of the night and historical castles that are scattered across the coast.
A famous phonebox
The Isle of Mull lies just eight miles off the Scottish coast from Oban, a one-hour ferry to the port of Craignure, where the traveller faces a straightforward choice: left down to the South of the Isle or right leading to the North. We decide on the former and headed south towards Fionnphort.
A short journey from the port, Duart Castle is an obvious first stop for any visitor. The summer tourism season being well and truly over though, we are greeted by a wall of grey, unremitting rain. Still, fresh onto the Isle and buzzed to be out and about, we jump out of the car to explore, only to be sent packing by a fresh downpour.
From here, it’s straight onto the single lane roads that are the norm on Mull, and throughout the Hebrides, which meander over rolling mountains, along pure white shore lines, and through tiny hamlets, and are regularly obstructed by insanely stubborn sheep that want to have a staring contest with you in the middle of the road.
A tiny cliff-top side road to Carsaig on the South coast promises to take us to a famous phone box (yes, that’s right) from the 1945 British film “I Know Where I’m Going”, which we eventually find in all its glory, next to a roaring waterfall (gently slapping us in the face while standing next to it). This is also where we find our perfect camping spot for the night, tucked under a massive tree with a ready bonfire pit, with the sound of the waves to shush us to sleep. As the rain abates, the dark clouds fade to reveal a lush, dark sky full with stars. It’s the perfect moment to bring out the camera for a long exposure photoshoot as we munch on a homemade chicken curry and sip a sweet vanilla rum.
Dolphins off Iona
To our surprise, the sky is clear blue and the sun shining as we set off the next morning. With this in mind, our plan for the day is to visit the Isle of Iona, which we’ve been told deserves a full day. A pro tip for anyone visiting Mull is to build in a lot more travel time than you think you’ll need. Aside from the sheep, as I’ve already mentioned, you’ll find yourself regularly sidetracked by the many spectacular vistas and mysterious side roads. Needless to say, we missed our planned ferry to Iona, but as they run every 30 minutes this isn’t a disaster.
Once ashore, we are greeted by rows of cute houses and unique craft shops scattered across the town, all with works of local artists from Iona. Dinky coffee shops in old cottages require you to keep your head down low, for fear of knocking it against the doorframes. Everything about Iona and its town glows with a rural charm.
Out of the town, every direction leads to clear baby blue waters and white sand bays. As it takes a maximum of 90 minutes to walk from the north of the island to the south, everything is within walking distance, which is just as well, as the only ways to get around are by foot, bike, or the kindness of locals. This is absolutely how the island should be enjoyed though - taking the time to enjoy your surroundings and look out for wildlife. We are lucky enough to spot a group of dolphins playing in the water a stone’s throw from the shore.
We’ve enjoyed Iona so much that we stay well past our planned time and end up driving back east to our camping spot with the sun setting on our backs.
Waterfalls, white beaches and wooden otters
With a sunny morning starting day three, we boil up some water for tea, pack up the tent and leave our wild camping home. The road takes us north, toward Tobermory, one of Mull’s largest towns. We’d highly recommend you follow the scenic route round the Isle; you’ll drive past stunning water falls, along the edge of cliff faces and then all of a sudden be down at the base of them. One of our favourite finds is the Eas Fors waterfall, arguably the most spectacular on the island, and just a couple of miles north of Ulva Ferry. As a bonus, you’ll also get captivating views across Loch Tuath to the island of Ulva.
Our beautiful, wandering progression north brings us eventually to the famous Calgary bay, where open fields of machair lead down to a sheltered, pure white sand bay that looks all the way out to sea. With plenty of parking spots and a wee cafe built on the edge, it is the perfect place to bring out the stove and warm ourselves up with a hot drink.
Just a five minute walk up the road, you can scratch that artistic itch while still making the most of the fresh air and views, with a visit to the Calgary Art in Nature Woodland Sculpture Walk. As well as the walk itself – featuring giant sculptures of the local fauna and flora, hewn, built and woven from natural materials – you’ll find a cafe and gallery filled with handcrafted art pieces and paintings made by local artists.
With the day fighting off the evening (and losing), our search to find a freshly poured pint starts up again. With a bit of time and even more good luck, we come across The Bellachory, which just so happens to be the oldest inn on Mull, dating all the way back to 1608. It’s lasted so long for good reason, as you’ll find a true Scottish pub atmosphere with a classic hearty pub menu. We plump for two lovely cask pints of Fyne Ale’s Jarl.
Suitably warmed, we make our way to our B&B, Mornish Schoolhouse, for the night. Our lovely host Katja greets us by a log burning stove in the back, where we sit with her and talk about the island. As it happens, she’s involved with the Art in Nature Walk back in Calgary, building the willow tunnels that we found ourselves ducking through. She’s brought that artistic flare to her own home and garden, with a wonderful array of homemade foods brought out in the morning.
What’s the story?
After breakfast, we set off for Tobermory; an 18th century fishing port where many still make their living from the sea. Keen to tuck into some seafood fresh off the many boats making their way to and from the harbour, we head to the well-known Fish Cafe, which sits on the harbour wall among the drying nets and lobster pots. Lunch alone makes the whole trip worthwhile.
For the rest of the town, we find an assortment of shops, restaurants and hotels along the shore front, each building standing out from the next with brightly painted walls; Aficionados of children’s TV may recognise this view from the BBC’s Balamory. After a quick (and stunning) walk along the coastal path to the Rubha nan Gall lighthouse, we make our way to the far end of the harbour where, nestled into the sheltering cliffs, is Tobermory distillery.
The distillery, formerly known as Ledaig (pronounced ‘Letch-ick’), was founded in 1798 and produces both unpeated Tobermory and peated Ledaig whisky, as well as Tobermory gin. This small and historic distillery is a warren of staircases and platforms at the best of times, but with Covid restrictions still in place in Scotland, tours are an impossibility. All is not lost though, as we’re able to skip straight to the main event, the tasting, where visitor centre manager Olivier weaves us a story of each drink, bringing to light how both the Ledaig and Tobermory whiskies came about.
We’re given four exclusive whiskies to taste: the 17 year old Madeira Cask Finish, the 12 year old Amarone Cask Finish, the 1995 Manzanilla Cask and the 19 year Oloroso Cask, all beautifully presented on a big barrel used as a table. Each of the samples were a treat to taste, bursting with lots of flavours.
Murphy and Max
Our final morning kicked off with a pony trekking session in Killiechronan. Greeting us with our rides for the next hour is Liz, the owner of Mull Pony Trekking and Frankie, one of the instructors. After being formally introduced to our companions Murphy and Max, we waste no time getting saddled up and trotting out to the field for a quick warm up and driving lesson. Neither of us has been on horseback for at least ten years, but with Murphy and Max’s patience, we are ready to head out for our beach trek in no time.
With the wet season in full swing, the streams running off the hills are stronger, making the beach trek more exciting, traversing deep waters across the sand. As we make our way across the beach, the sun pushes the clouds open creating a magnificent rainbow just behind us; both ends land on the expanse of beach and we laugh about heading to the edge of it for the pot of gold. Magical.
Our next stop is a world-class cheese board, so we’re obviously keen to get going. Nonetheless, we are still sidetracked by an old shipwreck just out from the town of Salen. Washed up onto the shore, right beside the road, the temptation to explore – taking care on the slippery and treacherous planks – is just too great.
Back on the hunt for cheese though, there is a wonderful family-run dairy farm just on the outskirts of Tobermory, which has a gorgeous cafe inside a tall, bright greenhouse attached to the original farm building. The inside of the greenhouse is covered in mature vines crawling up the glass panels, making this man-made structure feel part of the growing garden.
With our trip coming to an end, we reflect on whether the warnings we received (and ignored) about traveling to the Hebrides in late autumn were justified or not. There are definitely pros and cons. Down in the south, we avoided the busy mess of other tourists, having almost every walk to ourselves and never struggled to find somewhere to park or stay. However, a lot places are closed for the season, and even a good number of the locals have picked up and set off for somewhere else. Up in the north though, it’s a different matter; most places are still open and there is a great selection of indoor and outdoor adventures.
Even with five full days to explore the Isle of Mull, there is still plenty for us to see. So we will be coming back, next time in a warmer season.
THE RIGHT KIT FOR THE JOB
For her Mull adventure, Adele was kitted out for everything the Hebrides threw at her, thanks to the high-quality, sustainable outdoorswear provided by Craghoppers.
• Warm Ginger Caldbeck Jacket - £120
• Blue Navy Ambra Half-Zip Fleece - £70
• Dark Navy Kiwi Pro II Trousers - £50
• Dark Grey Salado Mid Boots - £120
• Blue Navy 16L Kiwi Classic Rolltop Rucksack - £50
All available from www.craghoppers.com
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