Mull and Iona
Mull is the second largest island of the Inner Hebrides. Perhaps best known for the colourful harbour of Tobermory at the northern end of the island, Mull has become very popular as a holiday destination, most particularly among wildlife enthusiasts.
In this volume you will find the best walking routes on Mull and the neighbouring islands of Iona and Ulva, both easily reached by short ferry journeys. Mull includes some of the wildest coastal scenery in the country as well as many grand mountains, pretty villages and stunning sandy beaches.
96 pages / 105mm x 148mm / step inside the guide
Mull is the second largest island of the Inner Hebrides, its moorland peninsulas radiating out from a rugged heart of mountains and fringed by impressive coastal cliffs.
Mull and Iona are both easily reached by short ferry journeys. The irregular shape of Mull covers over 800 sq km with its convoluted coastline stretching for nearly 500km, but all this vast space is home to less than 3000 people. This gives a clue to the wild nature of the island, with a feeling of vastness and space that is greatly enhanced by the narrow, twisting island roads. It is perhaps no surprise that the island has become famed for its wildlife, with sea eagles soaring over all that magnificent terrain, roamed by red deer, and with otters, dolphins and seals frequently seen from the shore.
In spite of the tiny population when compared to the size of the island, Mull is well used to catering for visitors and the walks can often be combined with visits to attractions, craft studios, tea rooms or restaurants. Most walkers will also want to take advantage of one of the wildlife-spotting and scenic boat trips, including those to Staffa and Fingal’s Cave, or out to Lunga and the Treshnish islands (packed with puffins in early summer). The Mull Eagle Watch, RSPB ranger-led trips to view the magnificent sea eagles, will be a must for any amateur twitcher. Mull and Iona also have their share of excellent historical attractions, such as Iona Abbey and Duart Castle. A recent revival in the production of local and seasonal food means that many cafés and restaurants are now serving local seafood, meat and cheese, not forgetting the local Oban Bay Brewery real ales and whisky from the Tobermory distillery, which does a great tour, perfect for a wet day.
How to use this guide
This book contains 40 varied walks located in all corners of the island and its two smaller neighbours, Iona and Ulva. Whilst many of the walks are on tracks and paths, Mull’s high annual rainfall and peaty terrain mean that boggy ground is often encountered. Where this is particularly likely to be the case it is highlighted, but waterproof boots are recommended generally for any walking on Mull. The few mountain routes included in this book require full hillwalking gear and good navigation skills, but several of the coastal routes such as the walks to the Fossil Tree and to the Carsaig Arches are not to be underestimated. A sketch map accompanies each route; however, apart from a couple of the shortest waymarked trails, it is essential to carry and use an Ordnance Survey map.
There is no mountain rescue team on Mull, so even more than elsewhere it is crucial that anyone heading out for a walk is well prepared and has good navigation skills. On most of the walks, mobile phone reception is non-existent.
Access and dogs
Mull has a limited bus service which is geared towards the school day; however, with a bit of pre-planning and imagination it is possible to access many of the walks using a mix of public transport and taxis. Most of the routes are circular and the book indicates where public transport can be taken, although up to date timetables should be checked at the visitor information centres (Craignure and Tobermory) or with Traveline Scotland (travelinescotland.com). Scotland has some of the most liberal access laws in Europe thanks to the Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003. This gave walkers the right of access over most Scottish land away from residential buildings. With these rights come responsibilities as set out in the Scottish Outdoor Access Code which is worth familiarising yourself with. Mull is still a predominantly crofting landscape with sheep and cattle often grazing on open land; the land provides a rich habitat for many species of groundnesting birds. For these reasons dogs must be kept under close control during spring and early summer and at all times when livestock are present.
The Isle of Mull has become a byword for wildlife spotting. White-tailed or sea eagles were reintroduced on the nearby Isle of Rum from 1975 and became resident again on Mull. Recent TV programmes featuring the eagles, as well as the otters, deer and other wildlife on the island, have made it a top destination for both avid twitchers and more amateur wildlife enthusiasts. A number of companies have sprung up offering wildlife safaris and tours as well as whale and bird watching boat trips.
The sea eagle is Britain’s largest bird of prey and to see these massive creatures sweeping overhead is a memorable experience. The RSPB runs two-hour sea-eagle spotting trips in Glen Seilisdeir which offer the chance of seeing these birds using scopes and binoculars and on CCTV; however, anyone undertaking many of the coastal and hill routes on the island is likely to be rewarded with a good sighting.
Otters on the other hand are more elusive, although those at Tobermory Harbour are getting canny to the regular food source from the fishing boats and are becoming less shy. On coastal walks look out for the tell-tale bright green grassy mounds made up from their nitrogren-rich spraint used to mark territories. Spotting otters requires luck. However, seals are seen much more often, and boat trips provide opportunities to see the whales which frequent the waters in the spring and summer months.
One tiny creature amongst Mull’s famed wildlife is less favoured by visitors – the midge. During the summer months these tiny biters come out in force on still, drizzly days, especially in the early morning and evening, though a slight wind or strong sunshine usually sees them off. A variety of repellents are available, many based on the chemical DEET and others containing bog-myrtle; many locals use Avon Skin so Soft.
Arriving on Mull many visitors’ first impression is how green the island is, closely followed by just how tortuous, windy and bumpy many of the roads are. The verdant green of much of the island is a result of relatively heavy rainfall combined with the warming effects of the Gulf Stream; there are also broad forestry plantations which have clothed large areas of the island in conifers.
Although much of the land on Mull is still crofted, many areas have been given over to common grazings rather than the more intensive crofting practices of the past. The scattered settlements, empty glens, and numerous ruined crofts and summer sheilings are testament to a time when Mull was heavily populated. Human settlement here goes back a long way, evidenced by the forts and crannogs built by residents in the Iron Age.
At its peak in the 18th and 19th centuries the island’s population stood at around 10,000. Most people were tenants of a few large landowners; as well as a number of trades and fishing, many crofters were employed gathering and processing seaweed for a number of uses. The collapse of the kelp industry, combined with the potato famine, propelled many landowners into clearing the land of their tenants to make way for more profitable sheep. Some of the clearances were particularly brutal with reports of tenants being burnt out of their homes. A poorhouse was established in Tobermory and many families emigrated – hence the establishment of Calgary and Iona in Canada. Mull also became popular as a destination on the Grand Tour with Fingal’s Cave on Staffa a particular draw, together with Mackinnon’s Cave and the Fossil Tree.
Planning your visit
Although visitor numbers are lost amongst Mull’s vast empty acres, the island’s popularity means that during the summer months both the car ferries and accommodation on the island can be booked up well in advance. This is especially true on Saturday ferry sailings from Oban. If travelling from Fort William or the north, the 15-minute crossing from Lochaline is worth checking out – this cannot be pre-booked. Ferry prices and availability can be checked online with Calmac (calmac.co.uk). Mull has a good range of places to stay. A number of luxury serviced and self-catering properties have recently sprung up as well as hostels, campsites (including the static canvas sheilings available for rent at Craignure) and many good B&Bs. At Calgary Bay locals have responded to demand – and helped mitigate damage to the fragile machair – by setting up a wild camping area; similarly the community at Dervaig added bunkrooms when the local hall was being refurbished.