It's hard to beat Mull for a first adventure in the Hebrides or indeed Scotland. Just 45 minutes by ferry from Oban, one island gives bite size chunks of so many experiences that are special in Scotland- eagles soaring over mountains, lochs and glens; dolphins leaping out of crystal clear blue seas and probably one of the easier places I've been to catch a glimpse of the elusive otter. From dramatic mountains to white sand beaches, one minute you can feel like you're on Ben Nevis, the next on a Caribbean beach- although the changeable weather can have quite an influence.
I'm a firm believer in finding your own special places and making your own memories, you only need just enough information to know that a place is right for you. So as a starting point for your own explorations here's just 10 reasons why I think Mull is special, but I'd love to hear yours too.
I know it's not in Mull, but it would be a shame to view Oban as just the place where you get the ferry. In fact it's worth pausing for a while especially if you've had a long journey, even if you only have time to eat. Any holiday from Oban for me has to start at Eeusk a seafood restaurant of world renown, where all of the shellfish is locally caught. The waterfront location means there's always something to watch- boats busily going backwards and forwards; abundant wildlife and fellow holidaymakers- all make entertaining viewing while you wait for your fish to be cooked simply and without fuss.
Be careful where you choose to stay as price from my experience has not always been a guide for quality in Oban. By far the best place we have stayed is Greystones, it's described as a “boutique b&b” but is better than many 5* hotels I’ve stayed in. The owners are welcoming but not intrusive and if you can book a ferry to Mull that allows time for breakfast, it’s delicious, especially the locally smoked haddock
It’s only 45 minutes long so stay out on deck for your first glimpse of dolphins, seals and maybe even an otter. The scenery is dramatic and the lighthouse as you approach Mull is great for photographers. When you arrive at Craignure take a moment to scan the sea as there is a friendly otter that swims past the ferry terminal in the morning and in the evening on his way to and from his favourite hunting ground.
Tobermory is the picture-perfect main town of Mull with the famous brightly coloured cottages of TV’s “ Balamory” lining the water’s edge. There are lovely shops full of local crafts and produce, The Chocolate Cafe; The Tobermory Bakery and The Isle of Mull Soap Company are especially worth a visit and there are outdoor clothing shops in case you’ve forgotten something or dare I say it the weather is worse than you prepared for.
Mull Aquarium is worth a visit for close encounters with sea life and there are lots of rabbits in the car park too.
As a fish-lover the place to eat for me has to be Cafe Fish, where fresh fish is landed every day from their own boat “The Highlander” it comes quite literally from the sea to the kitchen. The best seats in the house, even in the rain, are on the alfresco terrace where the fresh sea air and wind (there are umbrellas if it rains) stir up the appetite even more.
While in Tobermory take a trip out to sea with Sea Life Surveys. They offer wildlife watching trips around the rugged Mull coastline crewed by passionate and knowledgeable crew who are very keen to share the wonders of the natural environment with their passengers. As with any wildlife trip there are no guarantees but the chance of seeing basking sharks, whales and dolphins makes it an unmissable trip.
We had a particularly bleak day in August and marine life deserted us, but we were lucky enough to see a golden eagle chick on a huge nest high up on a hillside and a pair of sea eagles soaring high above us with unbelievable wing spans. To make sure that everyone goes home having had some kind of new wildlife experience “Captain Plankton” scoops plankton from the sea to view under a microscope on board, revealing a fascinating new world we didn’t really know existed under our very feet.
The beaches on Mull are hugely varied, brilliant for rock pooling and often covered with the tiniest of shells which are so small you don’t always realise they are there. Although probably not as well known as the beaches on Harris and Islay, there is great variety, from the gentler white sand beaches in the South to the more dramatic and exposed areas in the North West. Even in August, it’s rare to meet other people on some of the less accessible beaches.
From Mull it’s easy to visit other islands, from a 10 minute ferry crossing to Iona to a morning’s trip to Staffa and Fingal’s Cave, each offers a unique view of Mull from the sea and the opportunity for close encounters with marine life.
If you go between June and August the puffins nest on Staffa, at other times it’s worth the trip anyway to see the impressive columns of basalt and to enter Fingal’s Cave where it’s easy to understand how Mendelssohn was inspired by the spectacular sounds created by the sea. On our return journey on a glorious azure blue sky day, we were lucky enough to be given an awesome display by a school of dolphins enjoying the crystal clear water even more than we were!
Well by now you will have gathered that I’m a fish and seafood fan and quite frankly the quality, quantity, choice and price on Mull is the best I’ve ever experienced. One of our greatest delights when we stayed in Fionnphort, was picking up fresh lobster, crab and langoustines from the the creel seafood bar as we walked home from the Iona Ferry.
But there are plenty of other choices too. The Crofter’s Kitchen offers locally organically grown produce and fresh eggs and the local beef and venison are of the highest quality.
Unlike some of the more remote islands, Mull has a great choice of pubs and restaurants too. We were just a 10-minute walk from one of the best restaurants in Scotland “The Ninth Wave”. It’s a tiny croft, owned by John and Carla, that only seats about 20 people and uses home-grown produce, fresh-caught seafood and organic meat. John, takes his little boat “Sonsie” (the Gaelic word for prosperity and good fortune) out each day so you can be sure that the “catch of the day” really is just that. You can also join him having a wee dram at the Keel Row pub on his way home from fishing. Food of this quality isn’t cheap but it is certainly good value for money.The other option is to buy Carla’s beautiful book and make it yourself!
Many of the people that we met on Mull were completely captivating because they are both knowledgeable and passionate about their culture- the history, the stories, the music, the crafts- as well as their beautiful natural surroundings. There are people all over the Island who are inspired to create beautiful things.
We loved the weavers at Ardalanish, a collaboration between the farmers of the Hebridean sheep and a retired weaver, in a small barn at the end of a beautiful peninsula. Here you can buy proper fishermen’s jumpers, heavy weight outdoor kilts and lovely woven blankets. The vegetable dyed Hebridean wool is so beautiful I nearly decided to learn to knit again, but as I’m allergic to wool there didn’t seem too much point. If you leave your car in the car park, a lovely beach covered in the tiniest shells is just a 10-minute walk away.
Another lovely place to see the talent of local artists, sculptors, photographers and jewellers is at The Gallery in the Woods in Calgary. Again just a few minutes walk from a lovely, although rather busier, beach this gallery features local artists as well as an Art in Nature Woodland Walk. The cafe offers lovely home-made cakes and outdoor seating, where we were joined by a family of chaffinches who seemed to like our carrot cake even more than we did!
This must be one of the best places in the UK to have relatively easy access to some of our most elusive and rare creatures. Providing you can be still, quiet, calm and patient you really have every chance of seeing otters- we saw a mum and her pup on Iona; a single male from our car in Loch na Keall and best of all spent 7 hours watching one otter in Craignure, swim, fish, hunt, wash, sleep and dream with his little paws in the air, a record for Mull Magic who acted as our guide that day, although we went back several times to see him afterwards. I found Smidge very useful for the more humid days!
I have to say the little rabbits in our garden and on the beach also absorbed our attention for several hours during the holiday too.
It’s obvious I know, but keep binoculars, scopes and cameras in the car with you as you never know when you might happen upon an eagle- you can spend all day looking and then as you drive home a pair soar over the mountains right in front of you- fortunately everyone drives quite slowly on mainly single track roads, so emergency stops are rather safer than they might otherwise be.
A combination of the fresh sea air, the beautiful scenery, exceptional encounters with wildlife and deliciously healthy food quickly creates a feeling of well-being that is pretty much unparalleled.