In October 2019, I drove around the isle of Mull in Scotland.
It is, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful places I have ever been.
My journey began in Cambridge, England, as I had been asked by my friends to drive them and their cat to their new home in Glasgow. The 6 hour drive was the longest I had ever driven as a solo driver and we passed some great spots in England though didn’t really stop much beyond the services.
Upon reaching their new home, I met up with my friend Ewan, an archaeologist friend who I knew in Cambridge, who had moved to Austrialia for a year, then moved to Glasgow and was now moving back to Cambridge. Prior to leaving Scotland, Ewan wished to visit as many spots as possible and suggested we visit an island.
The Isle of Mull
After Skye, 2nd largest island in the Inner Hebrides. Likely occupied since the end of the last Ice Ag,.standing evidence from the Bronze and Iron Age remain, of which I was keen to seek out. Viking occupation occurred in the 9th century and the island became part of the Kingdom of Norway, though the following centuries provided various fighting between the Scots and the Vikings to maintain control of the island until the Lord of the Isles took the reigns. The Medieval clans fought over the island but it is Clan MacLeans who left the longest legacy, of which is still seen in the structures on the island.
JOURNEY TO THE ISLAND:
We set off early on the first day of our trip. We drove from Glasgow to the port town of Oban. This gorgeous drive through the Highlands took around 2 and a half hours.
On our return journey, we drove past Kilcruch castle. We also stopped in Arrochar in Loch Lomond for coffee and cake in a lovely chill cafe.
I was anxious about the weather, as the ferries would not run in certain conditions like high winds, fog, or heavy rain, and the weather had been fairly tempermental.
Oban was a cute town to pick up a coffee and some chips in and no doubt lovely to visit for longer. McCaig’s Tower, a colluseum-esque tower atop a hill, was built in the late 1800s and was left unfinished upon its architect’s death. The tower provides a view of the various islands off of Scotland’s west coast.
Our ferry at 15:25 took us to Craignure- it took 45 minutes and decent greasy spoon grub was served on bard. The ferry cost £42 return for us to cross with Ewan’s car.
The roads of Mull aren’t vast, so planning our journeys required seeing what we could stop off on the way. The roads were rarely filled with other cars, however they were often filled with highland cows!
Our airbnb, a flat for the 2 of us, was in the colourful town of Tobermory. Younger Brits will recognise it as the setting of Ballamory. As it was off season, we had limited shops open. Tobermory is famous for its gorgeous, brightly painted seafront buildings, as well as the whiskey distillery Tobermory whiskey. We were well located and could walk into the town front easily in moments. Tobermory was a good base to explore the rest of the island
This castle was our first stop. Only a ten minute drive from the ferry port, it had just closed as we arrived but we still enjoyed walking around the outside. From outside the castle we could take in the beautiful coastal breeze, and enjoyed the cannons that had been placed outside.
Built by Clan MacDougall in the 13th century, it then fell under the control of Clan MacLean in the 14th century. By 1751 it was abandoned and later refurbished in 1911.
Within the castle are large collection of artefacts, weponary, and decor from the previous centuries worth of occupation.
Entry to the castle is £8 and it closes at at 5pm.
I HIGHLY RECOMMEND A GOOD PAIR OF WATER PROOF WALKING BOOTS
We headed to Lochbuie and took the small, winding roads around the island (some far smaller than others!) and paused may times to merely take in the incredible scenery. We parked up by a post office shop on the coast that also worked as an honesty box for local produce. Aquirring lunch from here, we followed signs and our map and walked along the water’s edge to find Moy Castle.
The castle, likely built in the 14th century by the MacLeans, was abandonded in 1752. All that remains is the Medieval stone tower that is inaccesible currently as repair works are carried out.
Continuing on from our route, we had many options in the area. These included the MacLean Mausoleum, and St Kilda’s church, a quaint 19th century church. Whilst we did not make the time to explore them, I wish we had.
LOCHBUIE STONE CIRCLE
Following the map by the car park and our phones, we found our way to the Lochbuie stone circle. Our path definately led us through people’s farms and climbing fences, but there were multiple routes. The stone circle stands in a boggy field with stunning mountainous landscape of Ben Buie in the background.
The prehistoric is easily accessible to walkers, and several other isolated standing stones are in the field surrounding it. I love stone circles so thought this was well worth the trek. Lochbuie has a lot of history and is an essential trip for island visitors.
Sitting atop a hill about 4 miles north of Tobermory is the 19th century Glengorm castle. Largely used as a hotel, it is a good location to base some more travels. The cafe and wildlife centre below the castle allow a nice stop off and give details of the awesome wildlife of Mull. Otters, eagles, and the famous highland cows are just some of the animals that populate the island.
GLENGORM STONE CIRCLE
Following the path from the visitors centre and along the coast, within the shadow of the castle you will come across a field populated by highland cows and another stone circle.
This 4000 year collection of stones is reduced to just 3(?) but is nice to visit if you like to see stone circles. The area is stunning (as per usual!) and carrying on the walk will take you to the remains of Dún Ara, very deteriorated castle ruins that sits atop a mound.
We set out to Iona with full expectation to visit the island. Sadly, the foggy weather meant that we were not able to cross. Iona is a small island off the coast of Mull, it is accessible via a passenger ferry from the town of Fionnphort.
The ferry cost is £3.60 return and takes 10 minutes.
Iona is an important historical spot, It is small and beautiful, with many historical buildings upon it. Scottish Christianity spread from this island in 563 AD. The island was begat by many Viking raids but survived. St Columba’s Shrine dates from the 9th century and is the longest-staning structure on the island, whilst the larger, better kept abbey dates from the 13th century. Other features on Iona include an Augustan Nunnery, the best survivng nunnery in Scotland, the Relig Odhráin, the burial ground of Scottish kings (including Macbeth), and the Medieval decorations of the Street of the Dead. The Book of Kells, a gorgeously illustrated Medieval manuscript now in Dublin, is allegedly from here (one of a few contested places).
Whilst we were not able to make it to Iona, we chose to drive the scenic route back to Tobermory, circling the western coast of the island and it was hands down one of the most beautiful journeys I have taken in my life.
If you do not stay in Tobermory, it is well worth visiting. The colourful facades of the buildings are a delight. Whilst it was off season when we went, we were able to get very tasty fish supper from Mishnish and get a drink in the hotel pubs. The local museum is very informative. We learnt about a Spanish galleon from the 16th century was stranded in Tobermory Bay and eventually blew up. Searches have been made to find the allegedly sunk treasure upon it though still unfruitful.
The shops on the front ranged from tourist memrobilia, the famous Mull soap, whiskey and fudge. We came across a little church that had stalls inside selling Nepalese craft, and the distillery contained many characters telling stories as you sipped on tasty booze.
OTHER THINGS TO SEE
We tried to do as much as we could in our few days on the island, though there was regret at not making it to Iona, nor seeing other stone circles that were at Quinish (a single standing stone amongst several fallen ones), Kilmore, and Maol Mor (both in forest clearings- very fantasy setting!). The 13th century castle ruins of Aros near Salen also seem worth visiting.