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Mull And Iona
Duart Castle from Oban Ferry approaching Craignure.
The islands of Mull and Iona lie off the west coast of Scotland to the north of Oban and south of the Ardnamurchan peninsula, Calmac ferries link Mull to these points on the mainland as well as to Lochaline in the summer months. Both islands have breathtaking landscape and diverse wildlife opportunities. Mull in particular is becoming recognised as one of the premier wildlife locations in the UK.
Mull is predominantly about landscape. With an extensive coastline, off shore islands and a hilly interior magnificent viewpoints are found round almost every bend. Try the road round the NW from Tobermory – Salen via Dervaig, Calgary and Ulva Ferry. Look out for the impressive waterfall of Eas Fors which falls 100ft over vertical cliffs directly to the boulder strewn shoreline. Also worth exploring is the road from Salen to Kinloch along the dramatic south coast of Loch na Kean. Both these roads offer wonderful sunset locations. The SE offers Duart Castle and more land and seascapes from the delightful Grasspoint to the remote Lochbuie with adventurous walks to Carsaig Arches. The capital of the island, Tobermory has a colourful harbour front.
Iona has a unique and serene air. The Abbey is a magnet of Christian pilgrimage where the peaceful and sanctified aura is revered by all who visit. On the far side of the island is the magnificent white sand beach of Bay at the Back of the Ocean.
Bay at the Back of the Ocean, Iona
Ulva is also worth exploring. The small ferry is a unique experience as are the Oysters served at the boathouse café which are fresh from the sea. There are no cars allowed on the island so parking at Ulva Ferry can become a problem, get there early and make it a full day.
Wildlife & Nature Opportunities
Even on a brief visit to Mull it soon becomes obvious that this is a good place for wildlife. Red deer roam the hills, fallow deer are also present in some locations. Golden Eagles and Buzzards soar over the skylines and Sea Eagles are gaining a stronghold in several locations which are covetously protected. Seals and otters can be seen in many of the bays and inlets. Great Northern Divers are regularly seen in the spring on sea-lochs, displaying their summer plumage before pairing off to breed. Red-throated and Black-throated Divers are much rarer but are occasionally seen. Little Grebe breed by some of the inland lochs and there have been regular sightings of the Slavonian Grebe.
Early morning reflections on Loch Scridain
As with all wildlife photography it takes time to find locations and establish good positions for close views, however there are several local wildlife enthusiasts who operate guided safaris which provide an excellent introduction to what’s showing and where at the time of your visit. Many birds are protected species and if you aim to photograph near breeding sites the requisite photography permits must be obtained before visiting the island.
Mull is one of the best places to see whales and dolphins in the UK. The waters around Mull are home to bottlenose dolphins, minke whales and harbour porpoises. Risso's dolphins, killer whales, common dolphins and Atlantic white-sided dolphins are also common visitors to the area. Organised boat trips are available from several points on the island.
Wildlife is less of an attraction on Iona than the landscape but in Spring it is a location where the elusive corncrake can at least be heard if not seen!
Treshnish Islands and Staffa
Organised boat trips are available from Ulva Ferry and Dervaig to this small group of islands which lies about 3 miles (5 km) from the nearest point on Mull. The numerous small islands which make up the Treshnish Isles are now uninhabited and form a sanctuary for birds and grey seals. In the spring, Lunga is home to thousands of nesting sea birds, mainly shag, guillemot, kittiwake, razorbill and, of course, puffin. Excellent photo opportunities are available at close quarters.
Ben More from Ulva Ferry
Trips to Treshnish are often combined with a visit to Staffa to view the geological phenomenon of the basalt column, ‘organ pipes’ of Fingal’s Cave and in favourable weather landing is possible.
Access: Calmac ferries make regular crossings from Oban to Craignure (bookings advised at peak times), Tobermory to Kilchoan (Ardnamurchan) and also in the summer months from Lochaline to Fishnish. The ferry to Iona leaves from Fionnphort and it is advised to check the timetable and allow plenty time to get there. The vast majority of roads on Mull are single track and not designed for speed, take your time and enjoy the scenery. As an indicator base average journey times on a maximum of around 15 mph, therefore 2½ hours for Tobermory to Fionnphort should be expected! Petrol stations are few and far between.
Sound of Iona
Accommodation: There are few major hotels on Mull or Iona but plentiful small hotels, B&B and cottages are available. Booking in advance is recommended during the main tourist season. There are also a few camping and caravanning sites.
When to go: As always on the west coast of Scotland the weather is unpredictable but the influence of the Gulf Stream does mean that periods of fine weather can be had at almost any time of year and severe winter conditions are rare. Perhaps the best season is Late Spring when the wildlife opportunities are at their best and wildflowers fill the fields. The summer plague of midges is apparent any time between May and September. Iona is a busy place particularly during the summer months; try to visit out of season.
What to take: For wildlife binoculars and long lenses are the order of the day, ideally 500 or 600mm. Wide angles are a must to do justice to the vast landscapes where panoramic format would be a good option.
Good footwear and weatherproof outdoor gear is essential if you intend to explore the huge wilderness areas which are inaccessible by road; be prepared for the worst, hopefully it will not materialise. Packed lunches are almost essential for days away from the more obvious tourist traps. Always take a map if venturing away from the roads.
Insect Repellent helps to relieve the midge blight when operating at dusk, but you can still expect to be uncomfortable; the best antidote is several drams of good malt whisky “to be taken internally” in the nearest bar!
Loch na Keal and Inch Kenneth
Maps:OS Landranger sheets 47, 48 & 49 and Explorer sheets 373, 374 & 375.
www.undiscoveredscotland.co.uk/ General information about the area including accommodation.
www.calmac.co.uk/ Caledonian MacBrayne ferry timetables, fares and Hopscotch ticket information.
www.holidaymull.org/ Information and further links to other web sites for weather, wildlife, accommodation, attractions, geology etc.
www.ulva.mull.com/ Full information about Ulva’s Wildlife, Geology, Walks and Island History.
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