Sunday 30 October 2016

Ulva - Part 1, Arrival

Mull is a large island overshadowed in fame by its smaller neighbours - both Staffa and Iona are reknowned internationally.

But there is one island just off Mull that is far less well-known - Ulva. We decided to visit this beautiful spot when on Mull for a few days.

Ulva Pier:

Accessing Ulva is pretty fuss-free, if you are at the pier between the right times. Simply hail the ferry by sliding the indicator board to red. Unlike mainland-based Calmac boats though the Ulva ferry
lives on Ulva. Bear that in mind in case you are stuck on the island!

Arrival is cheery - the boathouse..

Sheila's Cottage:

We went inside and said hello to Sheila. She was the last resident of this cottage, living here until the 1950s.

This part of Ulva is pretty, but it is not immune to the juxtaposition of natural beauty and manufactured ugliness that Jonathan Meades characterised, with some enthusiasm, as  'The Isles of Rust'.

There were other, more picturesque ruins. There is something about the shape of a boat that is beautiful no matter what state it is in.

Between the sea and the interior, delightful woods drew us on.

These woods are utterly enchanting. Lush, dense, quite unlike the Hebridean stereotype. We took a green lane heading towards the sea and wondered what we would find. But that will be in Part 2...

Tuesday 25 October 2016

Calgary Bay

Mull is an island of surprises to the person who assumes it is all about climbing Ben More, visiting Iona, spotting an otter and going home. To the person like me, for example.

Calgary Bay:

And one of the things we did not know about Mull is its collection of fine beaches. There are superb beaches at the tidal island of Erraid for example, we knew about that. And there are other beaches tucked away on the Ross of Mull.

Beach at Fidden, Mull:

But we did not know about the beaches of North Mull, the superb Langamull beach for example. And we had never been to the only one that is widely known beyond Mull - Calgary Bay.

On arriving we discovered a wonderful sculpture trail, Calgary Art in Nature. It is free to wander round with donations accepted.

Here's a clever metal pea-pod with beach boulders for peas:

The trail is set in a beautiful wood tumbling down the hillside from the cafe to the shore.

Ferns real,

and imagined...

At the edge of the wood the sun came out and we could see the beach below us.

There is something special about these pockets of ancient, windswept woodland that run the length of Britain and Ireland's west coasts.

At the edge of the North Atlantic Rainforest:

The 'golden hour' was just passed as we reached the beach. A fine sunset instead.

The house in the distance is Calgary House. Lt-Col James Macleod, Hebridean-born Commissioner of the Mounties in the later 19th century, was inspired to christen the city of Calgary in Alberta in its honour having enjoyed excellent hospitality at Calgary House.

We are a long way from the gleaming city of over 1 million people here. The entire population of Mull is only 2,800. Only two of them were out on the beach with us on this fine sunset.

As we made our way back through the trees the trail took us past more sculptures. With stags roaring in the gloaming in the hills all around us the sculptures seemed to gain presence in the fading light, hurrying us back to our car.

Saturday 22 October 2016

On Mull

We'd been to Mull before. Twice to visit Iona, I had been up Ben More a couple of times, and we had cycled down the Sound of Mull from Tobermory to Craignure on the last leg of an island-hopping holiday.

Duart Castle, Mull:

So we thought we'd seen Mull. But we we were wrong.

And of course we were! Mull is the fourth largest island in Scotland. From Fionnphort to Treshnish it's 65 miles, two and a quarter hours drive on Mull's single track roads. There's a couple of castles to visit, 27 Marilyns to climb, a galaxy of offshore islands including Iona and Staffa, one of the west coast's most picturesque villages, seacliffs, waterfalls, loch and forest walks, beautiful white sand beaches, and a whole load of wildlife.

In Mull's interior: Ben More:

We were keen to see some of this wildlife so asked Jacqui and Mike of Enjoy Mull to show us around. What a great investment that was! Without knowing where to look we would never have seen Mull's famous white-tailed eagles, despite their size. (Now the chicks have fledged, eagles spend most of their time hanging around in trees.) We watched a huge bird, up to a metre tall - imagine a bird of prey that tall standing next to you - perched on a tree, taken aback by its piercing glare.

"It seems to be staring right at us," we said.

"It has a better view of you than you do of it," replied Mike.

Our sea eagle:

There was an otter on Loch Spelve, geese and young stags at Loch Don, and herons. A lot of herons. If Mull is famous for anything, it probably should be herons.

Loch Don reflections:

And Mull is lush. There are woods all over Mull. Those on Loch na Keal and around Loch Ba are particularly entrancing.

Wooded croft at Aros:

We looked up to the hills. There are few paths on Mull, and while Ben More is popular, nobody really comes here to climb any other hills, despite this being a very hilly island. Why aren't these hills more popular? Standing on the shores of Loch na Keal with the late afternoon sun dappling their slopes, it seemed a great mystery.

Mull's neglected hills:

Tuesday 11 October 2016

The Calmac Conundrum

We took the boat to Mull. It was important we arrived in Oban before the last ferry, so I consulted the timetable. And noticed something funny.

The last sailing of the day was back to the mainland.

On the last boat to Mull:

This is not a boat for the island. It is a boat to the island.

I looked at other timetables. Arran, Islay, Jura, Colonsay - the same pattern. The first boat of the day leaves the mainland, the last arrives on the mainland.

Am I alone in thinking this is the wrong way about? The impression is that the ferry to Mull is a service for the convenience of mainlanders. If a boat was needed for an emergency or other event, it is out of the islanders' power to do anything about it. It's not their boat. It's our boat. But we don't depend on a boat. We don't live on an island.

Are all Caledonian MacBrayne services like this? No. The boat from Ardnamurchan to Tobermory, for example, stays the night on Mull. It's just... one part of the mainland arguably more remote than the islands is Ardnamurchan. Tobermory is Oban when compared to Kilchoan.

The Calmac conundrum - a right maritime mystery!