Hiking near Tobermory, Isle of Mull
Mull is one of the largest of the Hebridean islands but it is bitten into by so many sea lochs that the sight, smell and sound of salt water is never far away. This makes for a long coastline and, with its high cliffs, sandy and rocky bays, caves and arches there is always something to draw you on around the next corner.
The island is divided into north and south by a narrow waist of land at Salen. The southern half has a core of dramatic hill country culminating at 3169 feet (966 metres) on the summit of Ben More. To the west the lower peninsula of the Ross of Mull runs out almost to touch St. Columba's holy island of Iona. Northern Mull holds the island's tiny 'capital' of Tobermory (= Mary's Well), where we'll stay the first three nights. The scenery is a stepped landscape of lava flows from eruptions of around 50 million years ago. The vertical edges of these flows give numerous waterfalls, some falling straight to the sea where, to the west, lie the lava islands of Staffa, Treshnish and Ulva.
Iona Abbey and Dun I, the highest point on Iona
Perched in the Atlantic Ocean off the Isle of Mull lies the tiny windswept island of Iona; 3 miles long, with a population of around 120 permanent residents. This will be our base for the second half of the holiday. Iona is famed worldwide as one of the earliest centres of Christianity. In 563AD the Irish monk Columba (Columkille) established a monastic settlement that evangelised large parts of Scotland and the north of England. Iona not only became a place of pilgrimage, but also a centre for learning and culture, with its monks producing some of the world’s earliest illuminated manuscripts, including the Book of Kells. Between 795 and 806 Vikings raided Iona on 3 occasions during which the monastery was destroyed and many monks killed.
An abbey and nunnery were established here around 1200 and the island was a focus for medieval pilgrimage. Both the Abbey and the Nunnery fell into disuse during the Reformation of the late 16th century. The Nunnery is still in ruins, but the Abbey was rebuilt at the beginning of the 20th century.
Mull and it's surrounding islands are famous for it's wildlife along the coast. We will certainly see common and grey seals during our boat trip to the Isle of Staffa and if we are lucky dolphins. During the summer months there is a good chance to see basking sharks. Mull is one of the best places to see otters.
Sea bird colonies are a feature during their breeding season: puffins, guillemots and razorbills. Cormorants, fulmars and many other seabirds can be seen most of the year. If you are lucky you might see a golden eagle and the even bigger white tailed sea eagle - neither is certain, but Mull is one of the likeliest parts of Scotland in which to see both of these magnificent birds.
The programme of hikes and visits will be tailored to your wishes and interests, but this is an example of how the holiday may look like.
We can change it to meet your interests, how much hiking you would like to do, the number of days you would like the adventure for and any specific places or islands you would like to visit. You can also choose the type of accommodation you would like to stay in: B&Bs/guest houses or (luxury) hotels.
Please send us an email with your requirements and we'll design a bespoke itinerary for you.
Day 1: Glasgow - Oban - Tobermory
Meeting in Glasgow, travel via the Royal Burgh of Inveraray to Oban for the ferry to Mull.
Treshnish, Isle of Mull
Day 2: Treshnish peninsula
A northwest Mull headland, opposite the Treshnish Isles. The Treshnish peninsula offers abandoned townships, high cliffs and waterfalls and a quiet shore below a raised beach where with luck otters may be seen by the water and eagles above the crags. Amongst several caves is one once used as the site of an illicit still. Everywhere there are stunning views to sea, islands and mountains, including Mull’s highest peak, Ben More.
Our walk rejoins the road at the recently restored building that once housed the local school. Barefooted, the nineteenth century children would have walked by the same path from the houses, whose ruins you have just seen, perhaps carrying a peat to help heat their classroom.
6 miles/9.5 km, 500ft/150m of ascent.
Day 3: Isle of Ulva
Ulva lies close to Mull's western shore, and was, for centuries, the traditional home of the McQuarries. Mature mixed woodland and parkland around the big house near the ferry give way to the wilder west end of the island. The south shore leads to the McQuarries' burial ground and a tangle of little islands and bays lined with basalt columns.
The grandparents of the explorer and missionary David Livingstone once lived on Ulva and our walk will take us up to Livingstone’s Cave and to the family croft. In the cave, archaeologists have found flint artefacts and fragments of human bone which can be dated back as far as 5650 BC.
6 miles/9.5 km, 660ft/200m of ascent.
View towards the mainland from the roof of Duart Castle
Day 4: Duart Castle and Loch Buie
We move to the Isle of Iona for the rest of our holiday. We have seen Duart Castle from the ferry to Mull and it will be our first stop. The castle is the ancestral home of the Clan Maclean – for 400 years the base of their sea-borne power. The castle was abandoned from 1751 until 1910, when what was left of it was purchased by Sir Fitzroy Maclean, 26th Chief, who set about the enormous task of restoring the building to the impressive state we see it in today.
Lochbuie is our next stop. Lochbuie (the tiny community on Loch Buie) is at the very end of a narrow winding road and is one of the most stunning locations on Mull. Our hike explores the head of the loch, taking in a tiny church, a grand house, a medieval castle, a sandy beach, a mausoleum and a prehistoric stone circle - all backed by beautiful scenery.
After our hike we will continue to Fionnphort for the passenger ferry to the Isle of Iona. Only residents are allowed to bring their cars to Iona.
5 miles/8 km, little ascent.
Day 5: Isles of Staffa and Iona
In the morning will board then a small boat to the beautiful, uninhabited island of Staffa. The island is best known for its magnificent basalt columns. Their effect is most overwhelming at An Uamh Binn (musical cave) or, as it is more commonly known, Fingal’s Cave, which has enthralled and inspired travellers for hundreds of years.
After returning to Iona, we will walk up Dun I and to the beaches in the north of the island.
5 miles/8 km, 360ft/110m of ascent.
On the Isle of Staffa
Day 6: Erraid
We will take the ferry back to Mull where we have various options for walks on the Ross of Mull. One is a walk at low tide across the shining sand to the tidal island of Erraid, the setting Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped, and a climb to the highest summit on the island for stunning views to Iona and the many other islands.
Another walk we could do is to a beach and an old pink granite quarry.
Up to 6 miles/8 km, 690ft/210m of ascent.
Day 7: Isle of Iona
We will start the day with a tour of the restored abbey church and other remnants of the island’s medieval heyday, including the ruined nunnery, intricately carved crosses, dating from the 8th and 9th centuries and carved grave slabs.
Then we will hike to Port a Churaich or St. Columba’s Bay in the south. This bay is said to be where St Columba first landed on Iona.
6 miles/9.5 km, 400ft/120m of ascent.
Day 8: Isle of Iona - Isle of Mull - Oban - Glasgow
We will leave Iona in the morning and we travel via the Isle of Mull back to the mainland. We will drive via the Pass of Brander and Loch Lomond to Glasgow.
Walking across the sand to the Isle of Erraid