Walking the coasts, hills and beaches on the isles of Mull, Ulva, Staffa and Iona. Enjoying history, geology and an abundance of wildlife along the way.
Carsaig cliffs, 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 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). 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.
Mull has a population of about 3,000, but in the nineteenth century it once stood at 10,000. Clearly, you might think, the island has seen considerable change and you would be right. From very long ago, a few Stone Age and more Bronze Age remains survive, including a stone circle. From the turbulent Iron Age there are fortified duns and brochs (stone towers), while still later times give us the medieval castles that paid tribute to the Macdonald Lords of the Isles and afterwards to the MacLeans and the Campbells. The nineteenth century saw major changes to both people and landscape, with traces of the Clearances still to be seen today in the many ruined townships. While exploring Mull we'll see much of this history in its context.
Puffins on the Isle of Staffa
We'll also see a wealth of wildlife. Herds of red deer abound in the hills, which they share with mountain hare. Common and grey seals can be seen frequently in the coastal waters, as well as dolphins and basking sharks. Otters are harder to see in Britain, but Mull is one of the best places, whether on its quiet shores or by lonely hill lochs. The south coast has feral goats, sometimes detectable by their smell!
Sea birds are a feature, of course: puffins, guillemots and razorbills, cormorants, fulmars and many others. Inland lochans can hold red-throated divers, while, in summer, the hill ridges and moors have golden plover, curlew and skylark. If you are lucky you might see a golden eagle or 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. In one unforgettable moment, a group saw a golden eagle and a sea eagle fight in the air right above them.
The programme will be subject to variables such as weather and the abilities of the group and changes may also be made to take account of lambing, deer stalking, etc. Any such alterations will always take into account the need to maintain the overall character of the holiday.
Saturday: Glasgow - Oban - Tobermory
Meeting in Glasgow, travel to Oban and ferry to Mull.
Treshnish, Isle of Mull
This headland is in the northwest of Mull, overlooking the Treshnish Isles. Treshnish 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. Barefoot, 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.
8 miles/13km and 750 ft/230m of ascent.
Monday: Isle of Ulva
This island 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.
Up to 11 miles/18 km and up to 1000ft/300m of ascent.
Loch Buie, Isle of Mull
Tuesday: Loch Buie
We move to the Ross of Mull for the rest of our holiday. On the way south we visit Lochbuie. 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.
5 miles, little ascent.
West of Carsaig we will explore the great cliffs that guard this side of the island. Since they’re fringed with a raised beach platform, we can walk below them in some places and enjoy the wide views from their tops in others.
Red deer and feral goats share the screes below the cliffs and the wide grassy spaces above them. Away to the south and east are the hills of Jura and mainland Argyll.
9-11 miles/14-18km and 1000-1500ft/300-460m of ascent
Isle of Staffa
Thursday: Isles of Staffa and Iona
We will take a boat to Staffa. This is a beautiful, uninhabited island, 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.
Between May and the end of July Staffa is home to hundreds of seabirds, including puffins.
From Staffa, we sail to Iona. Many people make the pilgrimage to Columba's Isle. We will explore the Abbey and associated buildings, which house Celtic and Viking remains, before taking a walk to the quieter southern and western parts of the island where we will explore both pebble beaches and beaches of pure white sand.
We will go to the Carn Cuil ri Eirinn bay. This place (the Gaelic means 'Cairn of the back to Ireland') is said to mark the spot where, above his landing place (now known as St. Columba's Bay), the saint decided that he had journeyed far enough from Ireland to put his chequered past behind him and begin a new life. On our way back we'll visit the abandoned marble quarry, with its beautiful white and green stone.
Up to 7 miles/11km with little ascent
Friday: Ben More
Ben More is the highest hill on any Scottish island other than Skye. The name means big mountain, and it is Ben More's central position as much as its height that makes it worth climbing if the day is clear. The simplest approach is from Loch na Keal, to the north, with two or three options from that direction.
7 miles/11km, 3169ft/966m of ascent.
View from Ben More, Isle of Mull
If the weather is against us, there are plenty of lower level options that we haven't seen. For example the tidal isle of Erraid off the south western tip of the Ross of Mull, which can be reached on foot at low tide. For those who have read 'Kidnapped' by Robert Louis Stevenson, Erraid is the island where the shipwrecked David Balfour spent four wet and miserable days living off shelfish, because he did not realise that the island was tidal. From the highest point there are very good views back to Mull, Iona and on a clear day to Jura, Scarba and the mainland.
Mull is a big, beautiful and varied island. You should be warned that you may want to come back!
Saturday: Isle of Mull - Oban - Glasgow
Depart early in the morning for the ferry to Oban and the journey back to Glasgow.
This walking holiday is designed for people who are fit and used to walking all day. We will walk up to 11 miles/17.5km (6 hours plus stops) per day with an average 1150ft/350m of ascent. On one day it might be as much as 3000ft/900m but there are also easier days. Our routes sometimes traverse pathless glens, climb mountains or thread remote passes and there may be some scrambling. On most days as much of our time is spent off path as on it. Scotland can be very wild and tough going: 10 miles here is often much harder than 10 miles elsewhere. All that said, we don’t want to break any speed records, especially not when going uphill and you’ll have all the rewards of walking in the most beautiful and fascinating parts of the Highlands and Islands.
If you're still not sure whether or not you can cope after you've read this and the details of the week's programme, please get in touch to discuss it further.
This is either in carefully selected Bed & Breakfast accommodation or Guest Houses. You can rely on the quality of the accommodation that we find for you - its comfort, its food and the professionalism and welcoming nature of those who run it. The B&Bs and guest houses we use are more personal and the quality of the accommodation is as good or even better than of hotels in the same category. Double and twin rooms that are occupied by two people always have an en suite or private bathroom.
If you have particular requirements or prefer to stay in a 4-star hotel, please let us know so that we can do our best to meet them.
Details of where you will be staying will be sent to you well in advance of your holiday.
Dinner is not included in the price, but your guide will take you out for supper every evening. We usually eat in a different place each evening, giving you the opportunity to try a range of Scottish dishes and ambiences.
|Description||8 days (Saturday to Saturday), accommodation on Mull in Tobermory (3 nights) and on the Ross of Mull (4 nights) in carefully selected B&Bs or guest houses.|
|Walking||6-11 miles (10-18 km) daily, with a mix of rough going and path. Four days with longer walks and two gentler days.|
|EM81||12-19 May 2018||£970||Single room: £87.50 extra|
|EM82||15-22 September 2018|
|We may be able to book groups of 4 or more on other dates, please ask.|
The price includes:
and most especially
For general information and booking, please click here.