I had already started the blog article last year, but somehow I didn't get the hang of it...
Here is my travel diary for a week on the Isle of Mull, a beautiful spot in Scotland.
As usual, we took the ferry from Amsterdam to Newcastle-upon-Tyne and stayed in Connel on the way to Mull and in Sandford Country Cottages on the way back (we feel so much at home that we are going on holiday there again this year).
You can get to Mull by ferry from Oban.
On the way to Oban - which is where the ferry to Mull departs - we spent one night at the Ronebhal Guest House in Connel. There was a huge traffic queue just outside the village which was caused by an accident in Glencoe which is almost 30 miles away!
People who know that we travel Scotland regularly often ask me if it is worth taking a rental car to drive from Edinburgh to the Highlands for a day. I'm happy to answer: Yes, if you like spending your time just looking out of a car window...
Often, roads are small and it simply takes quite some time to reach your destination. This is also the reason why we usually include a stopover whenever our holiday cottage isn't too close to the ferry terminal in Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
Connel Bridge is normally a very popular photo spot, but it didn't really look nice with loads of traffic around it...
Ronebhal Guest House sits right on the shore of Loch Etive and our room had a very nice brand new bathroom. If you are lucky, you get to watch otters from your window. There are a few restaurants in the immediate vicinity, but we had booked a table for the evening at the Waterfront Fish House in Oban.
Which leads me to a culinary highlight...
We would have loved to eat in the popular Seafood Hut, but since it is only open until 6 pm, I had booked the Waterfront Fish House following the recommendation of our host. We ordered a really superb seafood platter from the daily menu.
I know that the consistency of oysters is strange for many, but since I had only tried them grilled so far I decided to give them a chance. I wasn't bothered by the consistency, but I can't quite understand the hype about oysters either... I like to refer to them as "chewable seawater" now. ;-)
Above the town you find McCaig's Tower (that's the round structure in the picture above, reminiscent of the Colosseum) which provides a great view. A banker named John Stuart McCaig had it built between 1897 and 1902 as a memorial to his family and to provide work for the local stonemasons during the winter months.
Oban is also called "Gateway to the Isles" because of the many ferry connections to the surrounding islands.
Oban offers quite a few shops and the Oban Distillery, founded in 1794.
The Isle of Mull
The next morning we took CalMac Ferries from Oban to Craignure on the island of Mull.
I really liked the Isle of Mull, because it wasn't too crowded during high season. Normally, we don't go to Scotland in the main season - unless there is an event that takes place during this period (e.g. the Fèis Ìle on Islay or the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo) or I need to flee from a milestone birthday... ;-)
Mull stands for great scenery, turquoise water, fine beaches, a special accommodation - in this case - and lovely people.
Gorsten House is located on the
south-east coast of Mull, just a 10 minute drive from the ferry terminal in Craignure. Owned by the artist Charles Avery, it is truly unique - from the spiral staircase to the tiles in the
entrance hall, the bathrooms, as well as the two huge panoramic windows offering spectacular views of the countryside.
The drive is exciting, because after leaving the single track road you need another 5 - 10 minutes to manage a gravel road covered in potholes until you finally reach the house. The road is definitely not suited for very low cars!
The house has three bedrooms on the ground floor and a huge bedroom upstairs, where you can also find the kitchen and living room. There are several bathrooms, a sauna and the main bathroom also probably had a steam bath once which was out of order during our visit.
My favorite place was the windowsill in the photo above that offered a magnificent view (including Lismore Lighthouse and a corner of Duart Castle). The window was about four meters long and the windowsill was so long and deep that you could sit or even lie on it comfortably. We only kidnapped the cushions from the sofa - that was entirely neglected by me - to make the space a little more comfortable.
The master bedroom had a similar panoramic window which was only a little shorter than the one in the living room.
The island's capital Tobermory was planned as a fishing village in 1788 by engineer Thomas Telford. Its colourful houses are a popular photo spot. The name comes from the Gaelic "Tobar Mhoire" meaning "Mary's well".
Excavations in the immediate vicinity showed a settlement dating as far back as the 6th century and they also proved that people have been living near Tobermory for more than 1000 years.
Tobermory offers a range of accommodation, restaurants, cafes, grocerie stores and a variety of souvenir shops. We went to the local supermarket several times to buy supplies for our holiday cottage.
We didn't go to the aquarium, but of course we went to...
Mr. John Sinclair was initially granted a brewery license only, but he remained stubborn and finally got a permission to built a whisky distillery. Tobermory Distillery was founded in 1798.
After more than a hundred years, the distillery ceased production for 41 years in the 1930s due to the global Great Depression and prohibition in the USA which led to a significant slump in demand.
Burn Stewart Distillers revived the distillery in 1993 . In 2013, it became the property of Distell and after an extensive renovation it was reopened in 2019. In addition to whisky Tobermory also produces gin.
The distillery had just reopened after the COVID break when we were there and they were not yet able to offer guided tours or tastings due to a shortage of staff. We were able to try and purchase whisky in the shop though.
Isle of Mull Cheese
Isle of Mull Cheese was founded by the Reade family in the ruins of Sgriobh-Ruadh in 1981. In 1979, Jeff and Christine Reade spent their holidays on the island and - whilst they struggled with the milk surplus in Europe on their Somerset farm - discovered that the milk supply on Mull was very irregular and a lot of the milk had to be imported.
On a walk, they came across the ruins and imagined what it would be like to start all over again. They bought a few acres of land as an "escape". A short time later, they found out that the ruins were for sale and in 1981 they moved to Mull with four children and ten cows.
While they initially supplied the island with milk, Isle of Mull Cheese now only produces cheese from unpasteurized milk, operates an online shop, a farm shop and - in summer - a very pretty café in the "Glass Barn" that used to be the village hall of Salen. A grapevine which is more than 20 years old completely covers the interior glass roof.
Since the café is very popular and the outdoor seating was not in use due to the rainy weather all tables inside were taken. After a short browse through the farm shop, several tables became available though so we enjoyed coffee and delicious homemade cakes.
Almost the whole family is involved in the business by now and there is no difficulty in finding a suitable successor. The Island Bakery, run by the youngest son and his wife, can also be found on the farm premises. Their biscuits are sold in the farm shop and throughout Scotland.
I became aware of Walk Mull and Tony McLean's funny posts via Instagram, so I booked a guided hiking tour straight away. In addition to the great landscape and explanations of flora and fauna, there is also the option to take a wild swim in one of the lochs or in the pool of a waterfall.
Tony has a cool sense of humor and was highly amused (no offense though) by our "misconduct" on more than one occasion. While my friend went into the cold water of the loch (12 degrees Celsius!) at record speed , I was really struggling and had to get back out to put bathing shoes on which helped somewhat. Don't get me wrong - Tony did laugh, but he still made sure that nothing happened to us and advised us to stay outside if we felt uncomfortable. ;-)
Photo: Tony McLean, Walk Mull, via Instagram Story
At the beginning of the hiking tour it rained heavily - it got better in the afternoon and the sun came out. Appropriate clothing and sturdy hiking shoes are definitely required. My shoes finally fell apart after the tour (they were 11 years old!)...
If you want to make Tony happy you can take him some pie. He also likes cucumber and marmite sandwiches... ;-)
The first and last photo in this gallery are from Tony McLean's Instagram story, the rest are mine
Since it was so foggy at first, I tried to teach Tony the sentence "Wie Sie sehen, sehen Sie nichts (as you can see, you cannot see anything)..." After our holiday, I sent it to him again as an audio file - his pronunciation attempt was very funny! ;-)
Photo: Andrea M.
Another highlight of our trip to Mull was a boat trip with Staffa Tours to Lunga (Treshnish Isles) and Staffa.
We were lucky to get to Lunga before the bird flu hit the island. Unfortunately, all tours had to be canceled three weeks later.
The Treshnish Isles are located west of Mull and are a part of the Inner Hebrides archipelago. The largest of the islands is Lunga where we visited the puffins.
Puffins belong to the auk family and breed in caves. They dig burrows into the substrate layer on cliffs or use burrows that are already there. A puffin is about the size of a pigeon. Between August and April they live on the open sea, they only come onto dry land during breeding season. Their main food source is fish. They can dive up to 70 meters deep. The puffin population has been classified as endangered since 2015.
You can get really close to the animals on Lunga. The puffins know by now that no predators will approach as long as there are people nearby. Some visitors even lie down right in front of the burrows.
It should also be noted that sturdy shoes are required as there is only a floating jetty on Lunga, and you have to walk on an uneven rocky surface to get onto the island. It's difficult with a walking disability, so my partner didn't climb the cliff on Lunga to see the majority of the puffins. On Staffa he - and several other people - stayed on board the tour boat. He still liked the tour though, so it was okay. It is definitely not possible to disembark when in need of a wheelchair.
The Isle of Staffa
The Isle of Staffa is also part of the Inner Hebrides, forming the "other end" of Northern Ireland's famous Giant's Causeway.
Known for its acoustics, Fingal's Cave has attracted many celebrities.
A visit to the island inspired Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy to write his Scottish Symphony.
Legend has it that the Irish Fingal and the Scottish giant Benandonner were constantly insulting each other. To find out who was the stronger of the two once and for all, they agreed to a fight to the death. For this purpose, a bridge made of basalt columns was built between the island of Staffa and Northern Ireland.
When Benandonner, who thought he biggest and strongest, arrived on the opposite side he was shocked! In a cradle lay a giant baby, said to be Fingal's child. Of course, Benandonner didn't know it was a clever ruse - Fingal's wife had wrapped Fingal in sheets and laid him in the cradle , claiming that he was out hunting and that Benandonner would have to wait for him to return. When Benandonner saw the baby, he wondered how big the father must be and fled. On his way home he destroyed the connection between Northern Ireland and Staffa.
As we were visiting during peak season it was quite busy and you had to be careful when entering the cave. There is a handrail but the path is very narrow so sometimes it's difficult for two people to fit past each other. I didn't go all the way in, because it was too crowded for my taste.
The way to Calgary Bay on Mull was spectacular! We drove a road that was signposted as being a scenic route and were certainly not disappointed. Although Calgary Beach is one of the most popular beaches on Mull, it was refreshingly empty and as the weater was great, it was nice to put our toes in the water. Some people even went swimming - some were wearing neoprene suits, others weren't.
There was a parking lot with a toilet and a small café, which is only open in summer.
Day trip: Isle of Iona
The ferry to the Isle of Iona takes only a few minutes from Fionnphort on Mull.
Visitors are not allowed to take their car with them onto the island. There is a large free car park in Fionnphort. The ticket booth of the ferry was closed, but there was someone on deck of the ferry selling tickets, so we went straight on board.
Iona Abbey is considered the cradle of Christianity in Scotland.
St. Columba founded a monastery upon his arrival in 563. There are only few remains of it left today. It was invaded and destroyed by Vikings several times during the 8th and 9th century, then rebuilt and finally abandoned. Many of the monks moved to the Abbey of Kells in Ireland. It is assumed that the famous "Book of Kells", which is exhibited in Trinity College in Dublin, was made on Iona.
In 1203 Ranald, who was "Lord of the Isles" at the time, invited the Benedictine Order and the Augustinian nuns to build new monasteries. They were also modified and expanded several times. The ruined nunnery is one of the best preserved in Scotland.
During the Scottish Reformation in the 16th century, many monasteries were abandoned and fell into disrepair, including Iona. It was not until 1899 that the Duke of Argyll gave the site to the Iona Cathedral Trust which restored the abbey church. The Iona Community was founded in 1938 and recently enabled a £3.75 million refurbishment via a three year fundraiser. Iona Abbey reopened in June 2021 and is managed by Historic Scotland.
Stopover: Sandford Country Cottages and Fife
Sandford is one of our absolute favourite places to stay, which is why I have written about it a number of times, e.g. here...
As we have been to Fife several times there are already a few blog posts about it.
We tried the award winning Anstruther Fish Bar this time. It's a fish takeaway which gets so crowded during the day that orders have to be placed while you are still waiting
outside. Luckily, there's a menu on the exterior wall...
The food was really delicious (we had classic fish & chips and prawns).
Trip to Dundee and Broughty Ferry
I have written about Dundee before on a number of occasions as it is only about 5 miles from Sandford Country Cottages. The new waterfront is almost complete so there is something new to see every time we go there such as the Tay Whale or the V&A Dundee Community Garden.
I was also pleased to find a subsidiary of Jannetta's Gelateria from St Andrews, so we could treat ourselves to ice cream in the sunshine. :-)
Broughty Ferry is only a stone's throw from Dundee and you can take a stroll, browse through the shops or visit Broughty Castle.
I really liked visiting the Isle of Mull and seeing the puffins on Staffa and Iona were some of the ultimate highlights.
Have you ever been and what did you like most?
I look forward to your comment.