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Issue 56 - What's the Story...

Scotland Magazine Issue 56
April 2011


This article is 7 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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What's the Story...

Our man takes us round this rugged and historic Hebridean island

Mull is the second largest island of the Inner Hebrides, and lies off the west coast of Scotland about one hundred miles north-west of Glasgow by road. It occupies an area of 338 square miles, and has a total population of 2,700, mostly occupying the townships of Craignure or Tobermoray but enjoying a hinterland of wild and beautiful mountains and moorland.

An hour’s boat trip from the mainland, the island thrives on its history, scenic beauty and wildlife which act as a magnet for visitors throughout the seasons. To this end, large car ferries arrive from the west coast mainland town of Oban to Craignure in the south of the island ( 0800 066 5000 / 01680 812343). There are, of course, two other Calmac ferries to Mull, the one that runs from Lochaline on Morvern to Fishnish, five miles from Craignure, and another from Kilchoan on Ardnamurchan to Tobermoray, in the north of the island. The looming sentinel that guards the waterways at the neck of the Firth of Lorne is Duart Castle, the great fortress of Clan Maclean ( It was in these waters in 1653 that ships sent by the English Lord Protector Oliver Cromwell to subdue the Royalist Clan Maclean, ran onto the rocks in a storm and twenty seven sailors were drowned. Today, it is the home of Sir Lachlan Maclean of Duart, 28th Chief of Clan Maclean, and open to the public daily from May until October.
From Craignish, the coastal road runs north via Salen up to the island Capital of Tobermory; to the south, the A849 loops around to the west, following the coast of Loch Scridain towards Fionnophort, and the ferry to Iona and the extraordinary island of Staffa. With only twenty four hours to spend on the island, it is definitely advisable to decide upon which attractions you want to visit.

Let’s start by going north where the B8035 at Salen turns west to Gruline. Here, at the south west end of a two and a half mile wide isthmus, is the offshore island of Ulva where Major General Lachlan Macquarrie, sometimes described as the “Father of Australia”, was born in 1762. Macquarrie was Governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1821, and played a critical role in the social, economic and architectural development of the colony. He, his wife and family are interred in a fine mausoleum, facing out over Loch na Keal.

Another visitor attraction, close to the Ulva ferry at Ballygown, is Lip na Cloiche Garden & Nursery where a wide range of plants and craft items is available for sale throughout the year.

Back on the A848, the road leads to Tobermory, with its brightly painted seafront houses. These enjoyed a certain fame between 2002 and 2005 as the location for the immensely popular BBC Scotland children’s television series Balamory. However, the town is probably better known for the events of four hundred years ago when, following the failure of the Spanish Armada, the Florencia, a Spanish galleon, having strayed, storm-battered, up the west coast of Britain, arrived in Tobermory Bay. To begin with the crew were welcomed by the locals, but when it emerged that they planned to depart without paying their bills, a group of townsfolk clambered on board and planted sufficient dynamite to blast the ship to the bottom of the bay.

There is another version of this story which involves a passenger on the galleon, a Spanish lady of great beauty who, it is said, had become obsessed by a man in her dreams. To search for this hero, she stowed away on the Florencia and remained undiscovered until it found anchorage in Tobermory Bay. Shortly after its arrival, she caught sight of the handsome Lachlan Maclean of Duart, ancestor of the present chief, and realised that her search was over. Not unexpectedly, the incumbent lady of Duart was unimpressed, and took it upon herself to persuade her kinsman Donald Maclean to dynamite the ship with her rival on board. The remains of the unfortunate Spanish beauty were, it is said, laid to rest at Colum-kill in a stone coffin.

Tobermory is an exceptionally pretty waterfront town which features facets of local history in the Mull Museum in the Columba Building; the Mull Pottery, with its attractive restaurant; An Tobar, a fifty seater performance space, cafe, shop and workshop area; the Isle of Mull Silver and Goldsmiths produces a classic range of finely crafted products.

There are a number of excellent restaurants to sample, and the Tobermory Distillery, today owned by Burn Sewart, produces not only Ledaig, a superb single malt, but in addition a vatted malt containing some Tobermory whiskies of up to 20-years old and proportions of newly-mature spirit from elsewhere.

Located just outside Tobermory at Druimfin is the Mull Theatre, founded in 1966, with a renowned travelling theatre company. To the west on the B8073 is the hamlet of Dervaig which hosts the Old Byre Heritage Centre. Nearby is the Glengorm Castle estate, a wonderful place to go for a walk and stop off at the coffee shop and gallery which is open throughout the summer months.

Travel further west along the B8073 and you will come to the village of Calgary with its remarkable sculpture gallery in a wood, a place where art blends with nature in this visionary Inner Hebridean landscape.

Setting off by car from the ferry terminal at Craignure again, the A849 heads west, but a detour to Loch Buie is well worthwhile as the scenery is quite breathtaking. On the shore of Loch Buie is Moy Castle, historic stronghold of the MacLaines of Lochbuie, occupied until the 18th century, but now a picturesque ruin. Readers may recall its appearance in the 1945 Powell/Pressburger film I know where I’m going, starring Wendy Hiller, Roger Livesey and Petula Clark.

At Fionnophort, you will find the Ross of Mull Historic Centre which specialises in research into the lives of the people of the Ross around the time of the Highland clearances, their emigration, and the fate of the settlers and their descendants. Offshore from the western toe of Mull lies the Holy isle of Iona where St Columba founded his abbey in AD 543. The remains of early Scottish kings were laid to rest here, including Macbeth and Duncan I. In 1938, a Church of Scotland minister, with faith and determination, founded the Iona Community, for which he was later honoured as the Very Reverend Lord Macleod of Fuinary. The sanctuary he created, with the restored abbey at its heart, remains to this day a renowned retreat for prayer and worship.   To visit Iona, and the island of Staffa, which contains the legendary Fingal’s Cave, allow at least an hour to travel from Craignure to catch the ferry from Fionnphort. The German musician Felix Mendelssohn came to inspect this extraordinary island of basalt columns in 1892 and was inspired to compose his haunting Hebridean Overture.

Twenty four hours is an almost impossible challenge for touring an island such as Mull which has so much to offer, from the peak of Ben More, to the intriguing Carsaig Arches near Pennyghael in the south or MacKinnon’s Cave close to Balmeanach on the B8035.

One thing is for certain, you will certainly not be disappointed.