Thursday, 7 January 2016

The Isle of Mull - Part One.

isle of mull scotland ferry sea
My husband and I don't have a car; in fact, I don't even have a driving licence. So when we got the opportunity to borrow one over the Christmas period, my husband suggested it would be the perfect opportunity to make a trip to a place I'd never been before: the Isle of Mull.

If anyone knows me, they'll know that I will take any opportunity to go on a ferry. My anxiety is ridiculous: I close my eyes when my husband overtakes cars on country roads, I panic that my train is about to come off the tracks when it goes round bends, and I spend entire journeys convinced that my plane is about to drop out of the sky - but for some reason, I am always comfortable on a boat. In fact, the only thing I worry about is my overwhelming urge to throw my phone off the side...! The ferry from Oban to Craignure, a small village on the east coast of Mull, only takes about 45 minutes, but I enjoyed every second. There's just something comforting about water for me.

isle of mull scotland tobermory sea

Our hotel (the lovely Western Isles Hotel) was in the biggest settlement on Mull, Tobermory. Our room had a sea-view over the Sound of Mull, and my husband was over the moon about waking up to the sight of boats every day. Even though I was roughly 12 when it first came on television, I've seen way more episodes of Balamory than I'm comfortable admitting to, so I was excited to see the colourful houses along the harbour-side. Tobermory is a lovely, friendly little town, with a whisky distillery and Europe's first catch-and-release aquarium, which I would love to have visited, had it been open.

One thing you should know about Mull in January: absolutely everything even remotely touristy is shut (most attractions close from mid-October to April). This probably isn't surprising when you take into account the second thing you should know about Mull in January: it's absolutely freezing. I usually have no issue with the cold - I'm the kind of weirdo who prefers rain to most kinds of weather, and my hands stay warm no matter what the temperature is - but even I couldn't deny how chilly it was. However, it's also stunningly beautiful in January. 

duart castle isle of mull scotland
duart castle isle of mull scotland

Despite the fact it was one of the visitor attractions that was closed over winter, we decided to go visit Duart Castle, a 13th century castle that is the seat of Clan MacLean. I'm a massive medieval history fan, and any kind of stately home, palace or castle is guaranteed to interest me. From what I've seen online, Duart Castle looks well worth a visit (when it's open!) and I'd definitely go back. As it was, we battled bitterly cold winds to have a quick wander down to the edge of the water.

sea isle of mull scotland

Close to the castle, the water hides the wreck of a small 17th Century warship. The ship is presumed to be the Swan, the last ship to be built for Charles I. The Swan was part of a small number of vessels from Oliver Cromwell's fleet that attacked the Royalist stronghold of Castle Duart, but she sank in 1653. The site is now protected, although some items such as a pocket watch, coins and military artifacts have been recovered by divers over the years since it was discovered in 1979.

stag deer isle of mull scotland animals
otter isle of mull scotland sea animals

To be completely honest with you, the cold was quickly too much for us, so we jumped back in the car and headed along the south of the island. On the way to our next location we had to make two "emergency stops" - first for a stag that was chilling by the side of the road, and secondly when I noticed an otter swimming over to the shore. The tourist information for Mull always has a heavy emphasis on their wildlife, and we certainly weren't disappointed.

standing stones isle of mull scotland ben buie
standing stones isle of mull scotland

After watching our otter-y friend swim back off into the sea, we made our way along to Lochbuie, where Ben Buie overlooks a circle of nine standing stones. The stones are fairly well signposted from the road, with white rocks to mark the path. However, the field we had to cross to locate the stone circle was very boggy, and as is completely typical for me, I fell into the mud both on the way to and from the stones. It miiight be better, if you want to visit the stones, not to go the week after a storm that caused mass floods over the country...

mud boot scotland walking
This wasn't even the 'bad' fall... I was covered in mud :(
Lochbuie has some other points of interest that you may want to check out if you're nearby, and you know, not covered in mud: there's Moy Castle (built by Hector MacLean, the brother of MacLean of Duart and founder of the re-named MacLaines of Lochbuie) which was featured in the film I Know Where I'm Going; St. Kilda's Episcopal Church built by the MacLaines in 1876; and the Caibeal Mheamhair, translated as 'chapel of remembrance', the east side of which serves as a mausoleum for various members of the MacLaine family. Of course, you could always attempt to conquer Ben Buie itself...

ben buie mist hill scotland isle of mull

However, I was muddy and cold, so we cut things short. From Lochbuie, we headed further along the south of the island, but that's a story for another day.

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