After a wonderful trip a few weeks ago, I have some important news: the Isle Of Mull might just be my new favourite place in Scotland!
As with most trips this summer, our trip to Mull was fairly spontaneous, and although I was looking forward to seeing what Scotland’s fourth largest island had to offer, I wasn’t expecting to fall head over heels in love with it, especially in a single weekend.
It turns out, just from my initial research, that there is a LOT to do on Mull, and I started to think a weekend might not even be long enough to do it justice, especially when I started adding more and more plans to our potential itinerary.
“Look, Ash,” I said excitedly. “We could go to FOUR islands!!! In fact, we could even go to five!”
“Can’t we just have a normal bloody weekend away?”
If you know anything about us, it’s that we don’t have normal weekends away (or normal holidays in general). Weekend to Dublin? Screw it, let’s spend a day of that in Galway! Hey, let’s go to Rome – but why not pop to Barcelona first?! We don’t do relaxing – but we do do awesome. (Hehe, do-do.)
And that’s why we did end up visiting four islands in one weekend. For what it’s worth, it actually didn’t feel like a rushed trip, and in fact although our itinerary was pretty tight – we almost missed the ferry to Iona! – it was absolutely spot on. We did everything we wanted to do and we’ve both declared it one of the best trips we’ve ever taken. Now that was an unexpected conclusion!
As with most trips to the Isle Of Mull, our adventure began in the mainland town of Oban. I was really pleased we got a chance to visit Oban again, as our previous visit in January hadn’t been much to write home about, and left me wondering what we’d been missing when virtually everybody raves about it. This time around? We got it.
We arrived in the evening, meaning we didn’t get a lot of time to explore (I had already been up to the iconic McCaig’s Tower overlooking the city on our last visit, and met one of the famous resident cats in the process) but rather meander along the waterfront just taking it all in. And that’s what Oban is for, really. It’s not a bustling town; it’s a perfect buffer for people who want to slow it down.
We did, of course, treat ourselves to fish & chips and enjoyed them by the harbour with a splendid view.
In the morning, it was time to say our goodbyes to Oban as we were up bright eyed and bushy tailed for the short ferry journey across to Mull, and we were in for a busy but epic day.
You see, I’d unwittingly been looking at tours to the island of Staffa, and discovered that the very last boat trip of the summer that also stops at the Treshnish Isles happened to be that day. The rest of the year, the boat trips sail around the Treshnish islands but only actually land on Staffa. The last chance to see an extra island and also potential puffins? That in itself was enough merit for me to swiftly book it.
And so it was that we arrived in picturesque Tobermory (side note: I fell in love with it the second we pulled up, and if you think I was singing “what’s the story, Balamory?” in my head the entire time, you are absolutely right) after a half hour drive from the port town of Craignure, and took a very quick wander up the high street before getting straight on another boat.
Boat tour to Staffa & Lunga
How gorgeous is this?! I had no idea how picturesque this boat trip was going to be, and it was only going to get better.
From Tobermory, it’s quite a journey out to the uninhabited island of Staffa – you can take much shorter tours from Fionnphort on the south of Mull, but this tour worked out better for us.
And besides, Staffa is 100% WORTH the journey!! I realise I began this post gushing about Mull being my new favourite place in Scotland, but Staffa is up there as well.
Staffa is one of the coolest places I’ve ever visited. Its iconic basalt columns make it incredibly unique, photogenic, and above all else a geological wonder. The main attraction is the mystical Fingal’s Cave, but little did I know that Staffa is so much more than just a cave!
Walking along basalt on the most unique terrain I’ve ever seen?! I LOVE IT. It really reminded me of the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland – which I haven’t been to – and I’m pretty sure it’s the only place like this in Scotland. The fact there’s an entire volcanic island here made of hexagonal basalt is just awesome.
I don’t know why, but I wasn’t expecting to walk along the side of the island, on terrain like this, to get to the cave. I think because everyone just posts photos of Fingal’s Cave, I assumed that the boat parks up right outside the cave and you go in and that’s that! Which would be awesome – but this? SO MUCH BETTER.
Of course, the cave itself is AMAZING.
Apparently if you sing, the acoustics are some of the best you’ll ever hear – sadly I only found out about this afterwards, and anyway I didn’t really fancy assaulting people’s ears with my harmonious wails. In fact, the original name for Fingal’s Cave is An Uamh Bhin, which translates to “the melodious cave”.
This was the first of many references to Irish legend Fingal – or Fionn mac Cumhaill, shortened to Finn McCool – that we’ve come across in Scotland over the summer, including another one on Mull.
From Staffa, we headed north to the Treshnish Isles in search of puffins on another uninhabited island, Lunga.
I had spent most of the week trying not to get my hopes up about seeing puffins, being that we were right on the cusp of them leaving and this trip had been so last-minute. Puffins spend most of their lives out in the wild Atlantic Ocean, and only come into land to nest for a few months of the year, usually between April or May and August. Once the babies (called pufflings!! You know, in case you wanted puffins to be any cuter) are old enough, they take flight and don’t see land again for another three years.
But it was still a bit of a bummer knowing that they had been there less than 24 hours before us, and somehow several thousand of them had taken off overnight, not to be seen again until next summer. Even the crew were surprised – they said it was incredibly rare for every single one to leave at once! OF COURSE. Of course that would happen!
And so we got a lovely, rare, sunshine-filled day on an uninhabited island that many people don’t get to experience, and we had it all to ourselves without those pesky, adorable birds.
Most of the tour group took a walk over to the distinguished Harp Rock on the other end of the island – we saw a couple of birds that may or may not have been puffin stragglers, but generally despite our best efforts, there weren’t really any real sightings of them. Plenty of other birds, though!
And plenty of views too – you can see The Dutchman’s Cap in the background there. No prizes for guessing how it got that name.
It felt quite surreal to be on our own wild island here. I even did a spot of sunbathing! And got sunburned in the process! Sunburned while sunbathing in Scotland. Now that’s a sentence you don’t hear every day!
Despite our disappointment over the puffins, we’d had an excellent day, and there was plenty of other wildlife to enjoy – but little did we know it was all about to get a whole lot better!
We headed back towards Mull, but the driver said he would take us on a little detour first – and we were thrilled we watched a couple of dolphins splashing around in the distance ahead of us.
Haha. “A couple of dolphins”. “In the distance”. YOU GUYS.
This is one of the best experiences we have EVER had! You could even hear the dolphins talking to each other. I have never experienced anything like this, and probably never will again. It was unBELIEVABLE. The perfect end to a perfect day.
From the tranquil sea to the perfect blue skies, we literally could not have picked a better day to do this trip. Although we’d had promises of puffins and reports of consistently amazing sightings over the past week, the crew told us the weather had been horrific. Maybe they’d seen thousands of puffins the day before, but in gales of hailstones – I feel like they may have been exaggerating to make us feel better, but to be fair, from the footage I had seen from earlier in the week, it was definitely far from sunshine!
In fact, we are pretty sure that’s WHY the puffins had left that day. They’d stayed on land later than usual for the bad weather, and as soon as the sun came out, a week’s worth of puffins had left at once. What a sight that must have been, if anyone had witnessed it!
A huge thank you to Staffa Tours for an incredible day out (not an ad – we paid for this out of pocket!) and for making everyone feel comfortable and safe in these strange times. Most of all, for going above and beyond in helping us to make the most of the day!
Back in Tobermory, we checked into our hotel – more hands-on than our hotel in Oban had been which was zero contact, but still plenty of precautions that made us feel safe – and hit the town for dinner.
The one place on my agenda was the Mishnish, something of an institution in Tobermory. You can actually choose between bar meals in the Mishnish, or a fancier seafood experience next door in the Mishdish (to go along with Fishnish, a town along the coast!). They’ve also got an Italian restaurant which sadly doesn’t fit the theme. Letting the team down there!
Anyway, we settled for the bar meals, and being that it was the first pub we’d been into since March, we were quite content with that. Sadly of course there is no live music at the moment, so it would be great to experience it in full once things are a little more normal.
I tucked into a chicken and leek pie, and I would like to declare that it was – no exaggeration – the best pie I have ever eaten! I am still thinking of that crust.
Tummies full, we contented ourselves with a wander all the way along Tobermory’s shorefront and back again, taking in all the huge shoals of fish, crabs fighting each other, fish hunting other fish. It was like a new world of nightlife, and it was fascinating! We congratulated a kid on his haul (he caught five fish just while we were stood on the pier for a couple of minutes).
I instantly loved it here, and in the morning we were delighted that it was another beautiful day as we took yet another wander along the length of Tobermory – because how can you not when the place is this pretty?!
Honestly. I didn’t want to leave!
But sadly, we had to – although I was just as exciting for what we had planned! We’d be taking the coastal route all the way down the west coast of the island, checking out beautiful beaches and hopefully even seeing a mountain or waterfall or two on the way. I’d given ourselves almost three hours for the journey, as we’d be getting a lunchtime ferry over to Iona, and a return ferry a couple of hours later. With our ferry home at 5pm and the slightly limited Sunday timetable, this was our only option. If we missed it, we wouldn’t be going to Iona.
And so lesson learned – Mull is far, far bigger and wilder than we imagined. The roads are narrow and winding, and if you come across an oversized motorhome on a blind, steep single track road with barriers either side and nowhere to pull over (spoiler: we did), you’re *insert choice of expletive here*.
What was supposed to be a relaxing meander down to Fionnphort turned into a race against the ferry timetable. It wasn’t all bad though – the entire journey was BEAUTIFUL and we did make all the stops we wanted. First up: Calgary Beach.
When I was first contemplating Mull, I suggested that we should camp at this beach. Once I started turning it into a rollercoaster of a weekend, Ash insisted that we sleep in a bed, so I compromised and that’s probably partly why I got away with the four island plan.
We have decided, though, that we would LOVE to camp at this beach! It’s beautiful, and there’s even an ice cream hut made from an upside down boat!
Sadly the ice cream shack was closed, and as you know by now, we didn’t have time to wait around until 12!
Our next stop was Eas Fors Waterfall – a literal translation to mean “Waterfall Waterfall Waterfall” from Gaelic, Norse and English. Now I think my research failed me slightly on this one – we stopped briefly and I checked out this nice little waterfall, but I wasn’t too taken aback by it. Yet when I google it now, photos of several different waterfalls come up. So I think perhaps the Waterfall Waterfall Waterfall name is due to the fact there are THREE waterfalls here across three tiers!
In hindsight, it’s fine because we wouldn’t have had time to check out all three regardless of whether we knew about them. It seems like the most impressive of them, the final falls into the sea, requires a little bit of a trek to get down to the bottom of for the best view, so with better planning then we could check that out next time.
I’d also like to check out another spot in the area – the fifth island I mentioned before! It’s called Ulva, and you have to summon a boat by uncovering a red panel – then someone brings the boat over and takes you across! How cool is that?! There’s not a lot to do on Ulva itself but there is a great sounding place called The Boathouse which whips up delicious lunches and cakes, though sadly has closed “permanently” this year. They are looking for people to take it on and re-open it, so if you fancy a remote island lifestyle while cooking up fresh seafood for thousands of people, then go for it!
From there, we had a straight run all the way to Fionnphort, and we passed some amazing spots to camp, which were understandably busy in the nice weather. We were starting to feel like we could spend a week on Mull and never tire of it.
While we’d been trying not to rush too much – we didn’t want to race, miss everything AND then miss the ferry as well – we somehow made it to Fionnphort not much more than five minutes before the ferry was due to leave. We parked up and ran, worried by the packed car park that after all this, we wouldn’t get on anyway.
It’s actually a much bigger ferry than I realised, considering it goes to a tiny island, and we needn’t have worried. It’s a first come first serve service though, so I couldn’t help having that thought in the back of my mind as we resigned ourselves to the fact we’d be late.
The trip to Iona takes around ten minutes, so it’s an extremely easy add-on to Mull – and I am going to say now, more than 100000% worth it! We absolutely loved it there, from the Caribbean-esque beaches to the historic abbey.
It’s thought that Christianity was introduced to Scotland – at least on a mainstream level – right here on Iona, when St Columba visited in 563 AD and set up an abbey there. An unassuming island might seem like an odd place to essentially start up a religion, but I could see exactly why once we were there. This was idyllic.
We began our pilgrimage from the pier, through the lovely cottages lining the sandy beach, and found ourselves unexpectedly in a picturesque ruin of the nunnery. We only had a few hundred metres to walk and we had already distracted ourselves!
From there, it’s a fairly short walk to the abbey, though first we had to pop into the kirkyard next door. It’s one of the oldest graveyards I’ve seen, and is the final resting ground for many medieval Scottish kings. It’s also where Macbeth (of Shakespeare fame) is reportedly buried, so it was really interesting to walk around – not that you could read many of the headstones, they were so old!
The current abbey sits on the site of the original one, but is slightly more modern at 1200 AD. It also fell into disrepair, much like the nearby nunnery, and was eventually restored just over a hundred years ago. Still, it feels very old inside and it wasn’t hard to imagine who had come through here before.
Most surprising was the fact we COULD go inside! We were perfectly willing to pay to go in, but had read that it was closed due to the pandemic, which had been slightly disappointing but to be expected. But when we arrived, the door was open and people were wandering around the cloisters. It felt very eerie, especially inside the church itself; almost like we were doing something illicit just being there.
We headed back to the wee village, if you can even call it a village. I was bemused by the fact there were cars around – I guess people need them for going to the “mainland”.
After a little explore, we had some time left, which meant it was beach time!
Most of the “beach” is very rocky, but it was a perfect end to the trip relaxing here on the strip of sand watching the ferry float on over to sweep us away from this little slice of heaven – I kind of wish we’d had a can of cider to look out over the turquoise water with!
So, I appear to have THREE new favourite places in Scotland, and we had discovered them all in a weekend, which was a bit too overwhelmingly lovely.
But it was finally time to head back across Mull – and through, unbelievably, some of the BEST scenery we had seen yet! (I know, Mull really is the gift that just won’t STOP giving!)
Mull is better than I could ever have imagined, but it was really the other islands as well that made the trip so marvellously magical! The weather was stellar for the entire weekend, which as most of you will know is a rarity in Scotland – and a rarity for us!
This was also our first “proper” trip since lockdown lifted, as all our previous adventures had either been day trips or camping trips. Both our B&B in Oban and our hotel in Tobermory handled things really well (in fact, the B&B was completely non-contact which was strange – just a key left in an envelope at reception with my name on and then a box to pop it in on our way out) and I was glad to feel comfortable in supporting the dwindling tourism industry as it flails its arms to keep afloat.
We’re already planning to go back, armed with another list of things we want to see and do. But really, I think Mull would make the perfect relaxing holiday without doing anything at all – and that might even just be my favourite thing about it overall.
Have you fallen in love with Mull yet?
If you enjoyed this post, you may be interested in some of my other Scottish island – or nearby – posts:
⭐ A Day On The Isle Of Skye – Which Definitely Isn’t Enough
⭐ Why You Should Visit Orkney
⭐ An Anniversary Trip – Staying In A Castle In Argyll & Bute
I also have a new section dedicated to Scotland here!
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