Wildlife on Mull: A Place of Beauty
The Isle of Mull, just a short ferry ride from Oban on Scotland's west coast, has much to offer the walker, as well as wildlife watching opportunities for those quieter, less energetic days. Cicerone author Terry Marsh shares some of the wildlife highlights that await you on your visit.
Separated from the Scottish mainland by the Sound of Mull and the Firth of Lorn, Mull, with an area of just under 90,000 hectares, is the fourth largest of the Hebridean islands, framed by a coastline deeply penetrated by a ragged 480km (300 miles) of sea lochs and inlets. This is an island of enchantment and considerable diversity. Indeed, the coastline vies with the mountainous heartlands as the island’s most outstanding feature, offering towering cliffs and sandy bays, basalt columns and pink granite crags.
By eagle-wing, Mull stretches 44.5km (28 miles) from Ardmore Point in the north to Rudh’ Ardalanish in the south, and 49km (30 miles) from Duart Point in the east to the coast overlooking Iona in the west. But such statistics are meaningless in this contorted landscape. At its narrowest, Mull is a mere 4.25km (2½ miles) from Salen Bay to Loch na Keal at Killiechronan. And around the coast lie numerous islands. Mull is not so much one island as an island group; some, Ulva, Gometra, Erraid (which featured in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped) and Iona, have interest for walkers. Others – Treshnish Isles and Staffa – are the stuff of legend and music, and popular on the tourist and wildlife trails.
The Isle of Mull
Mull, Ulva, Gometra, Iona and Erraid
Guidebook describing over 40 walking routes on Scotland's beautiful Isle of Mull, as well as neighbouring Ulva, Gometra, Iona and Erraid. Walks range from 2 to 16 miles and from short circuits to demanding mountain traverses, but without technical difficulties. The Isle of Mull is wild, rugged and great for wildlife spotting.More information
Geologically, Mull’s origins are violently volcanic, but dramatised in a complex evolution. High (and not-so-high) mountains, remote glens, coastal paths along raised beaches, forest walks and island treks make Mull one of the most resourceful of the Scottish islands especially for the walker and wildlife watcher. Although a great deal of the coastline is rugged and rocky, in the south-west there are splendid beaches of glistening shell sand set against machair lands and sheltered crofting communities.
Wildlife on Mull
Mull and its islands are not to be consumed in haste. Even visitors with minimal interest in the natural world will find themselves stopping by the roadside to admire the wildflowers or watch the otters and the eagles.
Increasingly, sightings of sea eagles, more properly known as white-tailed eagles, golden eagles, and buzzard are a feature of most days on Mull, but there are hen harrier, too, kestrel, merlin, short-eared owl, peregrine falcon and osprey. On the lochs great northern diver often arrive in winter, along with Slavonian grebe, barnacle and white-fronted geese, while the breeding season sees significant numbers of guillemot, puffin and gannet on and around the off-shore islands. Plenty of variety for anybody keen on birdwatching.
Red deer are seen almost anywhere and everywhere, with fallow deer populating the woodlands around Loch na Keal and Loch Ba. There are even wild goats, which keep very much to themselves among the coastal cliffs. Mull and Ulva also have adders and slow worms.
Around the coast, you frequently see common seals and grey seals; dolphins, too, and whales are also often spotted, especially minke whales, harbour porpoises and bottlenose dolphins, which I've watched cruising up and down Loch na Keal more than once; on rare occasions you may be fortunate enough to spot killer whales (orca) and basking sharks. But perhaps more than any other form of wildlife, it is the otter that attracts most attention. Far from uncommon, they can be spotted around the waterline along the rocky shores or playing in the water a little further out, as we found at Ardmore Bay; you just have to be patient, although they even frequent the harbour at Tobermory.
Plant Life on Mull
For such a small island, Mull is amazingly diverse in its plant life with more than 4,000 different species. There are no fewer than 800 flowering plants and conifers, almost 250 different seaweeds, 60 ferns, just under mosses and liverworts, almost 700 lichens and almost 1,800 fungi. Enough to keep botanists enthralled for a lifetime.
Sometimes it can seem as if all there is is a great mantle of bracken and heather. But that is only part of the story, and each season brings its myriad varieties from the wild daffodils, bluebells, primroses and violets of spring, to the winter deep greens; from the swaying foxgloves, orchids and harebells of summer to the gold of autumn. Wherever plants can grow, they do: Grass of Parnassus, tormentil, asphodel, scabious and cotton grass brighten the moorland bogs, while even the mountain peaks yield gentians and alpines. There is much commercial forest on Mull mainly featuring Sitka spruce, Japanese larch and lodgepole pine, but there is also an abundance of deciduous trees like birch, oak, rowan and wild cherry.
You come to Mull to escape, and to enjoy its fundamental simplicity, for that is its charm...that, and the ability to explore the winding narrow roads, all of them feeding into heathered and loch-filled glens, is the island’s greatest asset. Even on the gloomiest of days, the beauty of Mull will out, and the rewards for patience and persistence are memories that will last a lifetime and bring a joy that will make the heart ache.
Track alongside Calgary Bay
How to get there
Oban is the main approach from the Scottish mainland; it is the rail terminus from Glasgow.
A small ferry approach is possible from Lochaline in Morvern to Fishnish.
By car and bus
The most popular route from Glasgow to Oban is 160km (100 miles) by Loch Lomond to Crianlarich, and then via Tyndrum, where the road to Oban (A85) branches left to Connel and then Oban.
The railway from Glasgow follows much of the same route as that used by cars and buses, although the early stages on leaving Glasgow differ until you reach Tarbert. See www.thetrainline.com.
Caledonian MacBrayne operate all the ferry services running to Mull and frequent ferries to Iona.
You can book online at: www.calmac.co.uk
You can find information on reaching Ulva at: https://www.ulva.scot/getting-here
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