9 THINGS TO DO ON THE ISLE OF MULL
From an early age, I’d always associated The Isle of Mull with a boring place for old people. This opinion was based solely on the fact that my grandparents used to holiday there every summer, in their tiny caravan parked by a farmer’s house near Salen. Their holiday snaps did nothing to convince me of Mull’s beauty. I mean, how nice could it be if they couldn’t even be bothered getting out the car to take the photo?
Fast forward a couple of decades and I was finally ready to put wildly unfounded childhood assumptions aside and explore Mull for myself. Needless to say, turns out it was my granny’s photography skills that were severely lacking, and no fault of the island.
THE ISLAND WITH ’A BIT OF EVERYTHING’
The Isle of Mull is the second largest of the Inner Hebrides (after Skye), and possibly the best Scottish Isle to visit for those looking to experience ‘a bit of everything’. It has beautiful white sand beaches, bizarre rock formations, and legend-filled caves fringing the coastline. Moving inland, mountains, waterfalls, and lochs create a scenic backdrop and a haven for hikers. Wildlife thrives on and around Mull, and in summer a boat trip to the Treshnish Isles and Fingal’s Cave is a must. History lovers can explore Iona Abbey and numerous castles. Foodies will relish the exceptionally fresh seafood, local farm produce, and chance to dine at award winning restaurants. And to top it all off is the wonderfully colourful and quirky hub of Tobermory.
At just 45 minutes by ferry from Oban, Mull is easily accessible from the mainland. It also has a wide range of accommodation options to suit all tastes and budgets, everything from wild camping to homely B&Bs.
If I’ve succeeded in piquing your interest, more than a photo album full of car windscreens did for me, then read on for our top 9 things to do on the Isle of Mull.
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ISLE OF MULL MAP
EXPLORE COLOURFUL TOBERMORY
Tobermory is the island’s capital, a bustling little harbour lined with rainbow coloured houses and shopfronts. It’s the perfect place for a stroll, stopping off at cafes and specialist local stores along the way. The pier is lined with fishing ropes and creels, a very scenic viewpoint overlooking the bay. In nice weather, grab an ice cream and hang out on a harbour bench. In not-so-nice weather, dive into a local pub like The Mishnish or MacDonald Arms, or join a Tobermory distillery tour. Arts hub An Tobar is well worth the short walk up the brae behind the harbour. This cafe/exhibition space/shop/recording studio is housed in a beautiful old Victorian school. It hosts revolving exhibitions so there’s always something to see.
If you’re looking to stretch your legs, the walk to the Rubha nan Gall lighthouse is ideal. You’ll have wonderful coastal views over to Ardnamurchan on the mainland. It’s about 5.5km, taking around 2 hours. Check out this walk description.
There are plenty of accommodation options in and around Tobermory, making it a popular base from which to explore the island. Tobermory Youth Hostel (open Apr – Sep) is perfectly located on the shorefront, as is the bright pink The Tobermory Hotel. There are also a number of B&Bs nearby, check out options here.
SAIL AWAY ON A WILDLIFE AND STAFFA TOUR
The Treshnish Isles lie off the west coast of Mull and are a haven for seabirds, including everybody’s favourite – puffins. Boat trips from Mull run between late April and early August to coincide with the breeding season. Besides puffins, you’ll also see colonies of razorbills, kittiwakes, fulmars, shags, guillemots, skuas, and more. You’ll likely see common and grey seals too, and possibly even some dolphins and minke whales.
The other highlight of a boat trip from Mull is a visit to Staffa Island. This geological wonder is the result of an ancient volcanic eruption, the lava flows cooling in a particular way which creates a mass of hexagonally jointed basalt columns. Fingal’s Cave is the big draw here, a spectacular sea cave with natural acoustics that inspired Mendelssohn’s The Hebrides overture. In calm weather it’s possible to land on the island and walk inside the cave, with most boat tours allowing you up to one hour to explore. Boat tours to Staffa generally run from Easter until October.
A number of local companies run boat tours that include a visit to Lunga (the largest of The Treshnish Isles) and Staffa during the breeding season (approx £70). You can also do a boat tour just to Staffa if you’re visiting outwith the breeding season, or aren’t interested in the wildlife aspect of the tours (approx £35). Check out Turus Mara and Staffa Tours.
TUCK INTO LOCAL PRODUCE
Cheese. Seafood. Whisky. The Isle of Mull does it all well. The island is home to a number of fine restaurants, cafes, and small businesses offering fresh local produce which foodies will love. Seafood is as fresh as it comes here, and there’s no better place to tuck in than at the award winning Cafe Fish in Tobermory. Other restaurants worth seeking out (and making advance reservations for!) are Am Birlinn near Dervaig, and Ninth Wave near Fionnphort. Ballygown Restaurant is a small family run spot with daily changing menus and just four tables inside a traditional cottage. Nearby, The Boathouse welcomes you to the community owned island of Ulva and serves up own-grown oysters and shellfish from the family fishing boat.
For a more casual affair, don’t miss The Glass Barn, a quirky vine-filled cafe set on a working farm and home of Isle of Mull Cheese. Outside of tourist season the cafe is closed, but you can still pop in and pick up various homemade cheeses, chutney, and island-made produce from the honesty shop. Whisky aficionados will no doubt enjoy washing it all down with a fine Tobermory malt, and learning about the process on a distillery tour.
For those on a budget or self catering, the local stores dotted around the island have a great range of local Mull produce, including cheese, meats and seafood. Check out this Mull and Iona Food Trail map for more info.
Mull has some seriously nice beaches, aquamarine water lapping at white sandy shores. Well, as long as the sun is shining that is. But even on an overcast windswept day they can be pretty atmospheric. The majority of the best beaches on Mull are found along the south-west and south coast, as well as on Iona. Some are easily accessible by car (and therefore the busiest in summer), while others are hidden away and require a bit of effort to walk to.
NORTH MULL BEACHES
Calgary Bay is the best known beach on the island, a wide sweeping crescent backed by machair dunes. It’s not too far from Tobermory, easily accessible by car, and it has toilets and a cafe nearby too, making it an all-round favourite. If remote beaches are more your thing, a good option nearby is Langamull Beach, but you’ll need to walk 2 miles from the car park (56.5868, -6.2436) to get there (here’s the route description). You can also carry on around 1.5km further east to cosy wee Port na Ba (Market Bay) beach (also accessible on foot from Croig).
SOUTH MULL BEACHES (CAR ACCESSIBLE)
Heading to the south of Mull, you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to great beaches big and small. The easiest to access by car are Fidden Beach and Uisken Beach. Both are also great for camping, with a paid campsite at Fidden Farm and informal camping at Uisken.
A little further south from Fidden is lovely Knockvologan Beach, and at low tide you can cross the sand bar to Erraid, a tidal island. There’s a beautiful beach surrounded by pink granite on the south coast, known as Balfour’s Bay after the character in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped (which is partly set here). It’s best to cross around 1 hour after high tide, and make sure you don’t get stuck! If you’re up for a hike, one of the most remote beaches on Mull is Traigh Gheal (‘white beach’ in Gaelic). It’s a 10km/4 hour round trip on boggy, overgrown trail, but you’ll likely have the beautiful beach all to yourself! To walk to Knockvologan, Erraid or Traigh Gheal, park at Knockvologan Farm (56.2959, -6.3451).
SOUTH COAST BEACHES
A little to the west of Uisken Beach is rugged beauty Ardalanish Beach. Park near the Ardalanish Weavers (56.2932, -6.2470) and walk about 500m down to the beach. Another lovely beach reached by an easy 10 minute walk from the car park (56.2971, -6.1816) is Kilvickeon, east of Uisken. From the same car park you can hike about 1.5km south-east over moorland to Scoor Beach (Traigh Bhan Na Sgurra), a white sand beauty backed by grassy cliffs.
Iona is reached by ferry from Fionnphort, and has a fair few of its own gorgeous beaches. At the northern end of the island there are two beaches, one facing east and one west. East facing Traigh Ban, the ‘White Strand of the Monks’, inspired the Scottish Colourists with its beautiful light, colours and views across to the Treshnish Isles and Mull. On the west coast, Port Ban is a secluded little bay, with cliffs on either side and islets off the shore.
TAKE A HIKE
The Isle of Mull is home to one of only two island munros in Scotland, Ben More. This is the obvious choice for anyone looking for a hike with rewarding views (weather permitting!). The easiest (but still steep) route up is from the northern side, with parking near Dhiseig (56.4490, -6.0676). It’s around 9 km return and takes approximately 5-7 hours. You can find the route description here.
There are also some great coastal hikes on Mull. The loop trail around the Treshnish Headland and Whisky Cave (once home to a moonshine distillery) is relatively straightforward and has great views. It takes around 3.5 – 4.5 hours to complete the 11km circuit (route description here). For a more challenging hike, embark on the lengthy coastal walk to Carsaig Arches, two impressive sea arches 6.5 km west of Carsaig on the south coast. You’ll follow the shoreline all of the way, negotiating plenty of rough rocks which can get wearisome for mind and legs. Hopefully the sight of the cliffside waterfall and spectacular rock formations will make it all worthwhile though. Allow around 6 hours for the 13 km return trip (route description here).