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Published: August 5th 2017
Scotland 3 - 2017
June – 15th
July Continuing our travels through Scotland
Islands - On to Mull and Iona, with hopes of finding otters and white tailed eagles!
The ferry crossing from Armadale, south across the Sound of Sleat to bustling Mallaig on the mainland, took just twenty-five minutes allowing us time to meander the coast road past tiny coves with white sandy beaches, through elegant Arisaig and on to Glenuig for our evening meal at the Glenuig Inn. This lovely little village has its own community shop with free WiFi, a village hall, a bus shelter, a smokehouse, a museum, B&B at the Inn, and its very own red telephone box!
There are still a number of red telephone boxes in the Highlands, those remnants of British village life where a penny gave you five minutes of talking time to remind your mum you still remember her. It’s all cards these days I guess, but there are cobwebs all over the handset now and the end of the line is surely nigh.
There is no lighthouse keeper at Ardnamurchan Point lighthouse
anymore either; most of these seafaring icons are remotely operated now. This one is approached via three miles of extremely narrow road, further constrained by stone walls and bridges built only for a horse and cart at the final approach to this most westerly point on the UK mainland. We spent ages here looking out to sea for whales and dolphins, Manx shearwaters, black guillemots, red throated divers and grey seals.
Another short ferry ride took us out across calm waters from Kilchoan to alight at busy, bright and colourful Tobermory on the island of Mull, threading our precious motorhomes through the crowded waterside street with cars and trucks weaving in and out of gaps between parked cars, all trying to get on or get off the ferry at the same time!
With a little over an hour to spare we were just able to visit the Tobermory chocolate shop, check out the fish and chip van, a few souvenir shops before they closed for the day, the art exhibition in the church and enjoy a rather good, free whisky tasting at the Tobermory Distillery. A new single malt found its way into our shopping bag
(we have one or two good friends that like to partake of a small glass or two when they visit). It’s five o’clock in the evening, so presumably the sun is now over the yardarm.
You might recall that we now know how much a 'wee dram' is, but we have yet to establish the required height of the yardarm on board ship and at what distance it has to be from the bottle before the sun comes over it, so allowing that first drink of the day! We didn’t get around to asking the question.
I guess we have to admit to being rather fond of Mull. Back in 1999 we travelled here by car and stayed in Bed and Breakfast accommodation. This time we’ll be staying on campsites and will have to navigate some of those extremely narrow tracks with grass down the middle in our motorhome if we’re to get to see otters.
Leaving Tobermory behind, we ventured west to Dervaig and Calgary, stopping off at the Calgary Café for morning coffee and a look round the rather splendid gallery. However, this is not a good road: it winds in
all directions, it rises and dips with blind corners and poor visibility, but there are few choices of road on Mull: many are single track with passing places. It’s slow – and I mean slow. To make matters worse, it’s another grey day, overcast and rather wet!
Our next challenge is to find those magnificent birds so rarely seen in the UK; the white tailed eagle! Recent reports suggest a nesting pair in the Aros River Valley and Janice has discovered a campsite nearby at Crannich Farm, beyond Salen.
Persecuted to extinction by 1918, the white tailed eagle was reintroduced here on Mull some forty years ago and now there are thought to be as many as one-hundred pairs in the Scottish Highlands - and Mull is the best place to see them! Make no mistake; this is a big bird, With a wingspan of eight feet it should come as no surprise to learn that the locals here refer to it as the ‘flying barn door’!
Following a delightful though fruitless evening stroll in search of this mighty beast, we returned to the campsite somewhat disappointed. But, here we go! Any birder will tell
you that most good bird sightings occur in car parks. And there it was, in clear view from the door of our motorhome – a mighty barn door indeed, enjoying the late evening sunshine along with us, surveying the vista from the top of a nearby pine tree! Fabulous! We watched in awe as it flew off, its great wings rhythmically paddling the air as it swept off into the clouds, returning several times to the same perch or the grassy bank at the top of the hill, much to the delight of everyone on site, leaping out of their motorhomes and caravans with their binoculars in hand to the shout of 'Barn Door ahoy!' The male hen harrier seen later was an added bonus.
The following morning we booked our tickets for the Oban Ferry back to the mainland later in the week. A wise move indeed, as we discovered when we joined the queue at the dock a few days later. Many were disappointed.
Back in 1999 there were otters galore along the shores off Croggen at the at the end of a track on the southeastern tip of Mull, and this
seemed to be the best place to start our quest to show Jan and Trevor their first Brittish otter. What we had forgotten was just how narrow and challenging the road would be in a motorhome! What a road!
After two hours of trekking around the headland we called it a day; magnificent orchids and wild flowers everywhere, but not a single otter! There’s another day tomorrow.
Later that night we arrived at Fionnphort at the other end, the far western tip of Mull, from where we planned to take the ferry out to the tiny island of Iona the following day. It’s no great distance from east to west on Mull, but once again we had to suffer the traumatic stop - start routine of letting vehicles (including coach loads of tourists heading for Iona and double-decker busses), pass. Doubtless they too were cursing our motorhomes! That said, there are some magnificent views along this stretch of road as it winds its way up and over the pass and we would probably do it again just for that.
The rather spectacular and spacious farm campsite at Fionnphort has good, though minimal, facilities,
but it is situated on the shore with adorable white sandy beaches. The sun shone for us that evening and the wind blew sufficiently for us to fly our kites! Those little Scottish beauties, the midges, have been kind to us this year; we have rarely been bothered by them during the day, quite likely because of the breeze off the sea as we continue to hug the coast on our journey.
The ferry from Fionnphort to Iona takes no more than ten minutes, and crossing on the 08.35 allowed us to beat the crowds to the Nunnery, the Hermitage Centre for coffee and scones, and the Abbey, where we wandered for an hour or more. Iona is but a tiny speck on the map off the western tip of Mull and it’s not that far from end to end - or side to side for that matter. A short walk across the machair; those magnificent Scottish coastal fields of wild flowers now at their best in full and glorious bloom, brought us to the northern shore of silver sand coves, pebble-strewn beaches, sparklingly clear rock pools - and truly fabulous views of Staffa and the Treshnish
Isles beyond a turquoise sea. Spare a moment to listen to the rush of the tide on the sun-drenched beach; polishing pearls of multicoloured stone, rolling forwards and backwards, forwards and backwards, breathe the briny air and gaze to the horizon beyond the red-sailed dinghy, to Fingal's Cave, shimming in the haze. We will surely dream of this particular day.
Other fond memories of Iona include the sound, though not the sight, of that elusive bird, the corncrake, but there was no such delight on this occasion. But the right time and the right place did come together once again here as we walked around the marshy estuary near our campsite back on the mainland later that same evening. A group of twenty or more oystercatchers stood together on a grassy bank like black and white sentries, all facing the same way, bright red beaks and deep black eyes firmly fixed, watching something. Watching.
And then it moved.
‘A mink!” Janice exclaimed.
And so it seemed at first sight.
But it was not a mink. As we watched, a young otter, dark and sleek, loped across the bank before us, eventually
slipping away through the grass. What a way to finish this romance with the Scottish Islands!
Tomorrow it's our final ferry, heading out of Craignure across the water to Oban and on our way home. We will return.
David and Janice
The Grey haired nomads
Scroll down for more pictures – and don’t miss the panorama show at the top!
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