Our Travel blog
It is a strange feeling to be working full time again. On the one hand we are doing a 40 hour week as opposed to the 18.5 in our last job but on the other hand we have fixed hours, giving us plenty of time to enjoy all that Mull has to offer. On the third hand we get a clean break from work every night, a somewhat elusive luxury when we lived on site. The weather is spoiling us and we enjoy views of a loch and mountains from our window, or midges permitting, from the garden.
Mull has many attractions of which scenery and wildlife feature heavily. It’s a must visit if you favour diversions of the natural variety; good walking in the hills, historic buildings, ghostly deserted settlements, abundant wildlife and a fascinating history. If your idea of a holiday is whizzy neon, sticky confectionary, STD’s and chips with everything then the chances are that Mull won’t be high on your agenda.
I’ll get around to describing Duart Castle and our work there in a future entry (if I don’t then please remind me). For now though let us dwell briefly on the matter of eagles. Driving home from the castle one evening we paused alongside a campervan to admire a bird floating effortlessly on the breeze. It turned out we got to enjoy a 10 minute display of virtuoso hovering, swooping and general avian aerobatics by a rare Golden Eagle. Our new Dutch friends who owned the camper showed us close ups on their camera, which sported a lens only slightly shorter than the channel tunnel and we all agreed that it was a magical moment. Not just witnessing such a spectacle but being willing and able to pause and enjoy it, to take a break from the routine to experience something special. Later in the week a lone eagle flew over us, lazily beating its massive wings as it drifted across the loch until it was a faint silhouette against a silver sky. Then we spied one sitting on a fence post; then later on a telegraph pole, in flight and a pair soaring above us. Rare my arse!
As well as accommodating Dutch tourists the locals are friendly and welcoming. While I was away in London (see last entry) Alison was fostered out to neighbours who fed her and ensured wine flowed freely. We’ve taken tea with colleagues, supped beer in convivial company at the local (well, local by Mull standards) and been gifted fresh laid eggs. Island life in a remote settlement relies on a strong sense of community and mutual support. We’ve fallen into the local habit of offering a lift to anyone seen walking, which has made journeys infinitely more interesting and adds a frisson of excitement to a routine trip to or from work.
We are based in a hamlet called Lochdon which nestles on the shores of, not altogether unsurprisingly, Loch Don. The loch is a sea loch that all but drains at low tide. At high tide on days when there is no wind the whole estuary becomes a perfect mirror reflecting the surrounding hills. The settlement is quite large by Mull standards, 62 dwellings ranging from crofts and farms to cottages, some modern bungalows and a primary school. At the last count 82 souls made up the community, although only 36 of those are Scottish, closely followed by 33 English, 4 Welsh and a smattering of other nationalities to make up the rest. During the summer many properties become holiday lets, in some cases the owners move into alternative accommodation on the same site, spending the summer in static caravans in their own back gardens. Lochdon is divided into three parts; the main settlement spread along the single track main road to Fionnport and the ferry to Iona, with crofts set back against the hills, the ‘posh’ bit beyond the old hamlet where modern bungalows nestle between woods and the loch and ‘the crescent’ where we are, a broad pick and mix sweep of renovated crofts, bungalows and more modern houses bordering the waters on the track to the farmstead at Gorton.
It’s an ideal base for us, a 10 minute drive to work, 10 into Craignure where the delights of a charity shop, inn, a couple of bars and cafes and a Spar shop greet the ferry from the mainland and we have some great walks from our doorstep. One of these we tried last Wednesday when, taking advantage of the collision of sunshine with a day off we took to the hills behind us. With hindsight tackling a climb of 550 metres after a winter of comparative inactivity wasn’t the best idea but the views were worth it. The route followed a track to a cluster of masts perched near the summit. The gravel path wound unrelentingly upwards, zig zagging steeply. At one point I believe the brave souls who built it thought to themselves something along the lines of “bugger this backwards and forwards malarkey let’s just go up…” And so they did. Around an innocuous looking corner we hit a formidable straight stretch that rose steeply and unrelentingly upward without pause, sapping our resilience and breath in equal measure. We paused at the top of this section (in truth we paused many times on the way up) and stood admiring the view while our panting subsided and our breathing returned to something approaching normal. Rested we set forth up a further series of switchbacks that brought us to a small cairn hiding behind a compound containing masts and various important looking but completely unguarded satellite dishes, aerials and generators.
From our lofty vantage point we could see Oban on the mainland, the double span Conner Bridge and panning left, mountains too numerous and hard to spell to mention until the mighty snow-capped Ben Nevis over 35 miles away which marks the top of Loch Linnhe near Fort William and the start of the Great Glen that follows the fault line through Loch Ness and up to Inverness on the East Coast. Below us Lochdon twinkled, we could see where Mavis was parked and Craignure lay hidden below Scallastle forest. Out in The Sound of Mull ferries crossed on their constant duty to keep Mull and the more distant isles of Coll and Tiree connected to the mainland. Unperturbed by our aching limbs and developing blisters (or just too stupid to know better) we set off up a gentler track to a further mast sitting in a gap below the peak of Mainnir nam Fiadh. From this point we wandered out over the hill to look down on Loch Spelve, a banana shaped loch fed by a narrow channel to the sea, and out over the Firth of Lorn as far as the island of Jura.
Arresting as the views were the air was decidedly fresher up high and we faced the daunting prospect of slip-sliding our way down the gravel track we’d walked up on. The rest of the afternoon was spent carefully picking our way down, keeping to the grass where we could. We eventually rounded the final switchback and dropped into a small glen hosting a babbling brook and small farm. We climbed up out of the glen accompanied by much moaning and groaning and then faced a panorama every bit as stunning as the views from the top; Duart Castle in the distance perfectly framed by ancient sun lit oaks. It made us appreciate our good fortune at being here on this bewitching island; at least until we started walking again to the now familiar accompaniment of creaking, grunting and the occasional hearty swear.
That was over a week ago and we’ve finally stopped aching. Since then we’ve enjoyed a further two days off in sunshine, including a provisions run to the mainland, some magical walks and explorations of the sights around us. We’ve seen buzzards, eagles, mink, red deer, all manner of small birds and waders, rock pools full of tadpoles and a newt. So far the supposedly abundant dolphins, whales and basking sharks have eluded us. I did see a flying fish, but that was only because Alison threw a peppered mackerel at me. We’ve found a deserted sandy beach, explored ruined castles, a stone circle and visited a remote shop that relies solely on an honesty box. It is an enchanting place and we’ve only just scratched the surface.
However in all the excitement of new jobs and a new home on an island it’s occurred to us that the blog entries haven’t been flowing. After our carefree existence last year when we recorded our travels as we went along our time on Mull is a different affair. We are settling into a rhythm of working and the necessary domesticity that comes with it. When we have the opportunity after work we’re exploring the area local to us and further afield when we are off. All of which is a rather limp explanation for my lack of blogging. We’ve been experiencing an uncharacteristic dry sunny spell here and the weather will undoubtedly make up for this with a vengeance; and when it does I’m sure I’ll find more time to write. In the meantime we’ll leave you with some pictures that we hope go some way to illustrate just how enchanting Mull is.
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