The magic of Mull – Scotland
From Oban, on the mainland, the seaward view is dominated by the rocky peaks and green slopes of the Mull mountains.
Rupert Kirkwood has blogged with us twice before about two different kayak trips. As you loved them so much we have asked him to come and write about his most recent venture to the Isle of Mull in Scotland. Sit back and relax, perhaps get a cuppa, and enjoy the delights of this story.
Mull is a most extraordinary place. It seems to have everything going for it. It is accessed by ferry from Oban, the adventure capital of Western Scotland, is within sight of Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest peak, packs in just about every type of scenery you could hope for, from white sand beaches to bare mountain top, and is bulging with wildlife.
Prior to 2016 I had only visited the island once before when I paddled round the islands of Ulva and Gometra in my kayak. I found a suitably wild place to camp which few can believe is actually Scotland (most think it must be Canada!)
Prior to our trip up from Devon in early June I watched weather forecasts eagerly. I was pretty keen to kayak and camp so I was even more keen that the wind was not going to blow and the rain going to fall. Unbelievably, as we descended from the hills down to the west coast at the head of Loch Etive after sitting in the car for nine hours, the temperature topped twenty-eight degrees! The six mile ferry crossing through the Firth of Lorn was flat, Guillemots and Razorbills dotted about everywhere. And within twenty minutes of disembarking onto Mull we were into birdwatching heaven. My son Hezzer and his friend Sharpy, both of whom have eyesight to match any top-notch predator, had spotted two Hen Harriers and a Golden Eagle. Amazing. And by the time we had reached the Ross of Mull on the south western tip of the island we had seen another three harriers and another Golden Eagle. Our four days on Mull were bursting with action and excitement and the bird sightings just kept on coming. We recorded 85 bird species.
On day two I set off for a circumnavigation of the extraordinary Isle of Iona in my Gumotex inflatable kayak. Inflatable kayaks are sneered at by hard-core sea kayakers but if you pick the right conditions i.e. hardly any wind and hardly any swell, and have done your tidal planning correctly, they are perfectly adequate. I tried to get excited about the history of Iona and its mystical Abbey, but my interest was more stimulated by the white sand beaches and chattering Arctic Terns around the northern tip of the island.
Paddling around the southwestern corner of the island was a little bit hairy with more swell and a bit of tide and ‘bounceback’ from the cliffs, but I wasn’t going to paddle all the way back!
In the evening the boys accompanied me (in my double inflatable kayak) for a paddle around the island of Erraid. It was a bit misty and mysterious, and we had a good encounter with a few harbour seals, and more avian excitement in the form of an Arctic Skua and another Hen Harrier.
The next day was spent visiting the islands of Lunga and Staffa by boat. I generally avoid this kind of thing as I would prefer to go by kayak but we had come a long way and Hezzer had never seen a Puffin. Unfortunately it was so misty that I thought his Puffin drought was going to continue, But on Lunga the visibility cleared enough for us to have a very suitable encounter. Rumour has it that the Puffins now time their arrival back at the nest holes with beaks full of sand eels to coincide with the arrival of boatloads of visitors on the island, so that the patrolling ‘Bonxie’ Great Skuas have less of a chance of stealing their meal. Hezzer got his classic photo although it wasn’t easy as they plunge into their burrows as soon as they land!
On Day four I turfed out of my sleeping bag at 5 am to get ready for a twenty plus mile paddle from Fidden to Ulva ferry. To my amazement the boys were up as well, setting off for a big of Eagle/otter spotting up at the head of Loch na Keal. Mull must indeed be magic as I have never seen Hezzer out of bed that early before! Another superb sunny day. In fact so sunny that after eight hours on the water I felt a bit ‘swimmy-headed’. I had seen one otter and the boys too had had a decent view of another.
On the way back to the camp in the evening we stopped at the head of a wide mountain pass to look for raptors. It was still, sunny and warm, and yes, there were a handful of midges to spoil the perfect evening. But we had a superb prolonged view of a number of Hen Harriers quartering the hillside, and even witnessed a ‘food-drop’ between male and female. The best view of a Hen Harrier I have yet to witness, and in the most spectacular location.
Just to cap the day off we saw a Short-eared Owl on the way back, and watched a Snipe drumming back at Fidden farm. A drumming snipe is an increasingly rare sound in the south of England.
More typical west coast Scottish weather returned the next day so we decided to leave Mull, ensuring that the memory of our remarkable four day visit will be one of warm sunny days, endless wilderness vistas, and an astounding density of birds of prey.
A special thanks to Rupert for coming to write with us again. We are in awe of your adventurous nature and all the wildlife you manage to spot on your trips. If you want to try something like this, or in fact already undertake the kayak form of touring why not visit Mull yourself. You may not fancy camping, so why not check out these two gorgeous cottages located in Salen on the Island. Puffer Cottage (sleeps 4) and Smiddy Cottage (sleeps 4) are your typical small town Scottish cottages which are little homes from home! They can be booked separately or together depending on the size of your group. Why not arrange a wildlife trip and do something adventurous this year!