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Rugged Scotland: The Isle of Mull

Updated: Jan 20, 2021

“Sing ye o the Cuillins of Skye / Of Harris or Eigg or fair Iona / Joy of my heart Isle of Muile” ~Isle of Mull song
Deserted fishing boats near Salen

Located in the Inner Hebrides west of the mainland of Scotland, this volcanic island, known for its contrasting scenery, is not very large. One of the 800 islands of western Scotland, Mull, the 4th largest, is only 25 by 26 miles.

We use the word “only” because even though the island is on a smaller scale, to most people’s standards, don’t be fooled. It's large and rich in color (probably because it rains 283 days out of the year), and boasts dramatic landscape. This island gem, bleak in one area only to round a corner upon crashing waves and rocky peaks.

Driving here is slow, as expected, on the many single track roads. The sheep govern the road. They take up residence. They are in no hurry, they lay in the road, chewing, and boringly look your way. If they are in the mood, they may get up and move, but be patient with them. This is their island.

When you arrive on the ferry to Tobermory port, the first sight that you will notice on the horizon approaching this cute fishing village is the vibrant colors. The 18th century pastel row of stores, pubs, hotels, restaurants hug the port in this protected bay with the calmest of waters.

We spent two short days here on the eastern side of the island and wished we had many more. (We plan on exploring the western side of the Isle of Mull in the near future.) Luckily, we rented a car, which is our top transportation pick and practically the only way to truly explore the island.

In the two days here, we hit the ground running and didn’t stop til the clock struck midnight. Cozy pubs with fireplaces and dogs laying at the hearth envelope the coziness of this port village. Ready to go yet? You should be!


6 Reasons Why We Love The Isle of Mull... the western side; that is!

1. Tobermory

Considered Mull’s prettiest “wee” port in the Inner Hebrides islands, the village is easily navigated on foot. One, other than being aesthetically pleasing, is that this city offers lots to see in a day or two. It’s not as touristy as some of the other Hebrides islands. While other isles offer more destination packed touristy activities, this isle is more of the laid back sister, easy to unplug for the weekend.

Still a lot to see and do but isn’t overrun. The port has quirky shops with loads of local crafts. The pubs are warm and inviting (you must visit the Mishnish pub..see below in our list). We met many travelers while we stayed in the local hostel on the main drag, and most were coming to hike Ben More, or participate in a local singing competition. Although cute and quaint, it had a bit of hustle and bustle quality without being overrun with kitschy souvenir shops or tourist traps.

Take a stroll. Be in no hurry. Grab fish-n-chips from the take away that line the water’s edge. The only noises you will hear are the seagulls and the occasional ferry pulling in to port. Want a great photo op of the Tobermory and its bay? Take a picture from your ferry as you approach or take an Instagram photo from the Ledaig car park. Both can capture the allure of this pastel port!

*Tobemory fun fact: It is rumored that the wee port was painted white and black until the mid 20th Century and was changed to the pastels that you see today. It’s hard to believe that this vibrant port was drab and not full of bright colors. Hmmmm

While in Tobermory, we had the experience of a lifetime when we were inviting to the local ceilidh. We listened to traditional folk songs sung in traditional Gaelic. It was moving. We were inspired. Check out our blog here for more on that magical musical night.


2. Mishnish Pub

We remember the day that we caught wind of this great pub; it was like it was out of a movie. All day the weather threatened storms with the sky laiden heavy with angry looking black clouds.

While we walked the promenade, the sky opened up and we experienced Scotland’s moody side. We ran, soaking wet, and literally dove into the Mishnish pub. Out of breath from laughing, we stumbled in dripping wet into the dark and homey pub.

Upon entering this quaint rough wooden hewn walls and paisley teal carpet, we felt like we stepped back in time. Along the walls, the relics of Scotland and pieces of shipwrecks now call this place home.

Listen to the locals speak around you, and you may pick up a bit of Muilach (the native tongue of the island), their sleeping dogs laying next to the hearth. It is the epitome of Scotland. We can’t rave on this 1869 pub enough from the cozy central fireplace, the window seat plaid cushions or tasty vittles (try the Cullen Skink from locally sourced seafood… can we say extremely fresh and delicious!). We love it here.

This pub goes beyond the typical Scottish pubs. Some pubs are quaint and zen-full while others have amped it up on the modern times. This fine pub, sticks in our brains and hangs on to the recesses of our memory like a great fine scotch.


3. Tobermory Distillery

Tobermory Distillery (established 1798): This is the Isle of Mull’s only distillery and also one of the oldest commercial distilleries in Scotland producing two award-winning whiskies—Tobermory 10-year-old and Ledaig 10-year-old..

Drink from the waters made into scotch that shroud this island steeped in mystery and legend. Walking into the small distillery, that looks more like a white farmhouse with dormer windows, off the parking lot from the main port street, we were surprised to see the selections offered.

Another surprise was hearing the woman working the main counter speak in an American accent. At once, with the love of scotch and our own homeland, we instantly felt at home. Tastings and tours available.

Freedom and Whisky: We joined in on a local ceilidh and were extended the hand of friendship. Read our experience here.


4. Duart Castle

We all love a good story and this one is no different. This 14th century castle has had its share of demise over the years, but with their demise comes great stories to tell over a campfire.

Although well maintained until the 1600s, the Maclean clan, one of the oldest clans in the Scottish Highlands, united with the Stuart clan which in the end, left the former clan poor and without acquiring any lands. When the castle was passed down to the current Maclean in 1990, it was in such disrepair, that it was known as the money pit.

Renovations have continued for 30+ years and when we were there, scaffolding still lined the exterior of the castle. Will it ever end? Who knows. We just know that the Macleans have spent millions of dollars to try and keep the castle up and running.

The castle was attacked and demolished by those fighting for Oliver Cromwell. Imagine that the prison on the castle grounds held many Spanish prisoners in the 16th century. In the late 1600s, the castle was seized by the Campbell clan until the mid 1700s. I’m guessing that the Macleans and the Campbells don’t get together for dinner parties since their hatred for each other runs deep.

(Grab the popcorn; this reads out like an episode on Dateline): The 11th chief of the Macleans (Lachlan Cattanach) tried to murder his wife Elizabeth because she failed to have an heir.

Legend has it that she was taken to a rock in the seas near the castle when the tide was low and left out there to die by drowning. Expecting the tides to rise, the poor Elizabeth would find her demise on the island of this rock which was to seal her fate.

Thinking that his plan worked, Cattanach even offered condolences to her father, the Earl of Argyll. (Oh, it gets good.. They need to make this a movie).. The Earl of Argyll, the “late” Elizabeth’s father, invited Cattanach to dinner, and when he walked in the door, I can only imagine his expression when he saw his “very much alive” wife seated at the table!

Then years later, fate served him right and he was murdered by the Macleans biggest thorn in their side: a Campbell clansman. Scotland sure serves up the best stories! So, on that note, the castle is a big must for your visits.


5. Lochbuie Standing Stones

Mark this one down in your journal before getting to Scotland. It can be easily missed. We found it perfectly on the GPS.

The “car park” is nothing but a small gravel lot with a farm gate with a small sign stating that the stone circles are just beyond the gate in a field. Eureka! You’ve come to the right place!

Once you go through the gates, don’t be like us and stand and turn in circles wondering where to go. We figured it out after a few minutes. The white (painted) stones will lead you to the stone circles. Follow them.

Wear sturdy waterproof shoes. You will be hopping over the boggy grass and over cow pies. The walk itself from the car park to the stones takes about 30 minutes because you spend about 27 minutes playing hopscotch “tiptoe through the tulips” dance just to get to the end. Hope it’s not raining! Use the helpful “planks” along the walk. Keeps your feet somewhat clean and dry.

You know you have made it to the stone circles when you reach the gate. The stone circle consists of 9 stones built around 3000B.C. No one knows for sure, but know that you are standing amongst history.

If the stones start buzzing and you hear men’s swords clanging in battle, RUN! You don’t want to end up like Clair in the Outlander series and be sucked in the stones to 200 years in the past. Just kidding.. maybe..


6. Moy Castle

This castle ruins are located not too far from the Lochbuie Standing Stones.

Built in the 15th century by Hector MacLean, brother of Maclean of Duart, the castle was captured from the MacLaines and garrisoned by Campbell followers but later returned to the MacLaines. (Notice in the Duart Castle, the Campbells sure do get around!)

The castle was abandoned as a residence in 1752 when Lochbuie House was built. Find the well-constructed pit-prison on the exterior of the castle, short enough that a person wouldn’t be able to stand up straight.

Even though you cannot enter the castle because (it’s locked) its structure isn’t stable. The draw for the Moy Castle is the backdrop of the castle. The walk is serene and picturesque. On one side, you have the craggy mountains and the other, the bay. Two stark contrasts make this walk top on our list for peacefulness.

Near the car park is a (very) tiny shop. We aren’t sure if someone mans it. There was an honor box. Make some tea, or grab a snack. Drop your coin in the honor box. It doesn’t get better than this!


One place we must mention is the elusive Croggan on the Isle of Mull. We had to write a blog about this village that we could not find. Check out our blog on getting “lost” on the way to try and find Croggan on the isle of Mull. Yeah.. we spent most of our Sunday morning driving. But, Scotland, with its mystery and legends, is so worth it. She gave back to us: beautiful circular rainbows! A truce!


Practical advice for the Isle of Mull:

How to get there: The only way to reach the Isle of Mull is by ferry. Ferries cross to the island at three points: Oban, Lochaline and Kilchoan. Check out the website, CalMac, for prices and timetables. All the ferries are car accessible. We rented a small Fiat and it fit just fine below deck. Make sure that you book well in advance for summer because most times will be booked. You will have a better chance of availability in the Shoulder or Off season.

Currency: the British pound

Roads: The main roads are two lane roads but the majority of the roads are single track roads.


Have you been to the Inner Hebrides? What impressed you the most!

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