Days 21 to 23: Isle of Mull

After a lovely walk along the coast at Ardnamurchan, we set off for the ferry at Kilchoan to head across to Tobermory on the Isle of Mull.

We were looking forward to spending a few days exploring the island, of which I have happy memories from a childhood holiday the best part of 50 years before.

We arrived early at the ferry port at Kilchoan so we were first in the queue for the drive on–drive off ferry.

This time Martha was a bit more relaxed from the start. We stayed in the van again and we were quickly across to Tobermory.

We had been offered hospitality from a couple of friends but, by bad timing, I arrived the same morning as one of them left for the mainland on a long-standing family visit, so in the end we headed straight across to Calgary Bay, where Fiona and Colin Brunton had offered us a place to park up. And what a park up it was! Hook up, water, views over the bay, guided walks of the area and lovely meals – as well as the chance to do washing and have a proper shower. I felt truly spoiled. Colin also had a look at the van and confirmed that the brakes needed attention (the light had been flickering on and off for a day or so) but reassured me that they were not unsafe. This was just as well as there was no prospect of getting them fixed on the island – at least not that week! So I arranged to have them done later in Glasgow but it was good to know they would last out.

We had a lovely relaxed day. We went for a couple of walks with Fiona and their dog Ben (Otter’s new best friend) – over the beach, through the Sculpture woods and round the castle, which was to be our regular walk each morning we were there, plus a lovely afternoon walk through the woods at Cuin. We then went to the wonderful store in Dervaig which sold everything you could imagine and many things I didn’t expect. I had never seen humous in a jar for instance – an excellent idea for the van! But mostly it was just lovely to have a day where I hardly drove at all and just chilled out.

We started our second day on Mull with an early morning walk, again exploring the beach, the woods and the castle, with Fiona and Ben. The castle was a lovely old place, with wonderful views over the bay. It had previously been in Fiona’s family and was now being renovated with help from family photos, to restore it to its former glory. It even came complete with its own ‘secret garden’.

Then it was off to explore the south side of Mull. Fiona had recommended we head for Ardalanish, where there was a great beach and a weaving shed, so we set off, taking the long route down the west coast and round Mull’s only munro, Ben More, to Bunessan. The scenery was stunning and the day warm and sunny – the last as it turned out before the weather turned.

From Bunessan, we headed off south to the tiny hamlet of Ardalanish. The beach did not disappoint. Vast and pretty much deserted (once the group of 30 hikers had left!), it had silver sands and pretty coloured rocks. Not to mention plenty of parkour opportunities. We had a lot of fun there.

The weaving shed was fascinating. When I arrived they were just starting to weave cloth from wool from their own Hebridean flock, so I stayed and watched the great looms at work for a while before getting myself a home-made bridie (similar to a pastie) and an ice cream to take back for lunch in the van. We never saw the Hebridean sheep but we did meet some very fine Scottish Blackface rams along the way.

From Ardanalish, we headed to the end of the island to Fionnphort, where we waved at the small island of Iona across the water, before heading back round the eastern coast road towards Calgary. The Oban ferry was just coming in as we passed through Craignure, a much bigger boat (and longer route) than the one we had taken.

All along this road are signs warning of Otters crossing. I kept a careful look out all the way, hoping to catch sight of one, but no luck. We did see a Golden Eagle, swooping down behind the forest edge, its huge wingspan making it unmistakeable and very dramatic. But the only things that crossed the road were the usual sheep, highland cows and a rather incongruous peacock, who seemed rather lost!

Next day we were heading back to the mainland to continue our trip down the west coast. After a final walk with Fiona and Ben, we said our goodbyes and headed off to Fishnish via Tobermory again and the last bit of the Mull coast around the north east corner.

By the time we reached the ferry the wind had picked up and it was a choppy ride over to Lochaline.

This part of the coast is tricky to navigate. It becomes very convoluted and roads do not always follow the coast line. In the end, with time curtailed by the need to get to Glasgow for our garage appointment, I decided to follow the marked Argyll coastal route via the tiny Corran ferry and head from there down to Oban. But first we explored the in and out road up to Drimnin.

It was a wild and windy day so we didn’t see much but it was a pretty run. Between Lochaline and Drimnin we came across the Clach na Criche or Boundary Stone which according to legend marked the border between Pictish and Gaelic lands and was said to grant wishes to any who could pass through the hole without touching the sides. I didn’t try – I could barely stand up in the wind at this point!

We made our way back to Lochaline and then on towards Corran. After the short ferry crossing, we stopped briefly near Onich for a woodland walk to celebrate clocking 2000 miles and a few moments of relative dry.

Reaching Oban was something of a culture shock after the quiet of the highlands and islands. We arrived at the beginning of rush hour and it was a relief to get through and get on along the open road again. We were heading down to Tarbert and Campbeltown but it had already been a long day’s drive, so we stopped for the night beside the lovely Crinan canal at Cainbaan. It was wild, wet and windy but at least safely away from trees or cliff tops!

Day 20: To the most westerly point

We moved on from our layby stopever early so as not to get in the way of local dog walkers. The little beach opposite as at high tide again (low tide had been 2am!) so we headed off for our walk a little way along the coast to Camusdarach, which had been highly recommended. It did not disappoint.

It did take some finding. The beach is well back through a long stretch of dunes but we arrived to find it deserted and, even at high tide, plenty big enough for a fun morning leg stretch.

After an hour or so on the beach, we headed back up the road to Mallaig as I needed a few supplies. After doing the shopping I stopped off in the lovely Tea Garden cafe for a little breakfast, a fried egg roll which I promptly splashed all down my front! But otherwise it was a lovely relaxed start to the day.

It was late morning before we set off again, this time heading along the coast to Kilchoan where we were getting the ferry to Mull the next day. Once again we had stunning views along the way.

As is our habit we took a detour down an in-out road, sign-posted to Druimindarroch. This one proved to be very much a no through road. It literally simply came to an end and we had a tight squeeze to turn round and get back out!

We stopped along the way for a walk on the shore at Camas Torsa, a rocky shore, picked up a new gas bottle from a very cheery lady at Ardshealach and finally reached Ardnamurchan where we booked into the empty campsite and then headed on up the road to the most westerly point on the mainland, Ardnamurchan point with its lighthouse.

Ardnamurchan point was beautiful but very bleak and very cold. We had a walk along the cliff but decided against a picnic at the tables right on the west point. Instead they gave us a Parkour opportunity.

Heading back to the campsite we came across fields of very interesting sheep: Jacobs, Shetlands, Soay and what looked like it might have been a Manx Loaghtan ram! I am enjoying the sheep spotting up here!

The campsite was still deserted and on the final day of their season we were the only guests. It was a great site. We parked up at the top of hill with stunning views across to Mull. In the morning we could walk straight out onto their rocky shore.

Days 17-19: Over the sea to Skye

We set off from the lovely Wee Campsite at Lochcarron heading for the Kyle of Lochalsh and Skye. But first we needed a walk so we stopped at Strome Wood and set off up their woodland track. It was beautiful but very steep and I am quite certain more than the 3/4 of a mile claimed. But a lovely little walk with fabulous views over Loch Carron. 

Getting the walk in early was a good move as the day quickly became very wet so we didn’t see a great deal of the road via Plockton that we took to get to Kyle of Lochalsh and soon we were “over the bridge” to Skye. 

It is a beautiful bridge, rising high above Loch Alsh between the mainland and the Isle of Skye but I am not sure it has done the island any favours and I am pretty sure my parents would find Skye very different from when they honeymooned here just over 60 years ago. 

On our first day there we drove north from the Kyle heading for Portree, where we stopped for a short wander round the pretty harbour planning to then stop early at a recommended park up at Loch Leathan. But I took a wrong turn and ended up going up towards Uig and the top of the island – a much longer route than planned. However it did mean we could stop off at the Skye brewery in Uig to stock up on beer! 

I have to confess I am torn about Skye.

On the one hand it is breathtakingly beautiful. The Cuillins are magnificent and dominate the landscape from all angles. The light going round the top of the island was spectacular: sea, clouds and islands blended in beautiful soft milkiness. Most of this was impossible to capture in photographs not least because stopping on the rough single track roads round the north of the island proved tricky. But it was stunning. 

As I drove around the words from the Robert Louis Stevenson poem, used in the Outlander theme song, seemed very apt:

"Billow and breeze, islands and seas,
Mountains of rain and sun..."

But on the other hand it was so very busy. Bus loads of visitors jumping on and off for photo opportunities. People everywhere and with them the visitor attractions. I realise that I am part of that, but it struck me that on Skye – at least up north – it was almost impossible to find solitude.

Because of my wrong turning our first day was long – more than 125 miles – and we finally reached our park up at Loch Leathan as the light was fading. This was a recommended “Search for Sites” park up and the views were fabulous even in the rain. The loch beside us and the Old Man of Storr just behind. A rainbow added to our early optimism.

But it turned out to be a terrible place to sleep. The road was busy well into the early hours and the ground listed to the side far more than I had expected. It was wet and miserable and we were really cold. I didn’t sleep well though I think Otter at least was less worried!

However, by morning the weather had improved giving us a better view of the Old Man and a lovely dawn over the Loch. We set off early and after a short while took a detour towards Torvaig, mainly to get away from the endless traffic stream and to find somewhere for a walk. 

It turned out to be a seredipitous choice. A mile or so down the single track road we found a lane off to the right with a large sign saying PATH. A chap with a Jack Russell was just heading down it so it looked promising as a dog walk. We parked up out of the way and set off following the sign. It was a fairly boring walk through fields but it did the job. After a few stiles we met the man and his JRT who were now coming back. He was very friendly and suggested an alternative walk along the top of the shoreline.  So we headed off the way he indicated and soon found another sign also just saying PATH. This one soon took us along the top of the shoreline, with beautiful views stretching out over the sea and the peninsular opposite. 

Our walk at Torvaig restored my soul a little but I was very weary from the long drive the day before and the disturbed night, so after a visit to Portree and Stein harbour, where the oldest inn on Skye is located (shut when we go there in the late morning), I decided to call it a day and book into a campsite to recover.

We headed off to Carbost, home of the Talisker Whiskey Distillery and set up camp on the little Certified Location at Merkadale. It was basic but functional and good to have everything to hand including the rarity of wifi.

We took a walk down into Carbost and back then settled in for the night, under another rainbow.

On our final day on Skye we set off down to the south of the island, taking a little road round the feet of the mighty Cuillins and around Loch Slapin to Elgol. This was my favourite part of Skye by far. It was wild and beautiful at every turn. Sheep and highland cattle mooched across the roads without a care and the traffic was neglible compared with the rest of the island. It felt like the Glen that had been (thankfully!) forgotten, except by walkers and cyclists.

We went to the end of the road at Elgol then turned back and stopped at the base of Ben Meabost for a walk. The track would’ve taken us right up into the Cuillins but none of us are fit enough for that, so we contented ourselves with a walk in the foothills and then continued on our way down to the southernmost point of the island and the Aird of Sleet. Our walk there had to be cut short as we were due to catch the ferry to Mallaig, so we turned back and drove up to Armadale to take our place in the queue.

The ferry is just turn up and drive on. It is a short journey so we could stay in the van, which was just as well as Martha was quite concerned initially. So we sat together on the bench and had a cuddle while we made our way back over the sea from Skye.

We reached Mallaig as the sun was setting and had planned to park up in the car park there but it was packed and really not a pleasant place to stay, so we continued a few miles down the coast, taking a minor road off towards Traig. I soon came across a small layby opposite a tiny beach. On Google maps it is marked Arisaig Beach but Arisaig is further down the coast so I don’t know. But it was a nice park up if rather isolated so I put my straps on the front doors before we went to bed.

In the morning I couldn’t find my keys and then realised I had left them in the outside of the door all night! Clearly it was a safer location than I had imagined!

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