A wee island escape

The Isle of Mull on Scotland's west coast is a perfect escape from a landlocked country. Approaching Craignure on the Cal Mac ferry from Oban (with its eerie black granite amphitheatre that overlooks the bay), I first see a campsite full of sheilings - white tarpaulin creations that remind me of a childhood holiday to Mull shacked up in the rain here. Picturesque Tobermory is a central base, we think. However, journeys are unexpectedly long. Mull is a wilderness, populated by only 2700 people in its 300 square miles. On the narrow, pot-holed roads with stops to let traffic pass every few hundred metres, journeys less than 30 minutes are something of a fantasy. Travelling to Ffionport at the end of the Ross of Mull to catch the ferry to Iona and subsequently Staffa turned into something of an epic. As we make our way through Mum's collection of CDs in the car (the evocative chords of The Shipping News are a particularly apt accompaniment), we enjoy views over the intimidating expanse of the Great Glen and eventually Loch Scridain. It is hard to differentiate between mainland and island. The isle of Iona is low-lying and its main attraction the abbey. We climb to its peak, amazed at the mythical landscape that comes into view: archipelagos in translucent grey and silver-blue, a watercolour painting come to life. Back on the shore, a ferry takes us to renowned Staffa - at 59 million years old the stuff that dreams are made of. We approach on the little boat (on an apparently very calm sea), keeping our eyes peeled for wildlife - a common dolphin was spotted in the waters this morning. The Treshnish Isles create an unusual horizon. One is perfectly oblong, like a barge. Staffa was created by lava cooling very very quickly and it is a graceful projection in the volcanic landscape. Its irregular pillars that rise in graph-like formations and form a perfect band of stripes are somewhat unfathomable. The crashing of the waves booms in Fingal's Cave. The sound is mesmerising - ruined only by a tacky tour boat nearby blasting out Mendelssohn's Hebrides Overture. The water in the cave bottom is clear as glass. At the other end of the island, characterful puffins decorate the cliffs. They glance at one another, as if in conversation; they flap manically as they come into land on the grassy cliff. I could watch them for hours. Our boat drivers have been fishing during out absence - one is ripping the heads off the catch on the jetty. I hope he washes his hands! We enjoy different spells of weather - and a fortunate lack of rain. In the sunlight of our second evening in Tobermory, the colourful houses are intensified, the reds, pinks and blues reflected in the bay. Perched above these bright blocks on a shelf of leafy clouds is another layer of houses - and 'the' angle for taking photos. We eat in Macgochan's - very tasty, home cooked pub food. We climb the 3,169 feet of Ben More (great mountain) - the only Munro on Mull and the highest peak in the Inner Hebrides excluding the Isle of Skye. The initial shoulder up from Loch na Keal is a slog, but the stretch to the summit is scrambly and we enjoy views over the Sound of Mull. We don't have long there mind - the still air is alive with midges. We descend via neighbouring peak A'Chioch in an exciting horseshoe. We descend ever closer to the azure sea, still as a mill pond and reflecting the looming, watery blue hulks of mountains around. There are interesting gorges en route: slivers of gaps between tightly-positioned cliffs, that allow dainty waterfalls to pass and are home to abundant fauna. Tim's walking boot sole detaches itself during the descent so he flips and flops back to the car, fashioning makeshift solution with gaffa tape. It is heaven sitting on the pebbly beach at the end, with tired limbs. I breathe in the salty air and nibble shortbread, pleased to be so far away from Switzerland. Our final night is spent close to Calgary Bay - like a golden skein of silk. Waves roll onto the beach and retreat, gradually claiming a solitary sand castle. We stay in a charming Bed and Breakfast. Run by artists Helen and Andy, Frachadil House has creative touches throughout that nod to its coastal surroundings. Our room is in cream and pale blue with a gorgeous glass painting of ducks on the wall. The house faces a magical view of Coll, Tiree and even as far as Skye. Our company is in rabbits and sheep. We dine at the Bellachroy - a 16th century inn with whitewash and wooden beams that serves elegant bar meals. Tim has seafood chowder, while I enjoy asparagus and pepper pasta. Oh, and I didn't mention our 'melt-in-your-mouth' starter: fluffy white mackerel with spinach and creamy mash. We awake to driving rain, but Calgary Bay still has inspirational colours: dusky greys and ice blues. We wander around "Art in Nature": a wicker stag, driftwood ducks and crows frozen in flight are creatively arranged in the woodland. Sad to leave this wilderness, we are also excited to return to Arran for the next week of our holiday. We break our return journey with a visit to the prehistoric Kilmartin Glen. Well worth a visit. Tip: If travelling from Arran to Mull via Kintyre, be sure to visit the Seafood Cabin on Kintyre. It serves delicious, local seafood in a quirky setting.
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