Autumnwatch returns to Mull to report on… Robins!

It’s quite amazing how much attention the BBC is giving the Isle of Mull of late. As if the marathon wildlife report from the island on last week’s Autumnwatch wasn’t enough, they had even more in this week’s show.

Dave Sexon of the RSPB on Mull doesn't talk about Sea Eagles, instead focusing attention on garden birds such as the Robin.Presenter Kate Humble told TV audiences during Thursday’s programme, “One of my favourite places in Britain is Mull,” adding “and where did you go last week without me? You went to Mull!”. That was the preamble to a further report on Dave Sexton of the RSPB on Mull, not talking about sea eagles but, somewhat surprisingly, the often overlooked garden birds like the little Robin.

You can view the clip here until next Thursday on the BBC’s iPlayer catch-up service or download the WMV version and you have up to 30 days to watch it.

Beach House Self Catering, Isle of Mull
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The hackneyed hulls on Mull’s Salen shoreline still surprise

It’s been shot a gazillion times before so this is hardly a surprising subject for budding snappers. But perhaps what is, is the unique take by Paul Corica of this oft-taken scene of the ruined old fishing boats on Salen’s shoreline.

Paul Corica has managed what I thought was the impossible and taken one of the most photographed objects on the Isle of Mull and brought a fresh perspective to it. Click to view full size. [Copyright Paul Corica at Flickr].Just north of Salen, on the road between Tobermory and Craignure, these decaying hulls on the Isle of Mull’s shoreline are rarely ignored by holidaying cameraphiles. But it takes a special bit of something (I know not what as I do not have it) to take a picture that’s been done to death, yet somehow bring a whole new perspective to it. Taken back in 2008, I only happened across it as the snap was mentioned/linked-to from Twitter.

I think that what Paul’s done here is a really striking take on the two rotting hulls, done in black and white.

As Paul explains on his Flickr profile:

“I took up photography in 2002 when I bought my first SLR (a cheap Canon). At about the same time my wife bought me a Canon IXUS V and I used the two in conjunction (one for serious shots the other for snaps). Although the film Canon was more versatile I preferred the instant feedback from the digital Canon and so slowly made the transition from film to digital.

I ditched film in 2005 and now only shoot in digital. When the Canon 400D came out I decided to make the leap into D-SLR and haven’t looked back.The 400D has subsequently been upgraded to a Nikon D300

I mainly take landscape shots around Yorkshire and Staffordshire, which are the two locations I live and work in, although whenever I visit other UK locations I always take a camera.

What Paul’s managed to do is capture an image that you just can’t imagine can ever have anything original done to it. So congratulations to him for proving there’s always a new perspective, however hackneyed the subject!

Oh, and if you like the image as much as I do, you can have it professionally printed on various size boards here.

Beach House Self Catering, Isle of Mull
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Mull ‘Raptor Island’ says BBC’s Autumnwatch

No doubt, if you’re a fan of all things nature-related you probably caught last week’s episode of Autumnwatch on the BBC. Presenters Chris and Martin headed up to Mulll, ostensibly for the sea eagles, but it was actually quite a bit more than that. They also checked out the coastline and other interesting fauna dotted across Mull’s shoreline.

BBC Autumnwatch presenter Martin Hughes-Games hits paydirt on his search for Mull's wildlife. In this case he spots Otters.If you missed it, you have seven days to catch it on the BBC’s iPlayer service after it’s broadcast or, if you download the WMV file instead (under the Download button and click for Windows Media Player) you can view it up to 30 days after.

News to me, they mentioned that Pine Martens have been verified as back on the island and breeding, possibly sneaking back on Mull courtesy of a lorry and the CalMac ferry. Unfortunately badgers and foxes are totally absent on Mull, the presenters explaining that they were probably there until they were eradicated in the Victorian era. It’s odd that such recent events as what happened on the island during the Victorian era were never recorded for posterity.

An Otter caught by the BBC's Autumnwatch cameramen visiting the Isle of Mull, relaxing on top of the seaweed after perhaps one too many crab. Time to relax and digest.Presenter, Martin Hughes-Games explained why he felt Mull was such a good place to visit for Wildlife watching. “I can honestly say I haven’t see so much wildlife in such a short space of time ever,” adding, “Now is a really brilliant time to go up there and do wildlife watching. There are three reasons for that. One is the midges aren’t there. The other is there are less people so it’s much easier to get around and the third thing is that the days are much shorter and the animals have to pack in their lives into a much shorter space of time. So they’re more obvious. They’re feeding, they’re playing.”

So, if you thought a holiday on Mull was limited to the summer months… well think again. Certainly not if one of your reasons for visiting are to see the raptors like the eagle and hen harrier, plus many other birds, deer and otters.

Beach House Self Catering, Isle of Mull
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Isle of Mull makes top 10 wildlife destinations

Have you heard of Nick Stringer? No, me neither. But I know him now. An Emmy award-winning director and producer of wildlife documentaries, he’s penned an article which appeared earlier today for the Guardian newspaper (surely the best rag of a shoddy bunch these days), where he picks his top 10 wildlife destinations across the planet.

The Isle of Mull makes it onto this expert's top 10 wildlife destinations on the planet.So what spots, pray tell, do you think make it into his all time top 10 list? The Kalahari Desert? Check. The Danum Valley down Borneo way? Absolutely! Shark Bay in Australia? Of course. But tucked away in this shopping list of wildlife wonders is… you guessed it… Mull!

Actually he refers to Scotland’s west coast but specifically mentions the Isle of Mull as the jewel in the crown.

“The west coast of Scotland, and especially the Isle of Mull, is my little bit of heaven. Midges and rain aside, when the sun shines it’s unforgettable for its wilderness, its seascapes and some of the biggest seabird colonies in Europe. Spot white-tailed sea and golden eagles as well as basking sharks and seals. It is great for kayaking, but for my next trip I’d love to sail along the coast, between the isles and to St Kilda, a small island and a World Heritage Site. Its precipitous cliffs are the highest in the UK and home to more than half a million breeding seabirds.”

I’d dearly like to add St. Kilda to my own list of Scottish places visited. The best I managed was spending a couple of drink-fuelled days (or daze) within its namesake down under in Melbourne, Australia at the tail-end of my 20s. Now I’m happier being a tad more tee-total and holidaying in the relaxing surroundings of our own Beach House (when it’s not got some welcome self-catering guests staying of course).

Anyway, enough of the musings. The point here is that we’re often tempted to be a little down on the wonderful wildlife that surrounds us right on our doorstep, and what better door to open than one to the Scottish island that leads them all… Mull.

Sometimes it takes the objective eye of a non-islander to truly make you appreciate what you’ve got.

Beach House Self Catering, Isle of Mull
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Isle of Mull business bags Scottish Thistle award

Mull can often seem like it’s out on a limb and easily overlooked, so it’s great to see that a local business received well-deserved recognition. Seaview Bed & Breakfast is down towards the south-western edge of the island in Fionnphort. Most people who know of this village are only aware of it, as it’s where you go to catch the CalMac ferry over to Iona.

That’s a great shame as Fionnphort has one of the most beautiful white sandy beaches below the main village street and has some quite unique rock formations which comprise of pink and red granite, which was once quarried and taken all over the world. The village’s name actually means ‘port of the white sands’ which, if you’ve ever visited, is totally apt.

When we are on Mull we regularly use the local shop/post office and you can never pass up a visit to the Keel Row which does decent pub grub and a pint. It’s only a 15 – 20 minute drive to Fionnphort from Beach House.

Anyway, the good people of Visit Scotland created the Scottish Thistle Awards back in 1992 to “showcase business excellence and quality”. They have awards for smaller enterprises and that’s where the Seaview Bed & Breakfast won the Small Business Extra Mile category.

Congratulations to Jane and John Noddings, proprietors of Seaview Bed & Breakfast in Fionnphort who bagged the Small Business Extra Mile award this year.Jane and John Noddings, who run Seaview said, “2010 has been as outstanding year for us at Seaview and winning this award is literally the icing on the cake for us. We are excited at what it will mean for our business in 2011, as well as for our village of Fionnphort and our island of Mull as a whole. Even in these challenging economic times it’s a great reason to celebrate and to look forward to the coming season with renewed optimism and a real sense of satisfaction of a job well done!”

You can read the full PR blurb on the Visit Scotland website.

Beach House Self Catering, Isle of Mull
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Isle of Mull forests… anything but natural?

I have a soft spot for any TV or radio programmes covering geology or natural history. That’s how I found myself sitting in the audience at this year’s Edinburgh Science Festival listening to TV geologist Dr Iain Stewart expound on how Scotsman (James Hutton) was a big influence on our understanding of how the entire world’s ecosystem works. But Iain also flagged up his plans for a new TV programme focusing specifically on the evolution of the Scottish landscape.

Dr Iain Stewart's latest TV show explains why we have so many foreign trees currently covering Mull.I managed to catch up on the programme, ‘Making Scotland’s Landscape‘ last night (thanks once again to the BBC’s iPlayer) and learnt some rather interesting facts about the distinct lack of trees we see, not just on Mull, but all over many parts of Scotland.

According to Iain there was a cooling event some 4,000 years ago which added more rain. This caused many parts of Scotland’s forests to die back, leaving us with about 25% forest coverage at the start of man’s change from hunter-gatherer to farmer. Pre-farming there may have been as few as 10,000 people covering the whole of what we consider modern Scotland, but some speculate that by the start of the modern age that could have risen as high as 500,000…certainly enough people to put huge pressure on the land and resources, including the indigenous trees and the firewood they provided.

By the 1500s, stocks of indigenous forest were so depleted that wood was being imported from mainland Europe. It all paints a fairly grim picture of how our forebears didn’t so much care for and maintain the land, as exhaust it totally.

By the start of the 20th century and the onset of the first great war, it became clear to many that the country had to be proactive in protecting wood stocks. But it got off to an inauspicious start with most of the land being populated with fast-growing Sitka Spruce, so closely planted that virtually nothing lives beneath its canopy.

Fortunately, by the 1980s there were more enlightened souls in the Forestry Commission who recognised that creating a forest mono-culture of foreign trees is hardly a long-term solution, and they began to introduce a wider variety of indigenous varieties into tree plantations across the country.

In terms of the Isle of Mull, as you holliday there you can’t fail to notice the large tree covered estates. There’s still a lot of monoculture going on that won’t be superceded for many years to come. But the hope must be that for future generations of holiday visitors, the landscape that will meet people visiting the island will be one which more accurately represents the type of forest that would have once been abundant all over the country just a few thousand years ago…. minus the wild boar, bears, wolves and beavers, not to mention dragons, unicorns and centaurs of course!


You might also like to listen to Dr Iain Stewart’s radio programme for BBC Scotland. Called ‘Walking Through Landscape‘ the 39 minute show is also being podcast, which, usefully, means that you can save the audio and, should the opportunity arise, use his programme as a sort of walking guide.

In the first show Iain visits Ariundle oakwoods, in Sunart, which is fairly easy to get to from Mull using the CalMac Lochaline to Fishnish ferry crossing. Ariundle is a lush green space, full of plant and animal life. But they’re also incredibly rich in archaeology. Iain seeks out the stories of human and natural history the old oak trees have lived through, and, perhaps ironically, learns that if it wasn’t for 18th century industry, the woods wouldn’t be around today.

You can download the audio here but, as of posting you’ve only got three more days to do so.

Beach House Self Catering, Isle of Mull
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Ron’s Red deer rut photos from Mull

Here’s another rather good set of photos from enthusiastic wildlife photographer Ron McCombe. Ron was on holiday on the Isle of Mull for the rutting season, when you can see the male red deer establishing dominance and mating rights.

Based in the Scottish Borders, Ron was out to try to capture these events on camera. I think he’s done a pretty good job.

Ron McCombe captures a Stag in mid-bellow, creating a steam cloud in the air.As Ron explains, “I have been on the Isle of Mull all week looking for the red deer rut. The deer were all around and as the day ended they could be heard roaring as the rut took place. The challenge was to find them during daylight hours roaring and fighting. I concentrated on the south side of the island, Grasspoint, Pennyghael, and Carsaig. I encountered most of the deer I came across in these areas. Grasspoint was the main site and in particular Achnacraig. I visited the same sites every day. the best day for seeing action was Monday 18th.”

We’ve been fortunate in being able to see and hear the ruts right from the front of Beach House armed with nothing more than a pair of binoculars and a hot cup of coffee. Roughly evenly between Pennyghael and Bunessan, Beach has about eight acres of grounds surrounding the house with a pine forest to the west, which acts as a windbreak and a convenient sheltering area for local wildlife. From our vantage point we’ve been able to see all the action laid out before us, as if it were a play which the deer were personally putting on for our enjoyment.

Of course, it’s not like this every year as the deer can roam far and wide. But we’ve been lucky that the deer have literally come to our front door on many a rutting season. So full admiration to Ron for clearly being persistent. The results speak for themselves.

Beach House Self Catering, Isle of mull
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BBC’s On Your Farm visits Mull salmon farmer Geoff Kidd

One of the most welcome improvements that the internet has brought to Mull’s island life, and which I deeply appreciate, is the ability to now be able to access the BBC’s vast output of both TV and radio via catch-up services like iPlayer or, for radio, by subscribing to many podcast versions of popular programmes which are nigh-on impossible to tune in to if you’re in the wrong place on the Isle of Mull.

BBC radio show On Your Farm's Alex James visits the Isle of Mull to talk with salmon farmer Geoff Kidd at Loch SpelveThat said, quite a lot of places on Mull fall into that category. So I was relieved to discover that ‘On your Farm’, which interviews Mull salmon farmer Geoff Kidd from Loch Spelvie in this week’s show, was also available on the iPlayer. Sadly though, it seems to be one of the few programmes which doesn’t get the podcast treatment after broadcast, so to listen you need to be sitting at your PC. Still, at 22 minutes in length it’s hardly a hardship.

Not a regular listener to this show, I was surprised to discover that On Your Farm now seems to be quite hip. It’s presented by ex Blur band member Alex James no less. I suspect that’s because Alex now dabbles in farming himself and makes cheese on his Oxfordshire farm. So perhaps he took the opportunity to pop up to Mull’s own big cheeses. If you haven’t tasted Isle of Mull Cheese you’re missing one of the country’s best.

Beach House Self Catering, Isle of Mull
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The Isle of Mull’s hidden history

I’m not a prolific reader these days. Having two small kids tends to drain away the time I once devoted to piling through novels. When I did read though, it tended to be factual tomes rather than fiction. I’ve always had a preference for books on history or science.

When on holiday on Mull you will pass many ancient archaeological sites which this website helps you to discover.Fortunately we’re on holiday at the moment, and it’s on these rare occasions that I make the effort to catch up on some reading. That brought me to one of my favourite authors, Bill Bryson, and his new book “At Home – a short history of private life“. In his usual style, he starts off focusing on a very specific topic, in this case the history of the home, but somehow manages to range all over the place, incorporating lots of interesting snippets of historical information.

In the introduction he mentions how his Norfolk home is next to a church that appears to have sunk some three feet into the ground. In reality the ground has risen due to the thousands of people buried there over the last 1,000 years. It’s the sort of historical tidbit that catches your imagination and also brought me to consider some of the many hidden archaeological treasures dotted around the Isle of Mull’s countryside.

To the casual observer on a holiday to Mull, it wouldn’t be immediately obvious that the island is covered in archaeological sites from pre-history right up to the modern age and the tragedy of the highland clearances. You can read a quick synopsis on Mull’s history here.

But even if you’re not trained in the field, there are some excellent resources that can make a visit to Mull a much more illuminating experience… if it’s your kind thing of course.

One website I recently happened upon is The Megalithic Portal and Megalith Map. Now this website isn’t about to win any awards for being pretty on the eye, but what it does do is deliver a wealth of geographical information about ancient sites all over the UK, Europe and the wider world. I came across it when someone tweeted about visiting a megalith not far from Salen at the centre of Mull.

It was on this website that I discovered a detailed interactive map which pinpoints a wealth of interesting historical sites all over the Isle of Mull. The map embedded in the website uses Yahoo Maps, but I prefer the Google Maps version.

Usefully, you can also extract the latitude and longitude information, thus making it a whole lot easier to pinpoint sites which would otherwise be masked by time and plant growth.

So, whether you want to holiday on Mull for the wildlife, beaches, or scenery, you can now add a little bit more to the history of the island and the peoples who once lived there, thanks to this handy website.

Beach House Self-Catering, Isle of Mull
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Isle of Mull… not so off the beaten track

OK, so it’s fair comment that when it comes to entertainment Mull can’t compete with what’s to be found in our big cities. Yet, despite Mull being just a little off the beaten track, there are still a surprising range of entertainment opportunities for holiday-makers.

Ed Byrne is playing An Tobar on the Isle of Mull this November... sadly it's already sold out :(I was just perusing the An Tobar website this morning when I was reminded of this fact. This November the comedian Ed Byrne is on Mull for a stand-up show, which, much to my disappointment, is already sold out. Ed’s probably best known for his regular appearances on the BBC’s ‘Mock the Week’. That would have been a definite excuse for a trip back up to Beach House to catch that!

Once you start to do a little digging though, it quickly becomes apparent that you can find quite a range of shows dotted across the island, using as venues the various village halls to be found from Fionnphort and Bunessan to Dervaig and Craignure.

The listings website I generally find has a good cross-section of events and shows on offer around Mull is The List, though there are others such as Wild Isles which covers a wider area, but focuses exclusively on outdoors events and activities.

Oddly though, when I checked The List website for the Ed Byrne show in An Tobar, it was nowhere to be found! Can’t win them all…

Beach House Self-Catering, Isle of Mull
Twitter: mullescape

A spacious self catering house on the Isle of Mull with spectacular views and superb visitor reviews, Beach House is a must for your holiday in Scotland.