Category Archives: Blog

Grand Tour of Scotland hits Mull, Iona and Staffa

I learnt something new after watching Paul Murton’s Grand Tours of Scotland on the BBC’s iPlayer. Seems that the whole Thomas Cook travel empire started life thanks to the said Mr Cook, a baptist and worker for the temperance movement, sending the working classes to bonnie Scotland. He apparently thought that taking people on tours of Scotland would keep them sober and away from the gin palaces.

Paul Murton visits Mull, Iona and Staffa in Scotland's Inner Hebrides in the TV programme 'Grand Tours of Scotland'Another little gem was that Cook was so shocked at the poverty which he found Iona locals living under that he set up a fund to which his tourists could contribute. This raised enough funds to buy 24 fishing boats for islanders. So Thomas Cook must rank as one of the very first eco-tourists, wanting to help the community he was visiting.

Anyway, these interesting historical snippets were recounted as Paul spoke to transport historian Nikki Macleod from the University of Greenwich, whilst they sat on the last ocean-going paddle steamer the Waverley, on its way to Tobermory on the Isle of Mull after leaving from Oban. This all starts about 15 minutes into the half hour programme, so it’s a good place to start if your main interest in this episode is his travels to the inner hebrides of Mull, Iona and Staffa.

A few other interesting pieces of information on the presenter include Paul’s connections with Mull. Seems he also has family on the island which he mentions as the Waverley steams into Tobermory harbour … in his opinion the most beautiful in Scotland. And, much like myself, he also chose to get married on Mull. Good call. Worked for us!

I should mention that, unless the programme gets re-broadcast at a later date, you’ll only be able to view this online if you’re somewhere in the UK up until the 17th of November.

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Mull’s lochs closed due to algal blooms

For anyone who has visited Mull for a holiday, you will know that the island, along with many other spots on the west coast of Scotland, has a booming industry growing shellfish on artificial reefs. Many of the Sea lochs also form excellent sheltered places for fish farming which has become an important source of income for locals.

These reefs are actually long sections of polypropylene rope which are seeded with mussel larvae and then suspended below a floating frame. These baby mussels then go on to filter the protected waters in the sea loch until they get to a size that’s ready for tables in the UK and other parts of Europe.

Mussels by JWU @ FlickrBut it seems that even the waters around Mull aren’t immune from toxins being produced by algae building up in some of the lochs. According to specialist website Fishupdate, Loch Na Keal, Ulva and Loch a Chumhainn, a particularly pretty inlet which forms the shoreline for Dervaig, had to be closed earlier this month. Signs were put up warning casual beachcombers to steer clear of eating self-picked shellfish such as cockles, mussels or razor shells.

As the website reports, “Commercial shellfish harvesters in these areas have been contacted by the Council and steps taken to postpone harvesting until algae levels subside. It is a sensible precaution to avoid eating shellfish from these areas until further notice. Monitoring work is currently being undertaken by the council to evaluate this situation and when the situation subsides, the warning notices etc., will be removed.”

Sadly this is a problem that would have been unheard of in the past. But, due to a range of factors, including run-off from farmland, many coastal areas across the UK can now suffer these algal blooms, some of which produce toxins which can be harmful if they enter the human food chain.

Fortunately, with the monitoring undertaken by Argyll and Bute Council’s environmental health service, any raised levels of these naturally occurring algal toxins can be kept out of the food chain and still allow everyone to enjoy fresh produce from the seas around Mull.

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Our Scotland featuring new Mull pictures

If you’ve not come across it yet, you should go check out ‘Our Scotland‘ which describes itself as, “One of Scotland’s fastest growing online communities, a place to share your love of all things Scottish”. It now has well over 1,000 members, both locals and visitors alike.

Sanna Bay on Ardnamurchan which is just a short ferry ride from Mull. Copyright Karin Haerdtle @ Our ScotlandAs I was looking at new photos on the site, I came across some new pictures taken by Karin Haerdtle. They’re well worth checking out. There are also a few from the Ardnamurchan peninsula just north of Mull. It’s only a short CalMac ferry ride from Tobermory to Kilchoan and for anyone staying on Mull it’s a great opportunity to explore the most westerly mainland point in the UK.

Karin has some pictures of what I’ve always felt was probably the best sandy beach on the whole of Scotland’s west coast. Called Sanna Bay, it’s only a short trip from Kilchoan to this beach which lies on the north side of the peninsula.

As a child I vividly remember visiting this beach during what felt like those endlessly long school summer holidays and managing (I don’t know how) to catch a tiny little octopus in, of all things, an empty crisp packet. I, of course, put it back after showing the parents what I’d managed to capture. Certainly a far cry from the usual array of eels and crabs that reside in Scotland’s rock pools.

On a sunny day the waters at Sanna Bay are the most amazing green-blue colour, looking much more like  something you’d expect to find in warmer tropical climes.

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Telling Mull’s birds apart the Web 2.0 way

If you’re keen on our feathered friends you’ll probably already be well aware of Mull’s impressive variety of bird life. Unfortunately I am pretty ignorant of what’s what when it comes to the birds I see dotted around Mull’s coastline and hills. I can just about manage to identify an Oyster catcher, Puffin or a Cormorant. Beyond that I’m getting out of my comfort zone.

The RSPB's Bird Identifier makes working out exactly what you saw whilst on Mull that much easier. All we now need is a version for smartphones.So I was quite pleased to discover a rather handy new web-based tool that the RSPB has on its website. The RSPB Bird Identifier is an interactive tool that helps you work out what bird you saw. You give it some basic details about the bird and the system suggests what it could have been.

Handily there are pretty good illustrations to go with the text description. In the case of the White Tailed Eagle page, it not only provides audio, video and a map of distribution around the country, but also gives estimates of numbers and links to further useful information on habitat and more.

So if you’re on holiday on Mull, this really is an excellent tool for pinpointing what feathered beastie you just spotted. The only downside… as yet no sign of an iPhone or Android app of this tool. Now that would be great.

Beach House Self Catering, Isle of Mull
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How to find self-catering on Mull… the best places to start

We’ve only recently been renting Beach House as a self-catering location on the Isle of Mull. We’re in our third year and it’s been a learning experience.

But, from a holiday-maker’s perspective, trying to find the right piece of advice or information about good self catering properties and locations on the island can be quite a challenge. Without doubt there are a load of middling websites which are pumped up with paid-for property listings that are being touted on the basis of quantity over quality. For the poor person trawling through these it can be down-right drudgery.

Fact is, there really are only a few places on the web where you can get something approaching an independent, credible idea of what to expect.

Now, as someone on the rental side of the equation, I think I can give a view on which are the best places for any families or groups looking to rent a self-catering property on the Isle of Mull.

I plan to list a few I think will make life easier for people wanting to book their own holiday accommodation. But I’m starting with what I believe is probably the best resource of all if you’re looking, not just for self-catering on Mull, but anywhere else in the UK. I’m talking about Google’s very own Maps service. You can see it in action here with a map we created ourselves.

But it’s also an excellent way to visually pinpoint places all across the island — from Tobermory at the top to Fionnphort just next to Iona and everywhere in-between. It’s also much more than a mapping service. Listings on there can offer a wealth of additional information put up by property owners and independent reviews from former holidaymakers.

Here’s my run-though on how easy it is to use Maps to quickly find what you’re looking for:

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How to find Beach House Self Catering on Mull… an explainer

I’ve discovered a very handy service lately called Screenr. It lets you make short (5 minute) screencasts of whatever’s on your computer’s screen.

I used the opportunity to put together another quick explainer video on how you can make use of our ‘Getting to Mull‘ page which has all the details you’ll need, not only to get up to Mull, but also to find Beach House, once you’re on the island for your self catering holiday.

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Mull… the Otter’s paradise

At this time of year the BBC trots out its usual gaggle of over-enthusiastic wildlife presenters to coo over all sorts of soft and cuddly creatures in Autumnwatch. It’s just started a new run, “for an eight week celebration of UK wildlife”.

But I am not meaning to belittle overly-keen TV wildlife presenters. It’s great that our national broadcaster makes a big deal out of the country’s wildlife and tries to educate a predominantly urban population about the nature that’s all around us.

In his own small way, that’s also what landscape painter, and more recently, film-maker Angus Stewart is trying to do. I recently discovered his film, made over two years, of a local otter living in amongst the people of Mull and specifically the town of Tobermory. Aptly called ‘Tobermory and the Otter’, it recounts the tale of wild otters which become bold enough to live and interact with Tobermory’s local characters going about their daily lives.

As Angus explains, “This film is a rare insight into the usually secretive life of wild otters. You will see how an otter makes use of a community, its ingenuity and strategies, how it went about stealing… from fishing boats and the range of fish it caught as well as showing the remarkable interactions it chose to have with the town’s residents.”

The film reflects the changing nature of Mull weather throughout the year, with the ever-familiar backdrop of Tobermory’s painted facade completing the background of footage showing the extrovert otter in action.

It’s certainly a far cry from our all too camera-shy otters at our self-catering holiday home, Beach House. We have otters that live in and around the mouth of the local river, also called Beach. The Beach river flows into a crescent-shaped pebble-strewn beach which has large beds of seaweed towards the eastern tip of the bay. This is a perfect playground where the otters like to potter, most likely looking for tasty morsels of shellfish and unfortunate crab.

By contrast, the otters in Angus’s film seem far more relaxed in the hustle and bustle of life in and around Tobermory. So, if you rather like otters you might want to check out the movie clips of the full 50 minute presentation on his website and YouTube page. Though not currently available on DVD, it may be in the future.

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Isle of Mull Xmas Ideas… it’s such a puzzle

OK, OK… so it’s only the start of October, but my local supermarket has already pushed all its Xmas nonsense into the aisles. So I was thinking, what to get people that have been up to Beach House, our self catering former farmhouse which we restored some 20 years ago? It’s a tough one.

By artist Terry Harrison this painting has been turned into a 1000 piece jigsaw. But you could just as easily use your own images.Then I came across this rather simple, yet quite fun, idea. Why not give people a jigsaw of a scene taken on Mull? The thought was triggered by a recent link I probably found on Twitter to a website that is selling jigsaws made from a reprint of a painting showing Tobermory harbour and the colourful buildings that populate its seafront. The same puzzle’s available from a bunch of online retailers, including Amazon.

Of course, you’re not tied to using ready made images like this, pretty as it is. It’s now ridiculously easy to take your own treasured photos of various places you snapped, be it Iona Abbey, Torosay Castle, or any other location on Mull that captured your imagination, and have it turned into a very personal present.

A quick search on Google UK using the term ‘make your own jigsaw‘ spat out a bunch of companies specialising in this area. Snapfish, Prinster and Myphotopuzzle were some of the first to catch my eye. Though I’d definitely recommend doing a little research. You can get them made for less than a tenner or go overboard with a 1,000 piece monster for three times that price.

And once you start to investigate it’s apparent you can do other innovative things, such as make up special occasion jigsaws for people’s birthdays or important events using any snap of your choosing.

All I need to do now is work out which of the many wildlife and location photos I’ve taken over the years of various places dotted around Mull, I want to turn into a jigsaw. That’s possibly the hardest part of the whole exercise…

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Mull’s new(ish) swimming pool on Britain’s Best Buildings

Britain’s Best Buildings is a website that pretty much does what it says on the tin. A variety of commercial, industrial, public and domestic buildings are listed on the site and you can select the number of stars you want to give to each.

Isle of Mull Community Pool, CraignureI spotted that the pool that was built in Craignure and opened in 2008, just next to the Caledonian MacBrayne Ferry Terminal, is now listed on the Britain’s Best Buildings website. Go take a peek and click some stars — it’s currently at 3 out of 5.

There’s a lot of history behind this project. Islanders spent nearly three decades trying to raise funds to make the idea of a public pool a reality. They raised many thousands but it just wasn’t quite enough. The Pool cost £1.8 million to build and quite probably would never have happened if there hadn’t been financial support from the Argyll and Bute Council, Argyll and the Islands Enterprise, SportScotland and a hotel group which also uses the pool’s facilities as an amenity for guests.

Perhaps because it is a shared use facility with the hotel, it’s of a very high standard. It’s not just a pool but also has spa facilities, hair salon, steam rooms and more. It’s definitely not your typical council-style affair. That said, it’s only 16 metres in length so if you’re a serious swimmer you might find it a little frustrating compared to a standard 25m pool.

But, that criticism aside, it’s in an ideal spot, pretty much exactly half way between Bunessan and Fionnphort to the south and Tobermory and Dervaig to the north of the island. And with the weather never a certainty on Mull, it’s a great fall-back plan if you are on holiday with kids and at a loose end.

You can see exactly where Isle of Mull Community Swimming Pool is located on our map.

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Blogging: How Mull leaves its mark on Nigel

Nigel Cooke, aka monkeyleader, is an Irishman currently living in Cambridge who happens to be on holiday on Mull right now. He may just be one of the best real-time bloggers I’ve come across of late. He’s written an engaging entry in his blog about a quick return trip to Mull after a visit earlier in the year, which made him and partner Nicola fall in love with the place.

Copyright Nigel Cooke aka monkeyleaderAs he’s only just recounted on his blog (he’s writing this as it happens whilst on Mull… not like days of yore when you’d be lucky to get a picture on the telly!) “Highlights for us included a pair of Golden Eagles, a pair of White Tailed Sea Eagles, Buzzards, Hen Harriers, Osprey, Otters, Kestrel, Northern Gannet, Shags, Great Cormorant, Common Seals, Grey Heron, Curlew, Rock Dove, Rock Pipit, Hooded Crows, Ravens, Red Deer and a Little Grebe.”

Seems Nigel’s a bit of a polymath, not only having a rather good writing style but also some excellent photography skills to boot.

I am jealous 🙂

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