Written on 20/09/2014, Isle of Mull
In hindsight having building work done to the house on the same day as setting off for Mull was not one of our brighter ideas. Packing clothes and stocking up on supplies is normally bad enough so adding curtain hanging and furniture moving to that list helped to make Friday more than a little stressful. It was with some relief when all went off without a hitch and we found ourselves at my parents house ready to grab a few hours kip. And by a few I really do mean a few as by four this morning we were in the car ready to devour the five hundred miles that lay between us and wildlife nirvana. Of course these days any journey in the wee hours seems subject to the roadwork trolls and today was to be no different. First the M42 was closed meaning after twenty minutes we were back exactly where we’d started from, then the M6 threatened closure but reopened just as we arrived, a feat repeated only a few junctions later. Then there’s the endless average speed camera’s which now seem to feature 40 mph limits. Until you’ve tried maintaining that speed on a completely deserted three lane stretch of road you will never know the true meaning of the word tedious. All that said by far the worst item of travel news came courtesy of BBC Scotland with the fateful words ‘ferry services between Oban and Craignure are subject to delays and disruption’. Bummer. A couple of frantic phone calls later and we’d managed to establish that although sailings were running the mysterious ‘technical issue’ had not been solved but this morning at least was not effecting service. Given our booking wasn’t until that afternoon we crossed our fingers and hoped for the best.
Several hours later we pulled into Oban just in time to see the MV Isle of Mull head off on her midday sailing. The sense of relief was palpable and after a quick dash around Tesco for last minute supplies we headed along the seafront to see what was about.
Given our autumnal trip it was no surprise to find the Black Guillemots absent from their nesting holes but the Hooded Crows at least were putting on a grand show. One bird had even found itself a snail and was busy dropping it onto the rocks below. This strategy looked to be paying off and entry to the fleshy innards was all but assured, right up until a juvenile Herring Gull barged in and stole the Crow’s hard earned reward. To say the Hoody looked miffed would be an understatement. At least some discarded chips provided worthy compensation and allowed me chance to sneak in for a couple of photos.
Back up on the promenade Oban was positively buzzing with a first world war commemoration parade preparing to march through town. We’d have loved to stay and watch but with a ferry fast approaching we had to make our way back to the car. Obviously that all went out of the window however as soon as we saw what had just pulled into Oban train station.
Given that the railway area here is one of the least photogenic locations I have ever come across the photo above was about all that I could manage. As luck would have it we’d coincided our visit with the West Highlander Steam Express, a chartered heritage train that takes those with deep wallets on a splendid journey through the highlands. Number 45407 ‘The Lancashire Fusilier’ shown above was accompanied by 62005 ‘Lord of the Isles’ at the rear, a powerful duo which would have made for an impressive sight pretty much anywhere other than at Oban. Even from aboard the ferry the view was obstructed by fencing and lighting but we did at least get to watch the train depart as we got under way ourselves. As it turned out the ships mysterious technical issue seemed to be a malfunction in the bow doors meaning that the roll on roll off operation had become slightly more interesting. At least we weren’t one of the unlucky few who were going to have to reverse off upon docking at Craignure.
Conditions for the crossing were absolutely sublime with the sun picking out Lismore lighthouse (above) perfectly against the darker mountain ranges beyond. Unusually there was a small flock of Red Deer grazing to the rear of this tiny island, presumably having crossed the causeway during a very low tide. On the bird front we were treated to a trio of winter plumaged Black Guillemots plus ten or more Gannets diving into the water from incredibly impressive heights. One minute they’d be soaring by before a quick twist and turn saw them dropping like a stone into the clear waters below. I could have watched for hours but in no time at all it was time to head back below decks and out onto Mull.
It’s hard to explain the mix of emotions I feel as those ferry doors slowly open revealing a little more of Mull with each passing second. Yes there’s a sense of anticipation at untold adventures ahead, wander that just a few hours from home we are about to step foot on an island about as far removed from our normal lives as it’s possible to get, yet also a sense of trepidation. I’ve said for a number of years now that we’d love to move up here one day yet there’s always a worry that a) we might not have the balls to do it and b) would we really be able to hack life on a small island? Neither question is for the here and now but the older I get the more I suspect that both answers will one day, not too many years from now, be a resounding yes.
Undoubtedly our main love for Mull is born out of its outstanding wildlife and scenery of which there was plenty on the drive to base camp. Most notable were a single group of five Grey Herons near Craignure and hundreds of Greylag Geese on grassland at Gruline, not to mention the late Wheatear alongside Loch na Keal. At the house the feeders had only been up a few minutes before both Great Tit and Robin were taking advantage while we put up the hammock and settled back for a well-earned rest.
This being Mull a rest only lasts as long as it takes for the next bird to appear and this evening I was called into action by a Kestrel flying along the hillside opposite. In the stiff breeze it wasn’t having much luck hovering and soon shot away beneath the horizon. Moments later a juvenile Golden Eagle soared into view and crossed the valley, a truly star welcome in anyone’s books. I’d have been happy to end our first evening on that note but half an hour later Emma spotted the eagle again down over the cliffs. It was soon joined by another then a third, three Golden Eagles putting on a remarkable performance which included steep dives and mobbing behaviour. This went on for the next hour or so as the trio slowly worked their way up the valley getting closer all the time, but never really within camera range. My best opportunity came as they gathered together against the developing sunset, a perfect juxtaposition between two of my most favourite things.
By now the long day really was starting to take its toll so after watching one of the resident bats pull some moves it was time to turn ourselves in. After all we hadn’t even left the house yet so who knew what tomorrow would bring.