Mull (Muile) is a large island in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. It's hilly and thinly populated (2990 in 2011); most people live in Tobermory with a scattering down the northeast coast to Craignure ferry port. Away from there, it feels remote even though Mull is easy to reach by ferry from the mainland. Its Gaelic name Muile denotes a headland, especially one that is bare and windswept.
You have to travel via Mull to reach the small nearby islands of Iona, Staffa which has Fingal's Cave, and Ulva.
The only non-commercial tourist information centre on Mull is Craignure iCentre next to the pier where the ferry arrives from Oban. Others, such as in Tobermory, are simply marketing tours, which may be what you want.
Towns and villages
- 1 Tobermory is the only sizeable town on the island, with colourful buildings along its seafront, and it's the obvious base for a stay on Mull. Teenagers will recognise it from the BBC Scotland TV programme Balamory.
- 2 Craignure is the usual point of arrival on Mull, with ferries from Oban. Nearby is Duart Castle.
- 3 Lochbuie has Britain's smallest Post Office, a prehistoric stone circle, and a stump of a castle.
- 4 Salen midway between Tobermory and Craignure has accommodation.
- 5 Ulva is a small inhabited island with a short ferry crossing.
- 6 Calgary has a fine beach and gave its name to the Canadian city.
- 7 Fionnphort is where you take the ferry to Iona.
- 8 Iona has a restored abbey and other medieval religious sites.
- 1 Staffa is an islet half a mile long, five miles off Mull. It's lined by dramatic basalt columns: the stand-out is Fingal's Cave but this is just the grandest of several similar formations. They were all formed in the same volcanic upwelling as Giant's Causeway and Torr Head on the Antrim coast of Northern Ireland. Staffa lacks safe anchorage and has long been uninhabited; it was little-known until 1772 when the naturalist Sir Joseph Banks visited - he returned louse-ridden but singing its praises, and celebrities followed. It's now a nature reserve in the care of National Trust for Scotland, with seas and cliffs whirling with wildlife. Boats visit in summer from Ulva Ferry and Tobermory. Take great care on the narrow, worn landing platform by Fingal's Cave. No landings until April 2023 as this area is being rebuilt; non-landing trips will still be possible. The aim is to complete the work before the early summer nesting season.
- 2 Treshnish Isles are an archipelago 3½ miles west of Mull, now a wildlife reserve. Bac Mòr for its distinctive silhouette is called "The Dutchman's Cap" but looks more like a sombrero. Lunga the largest islet has the remains of a blackhouse village, abandoned in 1857. Cairn na Burgh Mòr at the north end of the chain has a medieval castle used as late as 1745, with its outer defences across a narrow channel on Cairn na Burgh Beag. Boat trips visit in summer; puffins and grey seals greet arrivals.
- 3 Eilean Musdile is an islet with a Stevenson lighthouse off the south tip of Lismore - but the best view of it is from the ferry from Oban to Craignure, which threads the needle between lighthouse and Lady's Rock.
Picture a lava plain over 100 miles wide, with no volcanic peaks but continual lava flows, some parts active and bubbling while others cool into a dull black slab a mile thick. Such was the Thulian plateau 60 million years ago as the earth’s crust cracked apart and the Atlantic Ocean widened. The plateau was dragged apart to form portions in Mull, Ulster, Newfoundland, and Iceland where the process continues today. Basalt sea cliffs faced the Atlantic, forming great hexagonal columns at Fingal’s Cave off Mull and at Giant’s Causeway in Ulster. Whatever grew on this impervious surface was scraped bare by successive Ice Ages, the most recent ending some 11,000 years ago. Sea levels rose in the melt and flooded the fault lines, so a much larger proto-Mull became dissected from Staffa, Iona and other islands, and from the Scottish mainland by a channel like the slash of a diabolical claw.
Poor soil and grazing, scant mineral resources, lashing sleet; a long way from anywhere by hazardous sea routes or boggy moorland tracks. Early Celts and Vikings subsisted here long after they’d been ousted from richer lowland pastures. Medieval chieftains who feuded its possession were literally bald men fighting over a comb, as "Mull" is from Gaelic maol, bare of trees and shrubs. But in the 18th and 19th centuries transport and tourism developed, the peat-hags and dangerous coasts were redefined as romantic scenery, celebrity visitors came and others followed. Mull was re-invented. Star examples are the rebuilt abbey on Iona, the colourful promenade buildings of Tobermory, the gnarly Duart castle, and those cold heaving seas plied by boat trips watching marine life. The pace of tourism quickened when the ferry from Oban was upgraded to a ro-ro, so motorists could easily explore Mull. But it’s otherwise little developed, with long lonely miles between attractions and amenities. If you're looking to visit a Hebridean island but unsure which to aim for, then Mull is among the top four picks, along with Skye, Islay and Tiree.
Mull nowadays is no longer bare, it's green and wooded, though much is forestry plantation monoculture. Those commercial pines are mature and ready for logging, with little demand for like-for-like replanting as their use for printing paper has dwindled. So some decisions are needed, which will affect the views and habitat of Mull for decades to come.
Calmac car ferries sail to Craignure from Oban, which has trains and buses from Glasgow. Ferries sail daily, roughly hourly Apr-Oct and every couple of hours Nov-March, taking 50 min. See Craignure#Get in for current fares. Buses and tour coaches meet the ferries at Craignure, and there's a tourist information centre by the pier.
There are also two ferry routes between Mull and the Ardnamurchan peninsula - the crossings are shorter, but Ardnamurchan (though it's on the mainland) is a long way from anywhere and you'd only travel that way in order to tour it. The two routes are Lochaline to Fishnish on Mull (roughly hourly year-round, takes 15 min), and Kilchoan to Tobermory (every couple of hours summer, only 2 or 3 M-Sa in winter, takes 40 min).
There's also a ferry between Fionnphort on Mull and Iona; there's no other transport off that island so you have to return the same way. Same goes for the short crossing from Ulva Ferry south of Salen to Ulva island.
Ferries to Coll, Tiree and the Outer Hebrides sail by Tobermory but no longer call, so you have to double back via Oban to reach those islands.
There is no air service to Mull. With your own light aircraft, use Glenforsa Airfield at Salen.
By car: You need a car to get anywhere, unless you take a tour. Don't leave the mainland with less than half a tank - it's a big island, fuel is expensive, there are few filling stations, and fuel consumption is high as you make lurching progress along the island roads. Even the "main road" A848 is only a single-track lane with passing places, except for 11 miles Craignure - Salen and the last four miles into Tobermory. Observe the usual courtesies: never park in the passing places, and give way to folk who want to overtake and to cattle that just want to stand there all day. When they're shaggy Highland Cattle, it feels heartless to sound one's horn.
By bus: West Coast Motors Bus 95 / 495 runs five times daily between Craignure via Fishnish and Salen to Tobermory (50 min; no Sunday service Nov-March).
Bus 96 / 496 runs four times M-Sa and once on Sunday between Craignure and Fionnphort, 70 min.
Bus 494 zigzags through Tobermory then runs to Dervaig and Calgary, 40 mins; three M-F and one on Saturday.
Ulva Ferry minibus runs twice F-Su from Calgary along the west coast to Ulva Ferry village, Gruline and Salen, where it connects with the 95 / 495 bus to Craignure. A ferry runs on demand between Ulva Ferry on Mull and Oskamull the landing point on the island of Ulva.
West Coast Motors also operate tours around Mull and to Iona and other outlying islands. You're sure to meet one of their big red double-deckers as you come round a blind bend on a single-track lane.
Taxis: Chris's Taxis (+44 749 3886 237) and Mull Taxi Service (+44 7760 426351) are both based in Tobermory but do point-to-point journeys anywhere within Mull, airport and ferry pick-ups, and tours around the island.
By rental car you're better to hire from Glasgow or Edinburgh airport to take care of the journey north, but Mull Car Hire on the island charge £55 / day or £300 / week for an economy hatchback (tel +44 742 5127900). Mull Camper Vans will likewise meet for pick-up off the ferry.
- Castles: the only one you can tour is Duart Castle 3 miles south of Craignure. Moy Castle in Lochbuie is an impressive tower but unsafe to enter. Others are either just scraps (eg Dùn Ara near Tobermory), or Victorian pseudo-castle mansions that are private residences; you can stay overnight at one, Glengorm Castle near Tobermory.
- Prehistoric standing stones: there's a complete circle at Lochbuie, a group of three at Glengorm near Tobermory, and several aligned stones near Dervaig on the road to Calgary.
- Natural sights are impressive but not very accessible. You need a boat trip and calm sea to reach Fingal's Cave and others on Staffa. MacKinnon's Cave on the east coast (bigger than Fingal's though not as elegant) and Carsaig Arches on the south coast both involve a bit of a hike at low tide.
- What's on? Read Round and About Magazine or Oban Times.
- Boat trips run to Fingal's Cave on the Isle of Staffa, the Treshnish Isles, Iona, and whale and other wildlife spots around the island. They pick up from various points such as Tobermory, Craignure, Ulva Ferry near Salen and Oban on the mainland. Operators are Staffa Tours (+44 7831 885985) and Turus Mara (+44 1688 400242).
- Climb Ben More, at 966 m (3169 ft) the only Munro on Mull. The simplest ascent is from Dhiseig south of Salen.
- Visit a whisky distillery at Tobermory.
- Diving: the waters around Mull, especially the straits between it and Ardnamurchan, have good wreck diving, see Diving in the United Kingdom. Tobermory is an obvious base, as is Oban or Lochaline. Just don't expect to find San Juan de Sicilia, the Spanish galleon that blew up off Tobermory in 1588. The legend of her treasure has been so pervasive, and 400 years of salvage so energetic, that a marine archaeology survey in 2006 found nothing left on the seabed but a crater.
- Mull Music Festival in late April features folk-rock bands, fiddle, accordion, dance and ceilidh bands. It's held mostly in Tobermory.
- Isle of Mull Highland Games are held in Tobermory in late July.
- Mendelssohn on Mull Festival commemorates the composer's visit of 1829, when he saw Fingal's Cave and was inspired to create The Hebrides overture. Concerts, recitals and try-outs for young classical musicians are held at various venues on Mull and Iona, with the closing event in Oban. The next is 18-23 Sept 2022.
Before leaving the mainland, stock up on fuel, cash (ATMs on Mull are sparse and may charge withdrawal fees) and just about anything else you expect to need.
There's a Co-op in Tobermory and Spar convenience stores there and in Salen, Craignure, Bunessan and Iona.
Same goes for Eat and Drink.
Take usual sensible precautions about safeguarding valuables and driving cautiously on the narrow twisty roads, but the main hazards are natural: cold winds and driving rain any time any day, seas that can turn rough, and in summer midges, midges, midges. They don't mind rain, they scorn repellants, the only sure deterrent is a stiff breeze and shut that door before they all get in.
Mobile phone coverage on Mull is poor. See individual villages for details, Tobermory and Craignure have some coverage, but don't expect a signal if you twist your ankle in the hills or break down on the roads.
- Iona is an obvious trip, but you have to come back the same way.
- Ferries run to Kilchoan and Lochaline on the remote Ardnamurchan peninsula.
- Otherwise return to the Scottish mainland at Oban.
- From Mull you can see Coll and Tiree further west, but you have to double back via Oban to reach them.