A fantastic trip to Mull - you must read this!

01st June 2011
In: Trips
Mull in May 2011

Thursday night all packed up and ready to go – great excitement as on Friday morning we are off to the North for our holiday on Mull. Bags and cameras are near the front door ready for a quick getaway – the plan is for us all to meet at Leighton Moss RSPB reserve near Carnforth at around 10, spend a few hours there and then travel to Glasgow for our overnight stay on Friday. This means that on Saturday morning we only have another 90 miles to travel to Oban for the 2 o’clock ferry.

So Friday arrives and the weather is dry and bright – even sunny at times! Packed the car in 15 minutes and got away by 7 am – on course for 10am rendezvous. Uneventful journey and arrived full of anticipation for what we might see as Leighton Moss is known for marsh harriers. So we visited the hides in order - our friends Kath & Ken saw a blackbird with a partially white face – known well to the staff! Walking along the paths between hides we saw a shrew, a “woolly bear” (not seen often anymore), some unidentified warblers, a coal tit, some garganey and when we had trekked the distance to the last hide we saw the highlight of the day – two pairs of marsh harriers. One came within a hundred feet from us in the hide which enabled some better than usual pictures.

On the way back to the car we called in at the black headed gull hide (public hide) where there were hundreds of gulls making more gulls! Also saw some great crested and little grebes. Very close pictures – and the yellow flags at the water’s edge were beautiful. Near the visitor centre were loads of tadpoles – first we had seen this year.
So that was Leighton Moss done – oh we also spoke to a man who had seen an otter that morning which was one of our main targets on Mull. Little did we know what was to happen the next day!

So on to Glasgow and a hotel which was newly built on roads that Tom Tom didn’t know existed. A few minutes of confusion reigned and then to the pub for tea. Wetherspoons is a great place for good quality reasonably priced food and drink!

After a good night’s sleep we ended up at Wetherspoons again for breakfast and then a drive to Oban – the best part of the drive so far in beautiful scenery and sunshine. An arrival at 11:30 gave us time for shopping, a walk around the town, some gorgeous prawn and crab sandwiches and then joined the queue for the Isle of Mull ferry called “The Isle of Mull”! It was late but that may have been Lady Luck looking after us as on the drive to our holiday home we came around a bend at the lock side (Loch Na Keal) and saw a crowd of people (or what passes for a crowd on Mull – half a dozen or so). Car came to an abrupt halt and we quickly ascertained that they were looking at an otter within camera distance eating a fish!

All thought of our destination went out of the window as we spent a very enjoyable hour or so taking photos. Inevitably the otter finally disappeared after bringing a crab back to its island and treating us to great views of an otters dinner!
So that meant we travelled on – seeing a heron, a waterfall, loads of highland cows including one in the middle of the road and sheep everywhere. Eventually arriving quite a bit later than planned to a host of rabbits of all sizes but we were all very happy. Car unloaded, dinner on the table and we all relaxed into the evening with a glass or two of wine.

Sunday dawned wet, overcast and a little chilly but undeterred we set off for Tobermory along one of Mulls B roads. Not like a mainland B road at all! Windy, hilly pot holey, narrow but fortunately lots of passing places – seemed to take ages to do 20 odd miles!! However we arrived and parked (free) – found a chocolate shop selling very nice coffee and with complimentary internet access. Then the rain stopped for a while so we fetched cameras and took pictures of the famous coloured houses of Tobermory and its harbour. Unfortunately it probably makes a better photo with the tide in!

We then left Tobermory behind and stopped for a picnic overlooking the Sound of Mull – in the rain of course! Then onwards to Salen but just before arrival we saw some large birds which turned out to be buzzards but we were convinced they were eagles. We stopped along the coast near Salen to look at some seals and then spotted some eider duck swimming just offshore. Lovely calm water and the birds came quite close giving us some good views.

Travelling back along the shores of Loch Na Keal we stopped near the otter and sure enough he was there again – however it started to pour with rain and the otter vanished so we went home and had tea!

Tomorrow (Monday) we are off for a day out with Bryan Rains (Wild About Mull) so hoping that the rain stops for long enough to enjoy some dry photography opportunities. We are hoping to see eagles (golden and white tailed) and more otters, along with anything else that moves! Oh - and the sun!

Monday. Wet. Not sunny. Cold. TomTom told us which way to go to get to Wild About Mull so we followed – what a road! Narrow, full of pot holes and water. An early start – up at 5:15 and out at 6 o’clock for our 30 minute journey. Two hours later we arrived to find Bryan waiting for us so we loaded all the gear into the back of his van and headed off to see our first target of the day – otters. After searching for a short while one was located swimming along the shore line so we followed it on foot and then in the van till it came closer – we got some great views and best shots of otter so far. A great start, cameras and people soaked but happy to see an otter. Also on the same shoreline was a great northern diver along with whimbrel and curlew.

Then onwards to a white tailed eagles nest which we saw through a scope – it was looking directly at us through the mist. The mist and cloud and rain was a feature of the day but it did not dampen the spirits at all! Next we drove back to Pennyghael for a warm in the store, a hot drink and a wee stop. Along the way we saw little plover, oystercatcher and others. Then to the adders – however despite Bryans best efforts we were unsuccessful so we had lunch instead. After lunch we moved on towards Fionnphort and a search for mountain hare – by now we were all suffering from cold and wet but undeterred we marched across the machair looking for them. Success eventually as we saw one dart over a small hillock and disappear. Wonderful!

Stopped on the way back at a small beach to see what was around – surprising what you can see even on a wet day if you stop long enough. All in all a very enjoyable day in great company – thank you Bryan and Wild About Mull.

Tuesday arrived dry, bright and yes I think we saw some sunshine! Even a few patches of blue sky among the grey. We had a plan to head back down the shores of Loch Na Keal towards Salen and then to Craignure to see what we could find on the loch and the sea shore. However we got as far as the otter stopping place to find a crowd all staring at the forest near the hill top. When asked what they were looking at we were told it was a white tailed eagle sat in a tree top. A kind gentleman offered us a look through his scope at the bird sat in the tree – waiting for the boat to come along which fed them with fish. So we waited a while and sure enough the boat arrived and the eagle set off for it hotly pursued along its way by a buzzard – we always thought that buzzards were big until we saw one at the same time as the eagle!

We could see the eagle within metres of the boat and it came back with a fish in its talons to its nest – the nest was behind the trees so we guess it must have left the fish with its partner and chicks at the nest and then returned for another one. In total three so we got some fantastic views of it. Great start to the day – and it was still not raining!

We then set off towards Salen and then to Craignure but stopped at Fishnish as we thought it was a little seaside village – wrong! It was just a ferry terminal and a small building selling hot drinks and snacks. The Forestry Commission had very kindly placed some picnic tables so we made use of one of them for yet another wonderful picnic. After lunch we explored the beach area but as there was not much about we drove to Salen where we had seen the eider ducks a few days previously. They were not there but we had noticed a couple of wrecked boats which we thought would make good photographic material so this filled the afternoon up until it was time to go home. The weather started to change for the worse – back to the usual Mull grey and rain but we did make a visit to Ulva Ferry to check it out ahead of our white tailed eagle boat trip which we had booked for Friday. Along the road back we did spot a golden eagle soaring over the fields at the side of the road. Another holiday highlight. So back home for another wonderful meal – the weather turned very nasty then with nothing to be seen at all through the windows.

Wednesday. Guess what – rain again! But this time with a very strong wind. Plan was to visit Loch Frisa and then Glengorm so we set off up the coast along a narrow and windy (aren’t they all) road towards Calgary and Dervaig. This time however unlike Sunday the rain stopped and it was sunny (but still windy) so we could see into the distance as well as the moors around us. No mountain hares or eagles here though so stopped at Calgary Bay and got out of the car for a walk along the beach and some rock pooling while the rain held off. Saw some lovely sea anemones including a green one which I had never seen before. Then we got soaked! We found a coffee shop and dried out and warmed up a little afterwards.

Onward then towards Loch Frisa – however the road looked bad from the beginning (most of the roads on Mull look great for a hundred yards and then get bad) so we decided to miss this one and instead turn towards Glengorm – gets a good write up in the Mull information so we thought it would be a good place to visit. The road was even worse than the one to Loch Frisa – this time there was even a sign saying temporary road surface for miles – no mention of how many! It now holds the record for most pot holes on the island! And Glengorm was definitely overstated in the information! Got soaked again – this time with hail! However the coffee shop was warm and the coffee was nice (and even good prices). I think if the weather had been dry it would be a very nice place to spend more time there – standing stones, an old fort and also a natural bathing pool would have made great pictures. There is also a colony of marsh fritillaries there and lots of walking to be done, along with the castle itself (although not really a castle but a hotel) and its gardens.

We then decided to make our way home but stopped in Tobermory for some provisions and as the sun was shining decided to have a little walk around the harbour. So of course it rained again – however this time we fooled it as had not even got out of the car! The road from there passes down a hill near Loch Frisa so we half expected to see eagles but instead there was a buzzard. We attempted some shots but they were too far away and it was too windy and dark. Towards Salen the tide was in and the shoreline would have been a great place to explore but the next wave of showers were on the way so we came back along the road to Ulva ferry and home. Through a torrential downpour, some brilliant sunshine and then more rain. Tide was in so no otter today – time another day for otter spotting. Some things we will have to leave until we return in October – Calgary sunset being one of them. Let’s see what tomorrow brings!

Well we didn’t wait until tomorrow! After another lovely tea we decided to see if we could get to the shore as it looked so inviting. We eventually managed to get through a gate and down to an area of machair which we found a path through to the edge of the small cliff which overhung the shore line. A couple of oystercatchers, a heron and a curlew later we turned around and came back to the house. Oh – and a sunset which was our first of the week. We all said that we must return in the morning, weather permitting. On the way back to the house we saw another golden eagle flying over the hills behind the house – however it was getting darker and it was too far away so no photos. Still – time yet for that!

Thursday already! Decided to head back along Loch Na Keal to see the eagle flying over to the boat but stopped at our waterfall to take some pictures. Fantastic waterfall and with all the rain we had been having the stream was very full and plenty of water going over the fall. We went as close to the cliff edge as we dared to get a photo and then some more walking upstream. Someone was camping in a sheltered flat area at the side if the upper waterfall – what a spot for a tent! Very noisy with the rushing water but very idyllic also. Then on to Loch Na Keal for the eagle feeding – good views in its favourite perch and then the boat arrived for four feeding trips. However the wind was very strong and was blowing the camera and lenses around so no good pictures today! But just to see it was awesome – we were also able to see it catch the fish that was thrown from the boat. Then we travelled a little further and stopped near a campsite to have a wander around on the shore but nothing very interesting. Back home again and had a wander up the hill to find the ruined village before heading back for tea. Sadly we then discovered that our trip on the boat that feeds the sea eagle was cancelled as very strong winds were forecast. We all felt very disappointed and a little flat.
After some thought we came up with plan B for Friday – we would go on a boat trip but just over the water to Ulva on a foot ferry. Good walking was to be had on the island and the weather looked promising – seemed odd that the boat wasn’t able to go out but when we arrived the ferryman said that around the corner it was very rough and windy – we could see the white horses.

We walked over to the west side of the island to see some fantastic views over towards Staffa, Dutchmans Cap and Lunga along with the rest of the Treshnish Isles – abandoned villages, soaring hills and cliffs, hawks and loads of delicate flowers – butterwort in particular was plentiful. The views themselves are well worth the walk and Ulva is a very special place, like lots of the other Scottish islands – if you ever come to Mull you must make time to visit Ulva. For once the rain held off and we were treated to blue skies and sunshine but with a very strong wind, we even managed a picnic outside of a car! Even butterflies! We then got on the ferry for the short (2 minute) trip back to the mainland and drove the few miles back to the Old Steading where we packed and made ready to depart. I then decided to walk over to Ballygown beach just so that I had seen it – walked over the little headland full of bogs and wild flowers to find otter spraint all over the place – no otter though but he obviously visits on a regular basis. There were oystercatchers, gulls of all sorts, a common sandpiper, curlew and a black rabbit!

I had to shelter in a cave while a rain storm blew over but then walked back to the house to see a sea eagle swoop over the house. It flew off fairly quickly but we did see it several times during tea in the distance – nothing like last night or this morning though.

Then after tea while putting the left over bread out for our local sparrows we spotted some deer just over the road so managed to take a few quick shots until a car arrived to send them packing.

So that’s it! All over bar the ferry and the journey home – bit sad but had a really lovely week on the most wonderful of islands. Can’t wait to return to magical Mull in October, only wish it could be sooner!

This report can be downloaded here http://www.gfcphotography.co.uk/files/16220/mull2011.doc

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