Isle of Mull - Iona - Tobermory

Jun 15, 2018 - Lord of the Glens

Mist clung low to the shoreline of Loch Linnhe as we set sail from Corpach at first light, headed for the Isle of Mull. Despite the inclement weather, still the panoramic mountains of the Highlands stretched away to either side of us, charting our course as our bow began to taste its first few salty waves of Atlantic Ocean. 

Entering the Sound of Mull we glimpsed our first few marine species; a black guillemot bobbed beside the boat as a gannet soared overhead, as if to welcome us into port. Lionsmane and moon jellyfish littered our path as we docked into Craignure and both Duart Castle and Lismore Lighthouse slipped out of view to the south. 

Upon disembarkment, we found our carriage (a local coach) waiting to take us the long, scenic drive to Fionnophort, through the heart of the isle of Mull. Our obliging coach driver didn’t hesitate in recounting names and old stories from across the island - from Glen More - the islands largest and most scenic glen, to the purchase of a stately home on the island by famed band Genesis…

As Fionnophort, the most southerly village on the island drew into view, we knew that we were coming close to our intended destination. Just one, short CalMac ferry ride stood between us and the Isle of Iona; the “Cradle of Christianity.” Iona is only about five square miles in size with a meagre population of 80 inhabitants. However, it is made of some of the oldest stones on the planet, dating back 3 billion years and is fittingly steeped in religious history and significance. In 563AD, Saint Columba came to Iona from Ireland intent on converting the native Scottish Picts to Christianity - a mission which we fulfilled in abound.

As we stepped from the ferry onto the ancient rocks of Iona, sun seemed to burst through the clouds, peppering the island with flashes of light and colour; yellow of buttercups, blue of native Scottish bluebells and pink of sweat pea - bobbing in the breeze of the various vegetable allotments. The air was filled with the sound of bird song; singing black birds, meadow pipets and the unmistakable “creeek, creeek, creeek” of the rare and illusive corncrake.

We headed to the Columba Hotel for a delicious lunch of nettle soup and paté, via the 13th Century Iona nunnery before being let loose across the island. After lunch, some of us chose to adventure across the island by bicycle, discovering its highest peak, hidden bays, and pathways. However, many of us charted a course straight for the sacred, medieval Iona Abbey - founded by (and final resting place of) Saint Columba. The Abbey had an unmistakable air of history, as we walked the hallowed floors, trodden by so many before us. No area had more atmosphere than the grounds and graveyard, final resting place of over fifty Scottish, Irish and Norwegian Kings from bygone eras. The gravestones still standing told fascinating stories, and stood next to those so faded that their stories were seemingly lost forever. 

After a reflective afternoon, the craft shops that dotted the island finally stole our attention before we headed back to Mull for our journey up to the town of Tobermory. The last golden rays of light illuminated the town as we drew in. Boats bobbed in the harbour and colourful houses lined the street. We finished our day with a gripping talk by the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust on the whales, dolphins and porpoises of the Hebrides, preparing us for an exciting day in the Sea of the Hebrides!

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About the Author

Ella Potts


Ella’s passion has always been in marine conservation, with a childhood spent swimming, kayaking or boating in the chilly waters of the UK, or surveying the marine life of those waters from windswept headlands. She has numerous, distinct early memories of shivering adults, wrapped up in jumpers and cagoules, looking down at her with slight horror through sheets of rain and commenting on her short sleeves. A phenomena that persists to this day.  She graduated with a Masters degree in Marine Biology: Conservation and Resource Management from Swansea University, setting her up for a career protecting those marine ecosystems that she so loves. 

Ella has worked for several British whale conservancy charities, including ORCA and the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (HWDT) and is a British Divers Marine Life Rescue (BDMLR) marine mammal medic. She has a real passion for lecturing, and during her time in these different organizations has presented to vastly ranging audiences; from groups of young children right up to filled auditoriums at the headquarters of HWDT partner, WWF. 

About the Photographer

Stewart Aitchison

Naturalist/Certified Photo Instructor

Trained as zoologist and geologist, Stewart 's passion is the natural world. He has been exploring, photographing, teaching, and writing about biodiversity, geology, and the American Southwest for forty years and has worked with Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic since 1981.  Stewart also spent ten years as a field biologist for the Museum of Northern Arizona, a nonprofit institution dedicated to preserving the Colorado Plateau's natural and cultural heritage.

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