Mull Ferry from Oban – superb views on the old Argyll sea-roads

The Mull ferry from Oban to Craignure is part of the essential Isle of Mull experience. Brilliant views of the Lismore Lighthouse, also Ben More on Mull – and, yes, that really is Ben Nevis way up Loch Linnhe.  At under an hour’s journey time – it’s just the right length to sample that CalMac experience!

The Mull ferry leaves for Craignure from Oban’s main pier without fuss on a frequent schedule.

All you have to do is tear yourself away from the prawn sandwiches and tempting seafood by the waterfront stalls nearby – practically adjacent to the commodious ferry terminal and waiting area.

The Mull Ferry Experience

The ferry called the Isle of Mull swallows up impressive numbers of heavy trucks as well as tourists’ vehicles. (By the way, the mention of seafood places – pictured below – near the ferry terminal is just to get you in the mood for what lies ahead.)

So, we’re on board Caledonian MacBrayne’s ferry, the Isle of Mull, which is both its name and its destination.

The Oban-Craignure (Isle of Mull) service is just one of a number of island links operated by CalMac, a subsidiary of David MacBrayne Limited, wholly owned by the Scottish Government.

This company basically operates lifeline ferry services out to the islands, and is subsidised for doing so. Hurrah.

The sea-roads of Argyll
The sea-roads of Argyll
Oban seafood stall
Oban the Seafood Capital of Scotland.

The observation deck on the Mull ferry is good and high, so get up there as there is plenty to see.

You’ll pass other vessels, probably inbound from the Outer Hebrides.

If it’s clear, for instance, then, on the starboard side, you soon get a fine view straight up Loch Linnhe . 

Away behind the wake and further round to the east, there is an impressive row of peaks on the mainland, starting with Ben Cruachan, inland from Oban.

Views from the sea-roads of Argyll

Lismore Lighthouse
Lismore Lighthouse, with high Ben Cruachan behind. View from the Mull ferry.

These big grey-blue heights run northwards away up Loch Linnhe and towards a distinctive mountain with bulky shoulders.

If you are like me, you may puzzle over this for a few moments and then work out it is Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain. (Maybe I just wasn’t expecting to see it from this angle.) 

All this should keep you snapping happily. Lismore Lighthouse is also on the starboard side and should inevitably appear in your own photo collection.

It was first lit in 1833 (and what a boon it must have been in these constricted sea-roads of Argyll).

The lighthouse stands on a small islet off the south end of the thin island of Lismore, itself sitting in line with the seaway.

(And as an obscure aside, the Lismore Lighthouse’s first keeper was a certain Mr Robert Selkirk, a direct descendant of Alexander Selkirk, the castaway who was the inspiration for Defoe’s ‘Robinson Crusoe’)

Ben More and Duart Castle

The Mull ferry 'Isle of Mull' passing Duart Castle
The Mull ferry ‘Isle of Mull’ passing Duart Castle, inbound for Oban.

But don’t spend too long at the starboard rail of the outbound Mull ferry. Off on the port side, the distinctive profile of Mull’s big hills loom. Ben More is the highest point.

Now, that makes a fine picture, especially as the romantic, dramatic profile of Duart Castle sits on a rocky shoreline promontory nearby. (Oh, Scottish visual clichés are made of this!) It’s irresistible.

Time it right and you can get another Caledonian MacBrayne ferry in the picture too. I’ve cheated a little with the picture here as the ferry you see above is actually the ferry to Mull – the subject of this page.

I took the pic when I was on the Lord of the Isles, outbound for Lochboisdale and the lovely Eriskay.

Ferry approaching Craignure Pier, Mull.
Mull ferry approaching Craignure Pier, Mull.

Back aboard the Mull ferry, before you know it, Duart has slid away to port and the is turning in to the pier at Craignure. There are glimpses of lodges and leisure parks, discreetly half-hidden in the woodlands as a reminder that Mull is an island for visitors.

Time to scrabble for the car-keys, go down the stairs to the car-deck and squeeze past the wheels of those trucks. The Mull experience is about to begin…

The Road To Tobermory

Craignure is 21 miles (34km) from the island’s ‘capital’ – picturesque Tobermory. All the cars and trucks get off the ferry at once. (I mean, one after another, obviously.)

Most turn north, towards Tobermory, the ‘capital’ of the island of Mull. It starts off gently enough in a relaxed convoy, on a ‘normal’ Scottish road. 

But soon mainland manners break in – or maybe it’s just impatient Audi drivers (known in our family as ‘Audiots’).

Wild overtaking gets under way from the back of the pack. What is the point? Soon you are down to single track road for a section, and the total time gained may amount to just a few seconds.

So, I suggest you all just enjoy the views across the Sound of Mull towards Ardnamurchan. And start looking for sea eagles. (Those things you see on the fence posts are just buzzards.)

Ferries to Mull
There are four places on Mull linked by ferries – three to the mainland and one to Iona. The very quick Fishnish to Lochaline link is on the road between Craignure and Tobermory.
Other Ferries to Mull

You don’t even have to arrive via Oban. As the wee explanatory (or rudimentary) map above makes clear (hah!), you can also sneak in via the Lochaline-Fishnish short crossing over the Sound of Mull.

You can also, nip across from Kilchoan in Ardnamurchan to Tobermory, with the first of the seafood restaurants just a few paces from where the ferry docks.

Tobermory waterfront
Tobermory – main centre on Mull.

Finally, and as an aside, the mention of Duart Castle above reminds me of a story…settle down and let me tell you more…

The Scottish Travel Writer’s Revenge!

I remember, ‘way, ‘way back in the early 1980s, writing about Mull for a Scottish guidebook. Soon after its publication, I got an impudent letter forwarded via the publisher from some old bird by the name of MacLean who lived in Duart Castle.

She demanded to know why I had written about Mull but not mentioned Duart Castle, and strongly implied that everyone who visits Mull had to visit her pile.

Because of its rude tone, I ignored the letter, as there are plenty of other (and more spectacular) Scottish castles. Besides, Mull has such extraordinary landforms, wildlife and a ton of other stuff that these took priority (in a short feature) over, hey-ho, just another castle.

Looking back though, a kindly invitation to visit next time would have been happily received.

In fact, call me idiosyncratic, but for the next quarter century or so I resolutely left out Duart Castle in every guide, brochure, gazetteer, article or book I ever wrote. (And I wrote for some biggies back then. Sorry, clients everywhere.)  

I’m making an exception and mentioning it here because it looks so good from the sea.

As a castle, it was in ruins for a couple of centuries or so until rebuilt with the loss of some original features from 1911 onwards. Should you visit it when in Mull? I don’t know. Maybe if it rains. Or if your name’s MacLean.

Yes, the revenge of the slighted Scottish travel writer is subtle and slow but can last a lifetime. (Does that make me a bad person?)

The story of Oban, the Isle of Mull starting-point for many.

Finally, the Western Isles Hotel is recommended for where to stay in Tobermory.