Mull Ferry from Oban, across the 'sea-roads' of Argyll.
The Mull ferry from Oban is part of the Mull experience. Brilliant views of the Lismore Lighthouse and that really is Ben Nevis way up Loch Linnhe.
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 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 - 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 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, as this company basically operates lifeline ferry services out to the islands, and is subsidised for doing so.
The observation deck on the Mull ferry is good and high, so get up there as there is plenty to see. If it’s clear, for instance, then, on the starboard side, you soon get a fine view straight up Loch Linnhe (pictured). At the same time, away behind the wake of the Mull ferry further round to the east, there is an impressive row of peaks on the mainland, starting with Ben Cruachan, inland from Oban. These big grey-blue heights runn northwards up towards a distinctive mountain with bulky shoulders, away up Loch Linnhe. If you are like me, you may puzzle over this for a few moments and then work out is Ben Nevis, Scotland’s highest mountain. (Maybe I just wasn’t expecting to see it from this angle.) It’s just right of centre in the panorama here, with Lismore the green foreground island on the right.
All this should keep you snapping happily. Lismore Lighthouse (also pictured here) 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). It sits 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’)
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 Mull ferry that I’m talking about here. I took the pic you see here when I was on the Lord of the Isles, outbound for Lochboisdale and Eriskay. Anyway, seeing Duart Castle reminds me of a story...
The Scottish Travel Writer’s Revenge!
I remember way back in the 1980s, writing about Mull for a Scottish guide. Soon after its publication, I got an impudent letter via the publisher from an old lady 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 suggested that everyone who visits Mull had to visit her pile. I ignored the letter, as there are plenty of other (and more spectacular) Scottish castles and Mull has such extraordinary landforms, wildlife and a ton of other stuff that these took priority (in a short feature) over 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. 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 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?)
Back aboard the 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. Most turn north, towards Tobermory. 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.)
Also, you don’t even have to arrive via Oban. You can also sneak in via the Lochaline-Fishnish short crossing over the Sound of Mull, or nip across from Kilchoan in Ardnmurchan to Tobermory, with the first of the seafood restaurants just a few paces from where the ferry docks………
Lots to see from the Mull ferry – and even more when you explore the island of Mull. Follow that link to find out more.