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Ulva

How to call the Ulva Ferry, Isle of Mull

Ulva is another island off the coast of Mull. It’s community-owned with an interesting history. Much bigger than Iona, there is more to explore and if you fancy full day’s walk, Ulva is linked by bridge to Gometra, an island off an island, off an island, off an island.

The Ulva Ferry moored at Ulva, looking towards the Isle of Mull

Getting to Ulva is fun because you summon the ferry by sliding a cover across a wall facing the island, to display a red square. I’m pretty sure the ferryman can see who’s waiting anyway, but it’s fun to follow the procedure and feel all powerful when the little boat, that’s like something out of Thunderbirds, makes its way across the short stretch of water.

Sheila's Cottage, Isle of Ulva

Sheila’s Cottage, close to the ferry tells the story of life on Ulva, in a traditional thatched cottage. It was closed for refurbishment when we visited but was suitably atmospheric from the outside.

All Routes signpost on Ulva

There are no cars on Ulva. There are no paved roads to put them on. There are plenty of walks though. We did a shortish walk to see a church designed by Thomas Telford. I found it a bit of a trudge to be honest, possibly because it headed inland on rough tracks or perhaps I was just spoilt after a beautiful day on Iona.  

Ulva Ferry ticket booth, Isle of Ulva

Beside the ferry landing on Ulva, The Boathouse does cakes and meals and is a great place to watch the comings and goings on the water. For ferry times and some truly beautiful photos follow The Ulva Ferry on Facebook, or @theulvaferry on Instagram.

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To Iona

Fionnphort bay and blue-roofed cottage, Isle of Mull

The Isle of Iona lies just off the south-west coast of Mull. The ferry leaves from Fionnphort, a pretty wee place with a particularly stunning beach (above).

MV Loch Buie waiting on the Isle of Iona slipway

The ferry takes 10 minutes and runs frequently. Cars are only allowed on Iona with a permit that must be organised in advance.

Iona Abbey and John Smith's gravestone, Isle of Iona

Famous as the cradle of Christianity since St Columba arrived in 563, there are various landmarks, like the ruins of the 13th century nunnery, St Oran’s chapel (below) and the Abbey. John Smith, the former Labour leader is buried in the churchyard.

St Oran's Chapel, Isle of Iona

Iona is a relatively small island – 1.5 miles wide by 3 miles long. The main attractions are fairly close to the ferry slipway and beyond that there are longer walks and beautiful white beaches. There’s an interesting mix of locals, tourists and pilgrims floating about. Lots of international accents in this remote corner of Scotland.

The view from Iona to Fionnphort on Mull

Iona is often described as a “thin place” where the gap between heaven and earth is closer than usual, like Holy Island and Holy Isle. I didn’t feel that (I’m not religious), but it was extraordinarily beautiful. I’ve never seen a colour palette like it, with the blue sea and the salmon-coloured rocks offset against the rugged yellows and browns of the hills. 

A colourful garden on the Isle of Iona

I understand what people mean now, about it being a place that stays with you.

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Ardalanish Weavers

Naturally-dyed yarn at Ardalanish Weavers on the Isle of Mull

Ardalanish Weavers is on Mull, and is worth a detour off the main road to Fionnphort near Bunessan. This is a long-standing family weaving business (similar to the Islay Woollen Mill) where not only can you buy woollen products, but you can see them being made too.

Daffodill and madder naturally-dyed yarn at Ardalanish Weavers on the Isle of Mull

Ardalanish’s speciality is naturally-dyed wools. This yellow yarn gets its colour from daffodils, and the orange one is from madder. If you want to get into natural dyes, Snapdragon Life is very educational on how to do this and get great results. The hues and gradients are really beautiful.

Multicoloured yarn cones at Ardalanish Weavers on the Isle of Mull

The weaving room is full of old industrial looms (in good working order) and paraphernalia like bobbins and empty yarn cones.

Yarn on cones at Ardalanish Weavers, Isle of Mull

The looms were quiet when we visited, all the better to nose around. We had an enthusiastic guide, and the Ardalanish website also has a great explanation of the weaving process. It’s always good to see old machines being looked after and making something wonderful.

Best Bull rosettes at Ardalanish Weavers, Isle of Mull

The shop sells blankets and jumpers, and some food products from the farm. I bought some wool dyed with madder to knit a scarf I saw in a film – a project for the winter!

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The long road to Mull

Road leading to the queue for Corran Ferry on the Ardnamurchan side

I had a little break in Mull, and went the long way round to get there. When you can explore new bits of Scotland and ride on new ferries, why not take a bit longer.

Buachaille Etive Mòr, Glen Etive

The trip from Glasgow, along the banks of Loch Lomond and through Glencoe was beautiful. Everything looked rugged and dramatic at this time of year, still with its winter coat on.

Corran Ferry waiting for vehicles to disembark

Instead of going to Oban and getting the ‘big’ ferry to Craignure, we got the smaller Corran Ferry that links the main part of the mainland to Morvern, Ardnamurchan and beyond. This is a tireless little car and passenger ferry run by Highland Council. Set up for speed and convenience it runs fairly constantly for most of the day, taking about 5 minutes to cross. Impressive. 

Ardnamurchan Distillery logo

The road to Ardnamurchan point was quiet and scenic, with some beautiful views over the water. Ardnamurchan Distillery is worth a look. Its dancing Scotsman mascot comes from an old Punch cartoon.

Ardnamurchan Lighthouse and Foghorn

At the end of the road, Ardnamurchan Lighthouse sits on a headland, looking over the westernmost point of the British mainland. The Egyptian-style lighthouse is a real beauty, eclipsed from some angles by its fabulous bright red foghorn. There is a great book called The Foghorn’s Lament by Jennifer Lucy Allen that explains why foghorns are disappearing – it was a treat to see one in such magnificent condition.

Last leg of the journey was the ferry from Kilchoan on Ardnamurchan to the Isle of Mull. This takes 35 minutes and delivers you right into the centre of Tobermory, the main town. It’s a ‘turn up and go’ service that can’t be booked. We got lucky and turned up just in time to catch the last one.

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I❤️EK

I Heart EK by Anne Ward

I❤️EK is a tribute to East Kilbride, Scotland’s first new town. I worked there for a few years and admired it everyday from the top deck of a bus. It’s a surprisingly colourful place, with lots of green space and fantastic buildings.

Ladies toilet sign, East Kilbride

Some of the original details are still there, but they are increasingly being erased as buildings get upgraded, or demolished in some cases. This book features many of these modernist moments – original signs and lettering, colourful decoration – collected over the last 20 years.

Two yellow doors, East Kilbride

It took me a long time to finish this book, as I kept going back to take more photos. No regrets though – every time I would wander a little further and find another interesting scene. Some of these places have changed beyond recognition now, but it’s still a great place to wander and soak up the new town optimism.

Westwood Baptist Church, East Kilbride

An added bonus of taking these photos was having some of them used by Roddy Frame (one of EK’s famous musical sons) as a backdrop to his performance of High Land, Hard Rain at Glasgow Concert Hall in 2013. A dream come true for a teenage Aztec Camera fan.

I❤️EK is an A5 photobook containing 60 full colour photographs. It is fifth in a series of photobooks and costs £10 including UK P+P.

Buy now.

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A choppy trip to Arran

Crew In/Out Board on the M.V. Isle of Arran

First ferry trip of the year on the only operating Arran ferry (for now).

View from the M.V. Isle of Arran on the way to Brodick

Choppiest crossing I’ve ever experienced but it was full of rainbows.

Top deck of the M.V. Isle of Arran on the way from Ardrossan to Brodick

Quite, er, lively on the top deck. My face was salty and my hair was solid by the time we got to Brodick.

Tail of the M.V. Isle of Arran on the way from Ardrossan to Brodick

So many bright colours. Wouldn’t change it for the world!

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Irvine – to the beach

Gottries Road, Irvine

Following on from the first bits of Irvine, I walked from Puffers Cafe towards the coast, via the edge of the Scottish Maritime Museum. This whole area was regenerated in the 1990s with some substantial Georgian-style buildings.

Lost Child Wrist Bands Available Here, Irvine

Past Boyd’s Automatic Tide Signalling Apparatus, there is a cracking big beach. It was wet and windy, so I stuck to the beach park – a wide open area in between the beach and the town that feels like it’s waiting for the fair to arrive.

Crazy Golf, Irvine Beach Park

I watched a crowd of widgeon on the pond, caught a rare Pokemon, and walked around the crazy golf course.

Crazy Golf, Irvine Beach Park

The old, properly crazy golf courses seem to be disappearing or turning into ‘adventure’ golf, so I’m always happy to find a relic. There didn’t seem to be a way of playing without bringing your own clubs, but maybe it springs to life in the summer.

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Bits of Irvine

For attention press & hold

I went to Irvine to look for an owl. I heard there were some on the nature reserve beside the golf course.

Brick wall

I couldn’t find the nature reserve, or any owls, so I walked into town along the river.

Burst footballs

Irvine has a great mix of new town/old town/maritime/beach. And an old industrial site full of burst footballs.

Dirty boat, Irvine

The old boats looked striking in the winter light. This was near Puffers Cafe, one of my favourite places to sit and watch birds.

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Holy Isle

Holy Isle from Lamlash, Isle of Arran

Holy Isle is a small island in the Firth of Clyde, off the Isle of Arran – not to be confused with Holy Island in Northumberland. I have looked at it so many times from Lamlash and was determined to get there, even though it’s an epic journey by public transport of two trains, two ferries and a bus each way from Glasgow. In the end, it took almost a year for weather and tide times to align and I just caught the last sailing of the year.

Lamlash cruises boat at Holy Isle, Isle of Arran

The ferry is a small boat operated by Lamlash Cruises. Check their site for sailing times, these vary according to tides and other factors. The journey from Lamlash takes around 15 minutes and the view of Arran from the boat is worth the trip alone. Grant, the skipper, is very knowledgeable and gives visitors a good introduction to the island on arrival.

The Centre for World Peace and Health on Holy Isle, Isle of Arran

The whole island is owned by the same Buddhist community as Samye Ling. The main building is a monastery which is open for retreats but closed to day visitors, apart from the garden. There are only really two paths to take – a walk to the other end of the island either easily along the shore, or more strenuously over the top. It’s about 2 miles end-to-end and there’s a lot to take in along the way.

Buddist rock paintings on Holy Isle, Isle of Arran

Getting around is simple as there are no roads and barely any people. There are some Christian sites like the cave of St Molaise, sitting alongside brightly painted rocks featuring Buddhist deities, and populations of wild Eriskay ponies, Saanen goats and Soay sheep. It took me around 3 hours to amble to the lighthouse and back. It’s not far but there’s a lot to look at.

Holy Isle, Outer or Pillar Rock lighthouse, Holy Isle, Arran, Scotland

There are also two lighthouses on the island. The Inner lighthouse is on a private part of the island, and the Outer or Pillar Rock Lighthouse is at the end of the public path where you can sit and enjoy a good view of the Firth of Clyde.

How to get to Holy Isle on public transport

  • Train from Glasgow Central to Ardrossan (Scotrail)
  • Calmac ferry from Ardrossan to Brodick on the Isle of Arran
  • Local bus from Brodick to Lamlash (Stagecoach)
  • Lamlash Cruises ferry from Lamlash old pier to Holy Isle – this runs from Spring to Autumn at various times and usually needs to be booked in advance
  • There is a toilet on Holy Isle, but no other facilities so come prepared
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Dunoon and aroon

At the start of 2022, I planned to go to as many different islands on as many different ferries as I reasonably could. By September I felt like I was underachieving somewhat, so I went for three ferries in one day (no islands though), from Gourock to Dunoon (two ways) with a side-trip to Kilcreggan.

Old building on Dunoon's Pier

The first leg, Calmac’s passenger only Gourock-Dunoon ferry gets you to the heart of Dunoon in 25 minutes. Gourock ferry terminal is close to the station so it’s an easy day trip from Glasgow on public transport.

An old triangular metal sign showing attractions in Dunoon

Dunoon is a slightly forlorn former holiday resort. I used to go there on holiday in the 1980s and forever associate it with rainy bank holidays where everything is shut. This was a better day, and I enjoyed wandering about the pier and trailing around the charity shops.

Puffin Rock in Dunoon with a Western Ferries ferry in the background

Instead of going back the same way I walked along to Hunter’s Quay to catch the car ferry to McInroy’s Point in Gourock, passing Puffin Rock on the way. This used to be called Jim Crow (it was painted like a crow) and I remember it as the highlight of any visit to Dunoon. It has been reimagined and repainted as Puffin Rock now and is part of a small but impressive bunch of brightly painted erratic boulders around this part of Scotland.

Kilcreggan Ferry Terminal on the Rosneath Peninsula

After that I was back in Gourock early enough to nip over to Kilcreggan on the Rosneath Peninsula – the passenger-only ferry leaves from the same terminal as the Gourock-Dunoon passenger ferry. This is a short and sweet ride, only 13 minutes. There is a small row of shops at Kilcreggan and a cafe where you can sit and watch the water where there are cruise ships, nuclear submarines, seabirds and dolphins.