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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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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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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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The last of Islay

Claire from Lussa Gin gave us a tip-off about the Islay Woollen Mill, which is just off the main road to Port Askaig.

Started in 1883 and still going strong, the mill supplies high-end tailors in Savile Row and further afield.

It is most famous for weaving the tweed used in Braveheart and other big name Hollywood productions. Their fabrics are produced on two traditional Dobcross looms and shipped all over the world.

The vibe inside is distinctly down-to-earth – an old building with lots of character filled with old looms, yarn cones, rolls of fabric and weaving paraphernalia, all higgledy-piggledy.

Lucky visitors can get an impromptu tour from the owners and try out the big scissors.

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The Library in the Forest

Eas Mor Library on the Isle of Arran

This is Eas Mor Library on the isle of Arran. It’s a little log cabin in a forest beside a waterfall.

Eas Mor Library interior, Isle of Arran, Scotland

The library is filled with books and messages left by visitors over the years.

There are drawings, messages and all kinds of wisdom, from inspirational quotes to ‘We saw a jellyfish’.

Eas Mor Library, Isle of Arran, Scotland - Drink vodka

It was created by Eas Mor Ecology who are working hard to enhance the beautiful area around the Eas Mor waterfall.

The path to Eas Mor Library, Isle of Arran, Scotland

It’s a steep (but fairly short) hike to the top on well-kept paths. There’s a circular route, which is also a steep hike down in places, depending on which route you take.

Eas Mor is 1-2 miles from Kildonan in the south of Arran. There is a car park and a bus stop near the entrance just off the A841. A cafe is planned for the summer.

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A Day on Jura: part 2 – Something To See Here

Knockrome Library, Isle of Jura

Following on from A Day on Jura: part 1 – Nothing To See Here. Once you’re out of Craighouse (the main town on Jura) there’s virtually nothing there, and what is there is often out of bounds.

Barnhill, where George Orwell wrote 1984 is beyond the end of the public road, as is Corryvreckan, the third largest whirlpool in the world. Jura is covered in private estates, so we couldn’t see where the KLF burnt a million quid (YouTube) either. Ah well!

Lussa Gin, Ardlussa, Jura

At the end of the road we did find Lussa Gin, a gin distillery run by three local women. Claire, who kindly gave us a tour first came to Jura with the KLF. There’s not much work for women on Jura, so three friends started Lussa Gin.

Locally grown botanicals for Lussa Gin

The botanicals are all grown locally (right outside the door!) and it tastes gorgeous.

Tea on the Beach sign, Inverlussa, Isle of Jura

Claire recommended Tea on the Beach at Inverlussa.

Tea on the Beach, Ardlussa, Isle of Jura

It’s a horse box converted into a tea room with a selection of freshly-made cakes and an honesty box, run by local school kids. A lovely place to stop before the ferry back to Islay.

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A Day on Jura – part 1: Nothing To See Here

The main road on the isle of Jura

This the main road on Jura that runs from the west coast to Ardlussa on the east. There isn’t a lot to see, but the wilderness is part of its charm. George Orwell wrote 1984 here, calling it an ‘un-gettable’ place.

The Paps of Jura

What you can’t miss is ‘the Paps’ of Jura. These three mountains are visible for miles around, and make the island’s skyline easy to identify from any direction. Even though they are omnipresent, they are also strangely out of reach.

Red deer at Ardlussa, Isle of Jura

Jura is also famous for having more deer than people (around 7,000 deer v 200 people), so there’s always that.

The Islay-Jura ferry

To get there, there is a car ferry from Port Askaig on Islay to Feolin (a 5-10 minute crossing) or the Jura passenger ferry that runs from Tayvallich on the mainland to Craighouse, the main town on Jura.