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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.