Our Tour Leader Nick continues to share his experience on our Isle of Mull 4 day tour in July 2020. If you missed Day 1 & 2 you can find them here.
Day 3 – Iona & Staffa
Earlier start this morning. We’re heading to the southwest point of Mull over to Fionnphort. Here we will take the 10-minute ferry crossing to the sacred Christian Island of Iona. Then the 40min boat trip to Staffa awaits.
There’s light rain in Tobermory, which isn’t unusual in the morning, but the forecast for Iona is mainly sunny. We’re away sharp at 8.45am, it takes around 2hrs to get to Fionnphort, allowing for a bathroom break. One of the main planning considerations for a Tour Leader!
The ferry isn’t for a while but I want to get ahead of the potentially slow Ferry traffic at Craignure. We should be there with 30mins or so to spare. The group will have time to head down to the beach; taking in the beautiful views over the water to Iona.
On the way I talk about Tobermory history as well as The MacDonald Lord of the Isles. They operated as a semi-autonomous power after the Norse stranglehold on the western seaboard of Scotland was broken at the Largs in 1263. It’s a relatively new story to tell for me so I’m still tweaking and adding to it. I had spent some of lockdown working on this and other new stories. It’s good to keep things fresh.
When we come through the village of Bunessen I talk about one of its residents, Mary MacDonald. She wrote the original melody for the hymn ‘Morning has Broken’. I play them the well know Cat Stevens version.
From here it’s only around 10mins to Fionnphort. As we get close to Iona I put on Mendelssohn’s ‘Hebridean Overture’ which was inspired by the acoustics in Fingals Cave during his visit to Staffa. To the credit of the eldest son on tour, he recognises it!
I’m pleased for the group, the weather is nice and sunny as forecast, so it’s perfect for their Staffa trip. It’s a cliché but it really is a once in a lifetime experience and when you get good weather it makes it unforgettable.
Onto Iona now, we’ve got just over an hour before the Staffa trip departs, which as the Abbey itself isn’t open is a good timeframe for a familiarisation. There’s a couple of places open for coffee/food which is great but we’ve all brought a picnic lunch so we head for a photo of Iona Abbey.
On the way there we walk through the remains of the Augustine Nunnery. Relig Odhrain graveyard is open which is a pleasant surprise. It’s believed over 50 Kings of Scotland, Norway and Ireland are buried here, including it’s said, MacBeth. So too in it’s grounds is the oldest surviving building on the Iona, St.Orans chapel dating from around 1150.
Iona Abbey is just next door and although it’s not officially re-opened yet due to COVID a kind employee of a Historical Environment Scotland says we’re welcome to go into and around most of the Abbey and complex so long as social distancing is maintained. Really pleased!
Back to the pier and Staffa boat trips arrive over the turquoise waters. I put up a tea-towel of an idyllic looking Martyrs Bay with Iona Abbey in the background on the tour bus; the first thing the group said was “I bet it doesn’t look like that in real life!”
Crunch! Crunch!…that’s the sound of them eating their words! Ha!
They’re off on their trip now and will be back in around 2 and a half hours. I head off to explore some of the Island I’d not managed to get to on previous trips including the White Strand of the Monks and St.Columba’s Bay!
15.00 comes around quickly and they arrive back full of smiles having got up close and personal with the cute Puffins they’re ready for a cuppa at The Argyll hotel. We then head back on the short crossing to Fionnphort. On the way back I take them on my favourite road on Mull – The Gruline Road.
It’s takes a little longer and the road a bit more bumpy, tight and twisty, but it’s well worth the effort and a nice loop for the group. The views over Loch na Keal to Ulva, Inch Kenneth and The Dutchman’s cap of the Tresnish Island are something else. This is also one of the best places on the Island to see White-tailed Sea Eagles and at incoming tide, with a keen eye – Otters.
We drive past the aptly named ‘Tragedy Rock’ whose story about the fate of a Honeymooning couple in the 1700s is every bit as sad as it sounds. You can probably guess what happened by the photo.
In keeping with this sombre theme I tell them about The infamous Mitford family of Inch Kenneth. The Mitfords were divided by their allegiances to fascism and communism; the disturbing tale of how Unity Mitford came to be infatuated with Adolf Hitler before her untimely death at a young age is certainly not one you hear every day. Safe to say this one raised a few eyebrows.
After a couple of stops to stretch the legs and take in the views from outside the bus we arrive back into Tobermory around 18.30. It’s pretty lively and the group are off somewhere different for dinner tonight.
Day 4 – Glencoe, Killin & Glasgow
Away for 9.15am we make the short drive to Fishnish. It’s a 20minute ferry over to Lochaline on the Morvern peninsula. From there a scenic drive to Ardgour where we’ll take one of the shortest ferry crossings in Scotland. An entire 3 minutes!
The rain is back on unfortunately but it’s not as bad the first day and we’re by and large inside the bus till we reach Glencoe for lunch. The great thing about taking lunch here is that it’s such an atmospheric place and there’s good options for both rain and shine.
A pub lunch isn’t so appealing now the weather has brightened. Instead we opt to grab some sandwiches to enjoy outdoors. I park in Glencoe village and point out the walk to the always lovely Glencoe Lochan, where they can eat lunch before talking a short stroll to the Massacre of Glencoe monument.
I’ve already told them the story of the massacre coming off the Corran Ferry. Even over 300 years and after hundreds of times of telling this tale, the brutality and manner of betrayal still shocks me when the words come out of my mouth…
Back on the bus and we make a stop at the famous Three Sisters of Glencoe. Again to my surprise it’s only Mum who is a Harry Potter fan; although I suspect the middle son is holding out on me. When I talk about the three sisters being in several of the films as backdrop scenery, he’s nodding at things he shouldn’t know being a non Potter fan! That’s him good and rumbled, ha!
We’ve been talking about James Bond and how their Grandfather was a huge fan so the conversation naturally turns towards Skyfall. During the film a couple of famous scenes were filmed on and off the A82; although in the film it’s supposedly the A9. Now known as ‘Skyfall Road’ we stop for a photo nearby.
Sleepy time on the bus and we’re an hour down the road to Killin and the spectacular Falls of Dochart. Such a lovely little village and great for a wee pit-stop. There’s a bit of sun about so we take our time. The group grab a coffee for the 45min journey to Doune Castle.
On the way I tell them about the legendary Rob Roy MacGregor the Trossachs most famous/infamous son. He was born at the head of Loch Katrine. His grave is within the graveyard of the little settlement of Balquidder nearby. Jacobite, Folk hero, Cattle thief, Outlaw, Extortionist, he certainly had a interesting life!
It’s not long before we reach Doune Castle for a photo stop – It’s one of the best examples of an intact medieval castle in Scotland and that’s not escaped the attention of the Film & TV makers – Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Outlander & Game of thrones amongst others have seen filming here.
And from Doune in a little over 45mins we’re back where we started in Glasgow. Great trip, lovely people and Scotland hasn’t lost its beauty or charm after lockdown.
Can’t wait to get back to Mull again!