The first two western islands I ventured to on my trip around Scotland were the islands of Mull and Iona. My decision to go was following a conversation with a Glaswegian while sitting on a large rock beside Loch Lomond, staring at Rob Roy’s cave. I was lured by the sound of a picturesque place in the Inner Hebrides.
Isle of Mull
I spent one night in Oban, which is on the mainland, and managed to reserve a bed for the following night at the only hostel I could find on the Isle of Mull. The next morning, I went to the ferry terminal and bought a return ticket for the ferry journey over to the Isle of Mull.
The journey over was great and it only took about 40 minutes. It was a beautiful clear blue sky, so I stayed on deck and made the most of it.
Once on the Isle of Mull, a bus was waiting to collect passengers from the ferry terminal at Craignure to take them to Tobermory, which I found out is the main tourist hub on the island. It’s all very well organised. You don’t have to worry about missing the bus if the ferry is late because the bus waits for the ferry.
It took about 40 minutes to get to Tobermory, passing the small town of Salen on the way where there was a country show underway. Tobermory is one of those towns that has the instant ‘wow factor’ when you set eyes on it for the first time. All the colourful houses, close to the water’s edge, are very pretty and striking. It looks exactly the same as it does in the photos. Sometimes that isn’t the case, but Tobermory, was exactly what I had expected to see. It’s such a cute, quaint, little, fishing town.
Tobermory was originally founded in the 18th century as a fishing port. It’s the main town people visit these days and that was evident by the number of tourists and all the cafes, accommodation etc. that cater for their needs. One of the reasons why it is so well-known is because of a popular children’s TV show, Balamory, which was filmed there. I had never seen nor heard of it until people kept mentioning it to me and some even sang the theme tune to me. I’m not kidding; they did.
While you’re there, you can have a tour of the local whisky distillery. Well, when in Scotland… Unfortunately, the tour wasn’t on while I was there.
The hostel and tiny museum are both where all the colourful houses are located. The museum has lots of information about the Isles of Mull and Iona. It’s definitely worth taking a few minutes at least to wander around. Admission is free, but they rely on donations, so it’s great if you can leave a small donation.
There are a number of hikes you can do and other towns and villages you can get to by bus, but the bus service is infrequent and limited, so the easiest way to get around is by car. I didn’t stay long enough to really test out the bus system and I didn’t do any of the hikes while I was there. According to a regular to the island, a place called Eagle’s Point is supposed to be a good place to spot – you guessed it – sea eagles.
Isle of Iona
There’s only one hostel on the island and it was fully booked when I wanted to go. It was a shame because I would have loved to have stayed there. Instead, I went for a day trip from Tobermory because that was my only option. I took an early bus from Tobermory to Craignure. I had to wait a while for the next bus because it waits for the ferry from Oban. A day trip to Iona is popular with people staying in Oban. The ferry was late because of the weather. Yep, it was raining. Once the ferry arrived, we all got on the bus to Fionnphort, which is just across the water from Iona. The bus journey from Craignure to Fionnphort took about 1½ hours, which was longer than I had expected. The ferry across the Sound of Iona is a very short journey. It only takes about 10 minutes.
Iona is a spiritual place. In 563, a monk called Columba, who was exiled from Ireland, founded a monastery there. It’s hard to imagine that, at one time, this tiny island was the centre of Christianity for the whole of Great Britain and Ireland. That was before it was taken over by the Vikings, although it became an important spiritual centre once again when Scotland reclaimed it. So, there are lots of ancient religious buildings that remind us of that.
As you walk straight from the port, you will come to the first, which are the ruins of a nunnery, which was founded in the 13th century. It’s free to wander around and interesting to read the information as you do so to get a sense of what it must have been like all those years ago. After that, there is Maclean’s Cross where medieval pilgrims paused to pray before visiting Iona Abbey, which is the main reason tourists visit the island nowadays. Although it isn’t the biggest, it is one of the most elaborate and best-preserved Christian buildings from the Middle Ages, so I read.
I continued on past the abbey, heading north, along the road until I came across a gate with the hostel on my left. I walked through a field with sheep and cows. The sheep are the friendliest and the most chilled out I have come across on my travels so far. One came up to me and started rubbing it’s head on me. They weren’t the slightest bit scared.
There is definitely something about this island. Stepping off the ferry onto Iona, was like stepping into another world. It’s really close to the larger island of Mull, although it seems far more remote than that. It’s rugged, it oozes natural beauty, and is like a place where time has stood still. Having said that, the islanders are now allowed to have cars on the island.
I didn’t have to go far to get away from the other daytrippers. That’s when I felt it – relaxed and at peace. It’s hard to explain, but it’s just one of those places. When I reached the beach, it was a deserted. I had it all to myself. It certainly wasn’t bikini weather, but it had stopped raining for a while. The beach is very beautiful, with rocks of varying colours, as well as the array of colours from the blue sea, green seaweed, pink and grey rocks, brown rocks, and white sand. The sand is the whitest I had ever seen.
I really wanted to walk around the whole island, but it was far too muddy for that due to heavy rainfall. I definitely want go return to the island one day and stay there rather than just go for the day, so I can truly appreciate this incredibly beautiful and peaceful island.
Iona is a great place for those who want to get away from everything. If you love peace and quiet and relish time to yourself, this is the place to go. On a practical note, if you do want to stay, make sure you bring enough cash with you. There are no ATMs on the island, although there is a teeny, weeny post office where you can use your card to get cash out, providing the bank has an agreement to do so with the post office. It is only open Monday-Friday from 9-5pm, and closes for lunch between 1-2pm. An alternative is to get cashback at the Spar shop, but you have to spend a minimum of £10, or the restaurant/bar by the port, although they charge £2 for the privilege. There is an ATM in the Spar shop at Fionnphort port on the Isle of Mull, if you get really stuck.
You can get a 5 or 9 day return ticket from Obay to Craignure. It only cost me £9.50 for the ticket in 2014. The bus from Craignure to Tobermory was £10 return or £8 single, so a return is your cheapest option. To get to Iona from Craignure, the bus to Fionnphort was £14 return and the ferry from Fionnphort to the Isle of Iona was £5.50 return. Obviously, these prices are subject to change, but you can at least get an idea of the cost.
Have your say
Have you been to the Isle of Mull or Iona? If so, what did you think of it? If not, would you consider visiting?