Field Guide: Mull, Scotland

With spectacular sunsets, towering peaks, enchanting ruined castles, majestic waterfalls and pristine beaches, Mull is the Scottish island that has a bit of everything.

19th April 2024 | Words and Pictures by Aila Taylor

With towering peaks, enchanting ruined castles, majestic waterfalls and pristine beaches, Mull is the island that has a bit of everything. Despite only being a 1-hour ferry ride away from the mainland town of Oban, it is visited less frequently than many of its island neighbours and deserves greater recognition. Known by nature-lovers as a wildlife haven, the island thrums with the beat of eagle wings, chirp of otters and splash of dolphins. Both the remote beaches along Mull’s coastline, and the hidden glens in its hills, provide a vivid sense of wilderness.

The A’Chioch ridge on Ben More.

Highlights for the historian include the watchful stronghold of Duart Castle, the seat of the Clan MacLean, and the many ancient heritage sites situated around the village of Lochbuie in the south. For the outdoor enthusiast, a scramble up the A’ Chioch ridge on Ben More is a splendid day out with sweeping views across the Atlantic. Even on rainy days, Mull provides great entertainment in the rainbow town of Tobermory, which includes the Mull Museum, the Tobermory Distillery, the Isle of Mull cheese shop and live music at the Mishnish. Whether by day or by night, in rain or in sun, Mull is always vibrant and bursting with life.

What to do


Towering between Loch Scridain and Lock na Keal, Beinn Mhòr (Ben More) is Mull's highest mountain and only Munro (Scottish peak over 3,000ft). Despite being a fairly small Munro at 966m (3,169ft) tall, it is a commendable hike due to starting at sea level and the summit often feels like the top of the world. This feeling is heightened by the frequency of cloud inversions on Beinn Mhòr, which occur often due to the steep increase in ascent and proximity to the sea (which cools the air next to it, resulting in a temperature inversion). Furthermore, Beinn Mhòr is the highest mountain in the Hebrides outside of Skye, and was Britain's last active volcano – though it is some 60 million years since it last blew its top.

The easiest route up Beinn Mhòr follows a path from the shores of Loch na Keal, but this can be extended to include the A’ Chioch ridge. Following the ridge is a fun and adventurous route up. Although only a Grade 1 scramble, the crest is exposed so it can feel more challenging. The A’ Chioch extension can also include Beinn Fhada (a Graham at 702m/2,303ft) for an additional summit. However, beware that compasses don't work on Beinn Mhòr, due to high levels of magnetism in the rocks.

Dùn da Ghaoithe (the second highest mountain on Mull) viewed from Duart Point

The second highest mountain on Mull, Dùn da Ghaoithe, sits on the east coast of the island and its silhouette is clearly visible from the mainland. It is the island’s only Corbett, at 766m/2,513ft), and has a lovely broad ridgeline.

Other Walks

For a nature-filled day to a geological wonder that has stood the test of time, the trip to the Carsaig Arches and back is a full-day affair. Guarding Mull’s south coast, one arch provides a window to the isles of Colonsay, Islay and Jura across the sea. The second is longer, deeper, darker and reminiscent of a cave. Made of columnar basalt, both arches are home to a variety of birds including guillemots and shags. Golden eagles often visit the coastline in a flash of amber, while seals play in the sea below.

The Carsaig Arches.

The path to the arches follows the coastline from Carsaig pier, scrambling over sea-smoothed rocks and weaving through tick-infested grasses (as I learnt from experience, wearing shorts is a huge mistake here). It passes Nun’s Cave, a gaping mouth in the cliff whose walls are marked by early medieval crosses, and whose floor now provides a bed for wild goats. To clamber through the arches and experience them fully, it is best to time your arrival at the arches with low tide.

Another adventurous coastal walk is from Tirorach on the Ardmeanach peninsula to the Fossil Tree. This is a standing fossil of a conifer tree over 12 metres high, which was engulfed in molten lava over 50 million years ago. Petrified, preserved and frozen in time, the tree is encased by hexagonal basalt columns. The hike to the tree is itself an invigorating quest, following an undulating coastline decorated with dark sea caves and shimmering waterfalls. At one point, the cliff must be descended via a rusty old ladder, and the last section to the tree is a slippery, seaweed-covered scramble over boulders, only possible around low tide. As with the Carsaig Arches, timing is crucial.

The route along the coast to the Fossil Tree.

Heritage Sites

In the south of Mull, the small village of Lochbuie provides an historical feast. Situated at the head of a sweeping sea loch, it boasts several historic monuments, including a stone circle, further standing stones, a prehistoric cairn, and Moy Castle. In the shadow of Ben Buie, nine granite slabs gathered in a ring, weathered and lichen-splattered, are a testimony to Mull’s ancient past. At three stories high Moy Castle, now a ruin, has overlooked the beach since it was built in the 14th century when it served as the seat of Clan Maclaine of Lochbuie. Beyond the castle lies Caibeal Mheamhair, a medieval chapel rebuilt as a mausoleum in the 19th century and a small dùn (hill fort).

There are many other castles across Mull, a true highlight being Duart Castle which heralds ferries from Oban and guards the entrance to the Sound of Mull. Dating back to the 13th century, the castle is the seat of the Clan MacLean and is open to visitors, providing insight into the clan’s vibrant history. While extensive restoration and preservation works have been undertaken to protect Duart Castle, other castles on the island have not been so lucky. Dun Ara and Aros castles have both been left to ruin and are now in considerably dilapidated states. Nevertheless, they are worth a visit for an enriched insight into Mull’s past.

Other Adventures

Although Mull is especially well-known for its hiking and wildlife-spotting, it is a great location for many other outdoor pursuits. Outlined by white-sand beaches, with lots of opportunities for wild camping, Mull is an ideal destination for both single-day and multi-day sea kayaking trips and kayaks can be hired on the island. Sheltered bays, such as Calgary Bay, Loch na Keal, Loch Buie and Loch Scridain are excellent locations for paddle boarding. Furthermore, many of the small islands surrounding Mull (see below) are only a short paddle away, making for an excellent lunch-stop or day trip.

Paddleboarding at sunset.

The real draw for the climbing scene on Mull is its variety, with an impressive range of rock types found on just one island. This includes dolerite, gabbro, gneiss, granite, and to a lesser degree limestone and schist. For gneiss crags it is worth a visit to the neighbouring isle of Iona, and lots of granite is found on the isle of Erraid, just off the Ross of Mull. Most of the climbing on Mull and nearby islands consists of fairly short single-pitch routes, so it may not be the best destination for those in search of big multi-pitch climbs. Loch Buie is the most popular site for bouldering, but Gribbun near Loch na Keal and Fionnphort also have some good problems.

While canyoning has recently taken off in Scotland, there is only one good bolted route on Mull, on the north side of Ben More. However, this esoteric canyon is an incredible day out, with varied character and crystal-clear pools that rival the famed Fairy Pools on Skye. The canyon includes daring jumps (the highest of which is 12 metres) and two hidden slot sections.

The largest town on Mull is Tobermory, with a rainbow-coloured sea front and deep blue harbour. It includes a variety of excellent visitor attractions, including the Mull Museum (which is free), the Tobermory Whisky Distillery, and the Isle of Mull Cheese Shop. Mull Aquarium, the first catch-and-release aquarium in Europe, provides an informative introduction to local sea life.

The rainbow-hued harbour town of Tobermory.

Flora and Fauna

Despite facing considerable challenges such as hunting, deforestation and the climate crisis, Mull is home to a diverse array of wildlife. Some of the below species have managed to survive on their own; others such as the white-tailed sea eagle have been reintroduced. Both foxes and wildcats were hunted to extinction on the island, and have not yet been able to return.


A flash of white in winter, and an auburn streak in summer, the swift mountain hare with its colour-changing coat can be found in the upland areas of Mull. Pine martens are most commonly found on the east coast of the island, though they are not native to the island and are a fairly recent addition. Although Mull used to be a stronghold for the extremely rare polecat, they have diminished in number and sightings are more infrequent.

When walking in long grass, it is not uncommon to spot the black zigzag of an adder slithering along, or sometimes sunbathing on an exposed rock. On one memorable walk from Glen More to Loch Buie, I spotted twelve adders in ten minutes. It’s a good idea to make loud noises when walking off the path on Mull so that adders are aware of your presence, and to wear boots that protect your ankles.

Despite the majority of trees on Mull being part of forestry plantations, fragments of rainforest cling on. In fact, these fragments make up the largest amount of native woodland remaining in the Hebrides. At Ardura near Loch Spelve, a good example of this woodland can be found including oak, birch, ash, hazel and alder. The oak woodland at Loch Ba is also an excellent visit, for more ancient and less exploited woodland compared to many of the others on Mull. Millennium Wood, near Duart Castle, is a very new woodland having only been planted in the year 2000. However, it is well worth a visit for anyone in the area, and includes information posts on the different types of woodland native to Mull along with living examples.

Golden Eagle in flight in Mull, Scotland.

Credit: Chris


Above the mountains, glens and forests of Mull, are lively skies frequented by many rare birds. Mull boasts the highest density of nesting golden eagles in Europe. After white-tailed eagles were successfully reintroduced to the Isle of Rùm in 1975, the first successful breeding occurred in Mull ten years later. Since then, the white-tailed eagles have remained fond of Mull and several pairs nest on the island. Due to their rarity, persecution and giant wingspan resulting in impressive visual displays, the eagles understandably attract the most attention from visitors to the island.

However, neighbouring islands have their own unique ornithological attractions. Though small, the Isle of Iona is a stronghold for one of Britain’s most endangered birds, the corncrake. Corncrakes are rare and like to hide in tall reeds, so their call can often be heard before they are seen. The Treshnish Isles and the Isle of Staffa, both of which can be visited in a day trip from Mull, are home to puffins during their breeding season for around 4 months each year.

Boats moored off the island of Iona.


The sea surrounding Mull is just as colourful as the skies above it. Otters are common along the coastline, but as fairly shy animals it is best to go to more secluded stretches (such as the Ardmeanach peninsula) to increase chances of a sighting. Seals are more inquisitive, and will often follow a paddle board or kayak in the sea. Sometimes huge blooms of moon jellyfish appear in the sea and are washed ashore by the tide. They don’t sting humans and their purple discs are mesmerising to watch, though it can be challenging to pass through a very dense bloom. However, the lion’s mane jellyfish is one to watch out for. Frequently found in the waters around Mull, it is the largest known species of jellyfish with a nasty sting and tentacles that can be up to 3 metres long. A deep crimson colour, the lion’s mane is beautiful to see from a distance, and can often be viewed from boats.

Larger marine mammals found in the seas around Mull include the common dolphin, white-sided dolphin, minke whale, orca and basking sharks. Sightings are especially common in the Sound of Mull; both dolphins and harbour porpoises swim with the many CalMac ferries that sail through here.

At low tide the true colours of the ocean are revealed. Anemones hide between black rocks in splatters of glistening red, and vibrant green gutweed (also known as sea lettuce, a tasty snack to forage) stretching out of rock pools and sprawling over exposed boulders. The water around Mull is a rich and crucial part of the island’s heritage and wildlife, and should not be overlooked.

Where to stay

Due to the right to roam in Scotland, camping is legal on unenclosed land (which is most of the island) on Mull. For greater solitude, try camping away from the paths, on lesser visited peninsulas, obscure bays and in the hills. These places can easily be found on an OS map and it is best not to share their locations publicly in order to protect them. For those that prefer more amenities, free camping is allowed at some sites on Mull with access to drinking water and public toilets. Calgary Bay is one such location. A sheltered cove with white sand and turquoise waters, it is perfect for swimming or paddleboarding and there are even climbing routes on the basalt crags. It is extremely popular with tourists in summer, so please act responsibly and follow the principles of ‘leave no trace’. At both Uisken and Loch Buie, amenities are also available for a modest fee of £5, with glorious views across the sea to the south of Mull. There are also plenty of proper campsites with additional amenities such as showers for those that like a bit more luxury.

Camping at Uisken beach.

Tomsleibhe is the only bothy on Mull, with two fireplaces, three rooms and a porch. It sits at the foot of Beinn Talaidh, the highest of all the Scottish Grahams, which provides excellent views across the Sound of Mull towards Morvern. The easiest way to reach the bothy is by following a forestry track up Glen Forsa. The river that flows near the bothy not only provides drinking water, but also the perfect opportunity for a wild Scottish bath in its crystal pools.

Meanwhile, there are hostels at Craignure, Tobermory and Dervaig – all on different parts of the island – and plenty of bed and breakfasts.

Where to eat and drink

Despite being a relatively small island, Mull has a wonderful range of places to eat. The Mishnish in Tobermory is an iconic bar with live music that provides classic pub food. Its associated seafood restaurant, the Mishdish, produces dishes made from locally caught seafood. Also in Tobermory is Mull’s only Indian restaurant, the Spice of Mull.

A perfect stop before or after the ferry is the Craignure Inn. Packed full of character, this 18th century inn is one of just a few remaining from the extensive network of drovers’ inns across Mull, which assisted in transporting sheep across the island. With pub grub, a roaring fire, and a good selection of beers and spirits, the inn has all the key features of a classic Hebridean pub.

Earlier in the day, Mull’s unique range of cafes provide excellent stops for breakfast and lunch. The tearoom at Duart Castle is popular for its home baked goods, as is the Old Post Office at Loch Buie.

At Salen, situated on the main road between Craignure and Tobermory, there are two wonderful small cafes. The Coffee Pot has excellent coffee and a truly astonishing array of cakes, biscuits and baked goods. Just across the road, the Little Bespoke Bakery is locally famous for its fantastic brunches, especially its fluffy pancakes.

Isle of Mull Cheese also has its own farm shop and cafe at the Glass Barn, with a fantastic cheese-themed menu and sweeping views across the Hebridean countryside.

Nearby Islands


The island of Staffa, meaning ‘stave or pillar’ island, was named so by the Vikings after its distinctive pillars of columnar basalt. It is popular not only for its puffins (as mentioned previously), but also for Fingal’s Cave. The sea cave is wholly formed from hexagonal basalt columns, reminiscent of the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. It is no surprise that the cave inspired so many Romantic poets, since the waves echoing in the trembling darkness instill both fear and awe at the same time.

Treshnish Isles

The Treshnish Isles are an archipelago of islands and skerries, with 8 main uninhabited islands, situated to the west of Mull. Day trips from Mull primarily go to Lunga, the largest island, which is a fascinating place for both its history and wildlife. There is evidence of human occupation as early as the Iron Age in the form of multiple dùns across the isles. Unfortunately, the last inhabitants left in the first half of the 19th century, the population having been decimated by a combination of potato famine, the collapse of the kelp industry, and the Highland Clearances. Now, all that is left of their presence is a cluster of ruined stone cottages reclaimed by the unkempt grass.


The isle of Ulva is extremely close to Mull with only a narrow strait between the two, and a small local ferry service carries out the crossing. The island has been inhabited since the Mesolithic period, and although it had a population of over 800 at its height, that had diminished to only 5 by 2019. As with the Treshnish Isles, both the Highland Clearances and the collapse of the kelp industry had a severe detrimental impact on the island’s residents. The east of the island includes diverse broadleaf woodland, which provides a wildlife haven beneath the green canopy. The island’s only cafe, the Boathouse, is situated next to the pier where the ferry lands, providing fresh seafood and homemade cakes.

A glimpse inside ancient Iona Abbey.


The most famous of Mull’s neighbouring islands is undoubtedly Iona, which is well known for Iona Abbey. The abbey was a key centre of Gaelic monasticism for hundreds of years. Since being home to Saint Columba in the 6th century, the island has endured Viking invasions, famines, and the Highland Clearances. A visit to the abbey is a must, and the walk to it along the main road will pass colourful shops selling local art and hand-made goods. The pristine beaches on the north of the island are an excellent escape from the crowds at the abbey, as is the summit of Dùn I, the highest point on the island at 101 metres above sea level. Though small in height, it provides wonderful views across the island and back towards Mull.

How to get there

There is no bridge across to Mull from mainland Scotland, so the only way to get to it is by ferry. Three ferry routes connect Mull with the mainland. The most accessible route, with the largest boats and most frequent crossings, is the Oban–Craignure ferry. The second two ferries, Kilchoan–Tobermory and Lochaline–Fishnish, are much smaller with limited space. Although the crossings for the latter two are shorter, it takes a lot longer to get to the ports. Oban is the only port accessible via public transport, and the train station is right next to the ferry terminal.

A ferry sailing through the Sound of Mull.

The easiest and most efficient method of travelling around Mull is by car. Public transport on the island is very limited, costly and time-consuming. There is a bus that connects the main ferry terminal (Craignure) to Tobermory and Iona, but it does not run very frequently and tickets are expensive. Furthermore, the bus does not go to many of the attractions and hikes in this guide.

Cycling can be a wonderful way to see the island, as long as you carry a good repair kit, don’t mind cycling up hills, and are comfortable cycling in all weathers! The weather on Mull can change rapidly due to its coastal location and steep terrain. It is not unusual to be basking in warm sunshine one moment and being battered by torrential rain the next.

An alternative form of transport on Mull is hitchhiking. Due to the strong community spirit in the islands, people are far more willing to help each other out and it is therefore much easier to hitchhike. However, due to the infrequency of traffic it isn’t a fast form of transport and is unsuitable for anyone in a hurry. It’s usually best to stick to the main roads running through the island, and to keep an eye on ferry times, because there is usually a spurt of traffic before and after these. But for those that have the time, it can be a very fun, rewarding and free form of transport.

When to go

Like many parts of northern Britain, the best time to visit Mull is from late spring to early autumn. Summer has the best chances of good weather, but spring and autumn are a lot quieter as they are on the periphery of the main ‘season’. The tourism industry is a large source of jobs and income on Mull, and its population significantly increases for the holiday season.

In autumn, the rainy days become longer, heavier and more frequent. However, autumn can also be a very peaceful and beautiful time to visit. The limited remaining patches of deciduous woodland on the island transform into a golden canopy, while the forest floor is littered with colourful and bizarre-looking fungi.

Winter brings frequent storms and dark days. Due to its northerly location, the days are very short, although on a rare clear night it is possible to see the aurora borealis. Keep in mind that the ferry times are less frequent in winter and cancelled more often due to high winds.

Aila (formerly Anna) Taylor is an outdoor writer and mountain activist. She has previously published in the Guardian, The Independent, Vice and i-D magazines, amongst others. As an avid caver, hiker and cold-water swimmer, Aila is passionate about improving accessibility to the outdoors in addition to spreading awareness about the threats currently facing mountain regions.

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