When planning my route around the UK the idea was simple: to stick to the coast as far as possible, and not to spend time in places I had been to before. I have gone where I have been advised or inspired to go. I have missed a few windswept promontories and, I am sure, some places of interest too. But I don't have limitless time or resources. I decided to miss the Outer Hebrides, for the reasons above, and I only fleetingly visited Mull, for the same reason and because I wanted to see the island of Staffa, and Fingal's Cave. Staffa is a small unhabited island 45 minutes by boat from Fionnphort on the west of Mull.
I got the last ferry from Lochaline to Fishnish (Mull) at 6pm – it's only a 15 minute crossing – and headed west. The road is good as far as Craigmure, where the bigger ferries come and go, then soon becomes STWPP (single track with parking places). There are narrow parts with overhanging vegetation, homely with oak trees, but the main part of the journey was through wide open green spaces, past hills disappearing into cloud. It didn't rain much, but the evening was wet and overcast. Some hills are vast - Ben More, a Munro at 966m high - and when I got to Loch Scridan I thought I had got to the sea. There are isolated crofts and some smart-looking Victorian stone holiday homes and several B&Bs, but Mull is sparsely populated.
It was 8pm before I got to Fionnphort. After what I had come through this seemed quite a metropolis; the carpark was full and two or three restaurants were doing a good trade. What on earth were these people doing down here, and had they come the same route as me? Yes, they probably had, and maybe they were camping nearby and were also going to visit Staffa and Iona (just across the water from Fionnphort).
I parked where the ferries come in, went for a little walk and then cooked my supper. The wind was blowing hard from the west, the sea metal grey, and a few boats were bobbing about in the bay, straining on their anchors, hopping left and right. A few rays of sunlight hit the soft pink rocks on the far side of the bay, but it felt pretty bleak. I even considered filling my hotwater bottle! (No, it's July! and out of the wind it wasn't really cold.)
The next morning the sun was shining and the sea was blue. I moved Baa to the free carpark and joined the queue for the Staffa Tour.
Staffa is an extraordinary natural wonder; it is built of hexagonal basalt columns. And the cave, Fingal's Cave, is an amazing sight - and sound - with those columns rising around its entrance. The experience was just slightly marred for me because realised I am not as brave as I used to be, and I felt quite twitchy scrambling round to the cave in a strong wind with just a little rail to hang onto.
Felix Mendelssohn held his nerve, and wouldn't even have had a rail when he went there in 1829.
It was listening to the sound of the sea rushing
in and out of the cave that inspired him to write his Hebrides
Overture. It is pretty special and well worth visiting – and the rail is
a sturdy one. The rest of the island is good for a walk and puffins.
I stopped for an hour on Iona to see the Abbey and the Nunnery on the way back to Fionnphort, and then headed back to the Fishnish ferry. It was sunny, and the journey took no time at all.