Today I had a simple plan – to explore the small coastal roads on the west of Mull, before reaching the port of Fionnphort, from where I had booked a boat trip to Staffa Island, with its famous Fingal’s Cave.
I set off early, aiming to have about an hour free for a leisurely lunch before the boat trip started at 12.15. The coast road was pretty, very narrow, and very wild. I stopped several times to take photos.
There was very little traffic, but after an hour, I met a large 4×4 coming the other way and ducked into a passing place to let him past me. The driver stopped alongside me and told me that the road ahead was closed for roadworks, and would remain closed for over an hour, and that he had decided it would be quicker to turn around and try another route. He asked me where I was headed and raised his eyebrows when I told him Fionnphort – it was obviously no longer easy to get there. After a bit of thinking he advised a route through somewhere called Dervaig and reconnecting with the main road that skirted around the east of the island.
I considered my options quickly. If I carried on, I would probably be late for my boat – but I might have a chance if the roadworks were quicker than the man had said. On the other hand, I had no idea how long the new route would take – there was no phone connection and so no chance to judge the time on Google Maps. My car’s Satnav was also useless – it refused to consider any option other than the way I had been going. All the same, I decided to take a chance with the huge detour that had been recommended. After fifteen minutes I found the junction for Dervaig, and regained phone connection. Google estimated my ETA at Fionnphort as 12.20 – five minutes late, and the satnav had now also recalculated the route with an arrival time of 12.15. I might make it! I put my paw to the floor and hurtled along the tiny road leading through Dervaig, grimacing as the car wheels hit potholes or the bottom of the car scraped on the surface of the road.
Google and Satnav gave continuing feedback on my efforts by adjusting their arrival times; I was pleased that I was keeping up with their schedule and convinced that I could make up some time when the road got better. From the minor road through Dervaig I reached the main coastal road and then branched off into the mountains. The road cut through spectacular mountain scenery, but I was too busy driving to appreciate it, never mind stop to take photos. It started to rain hard, and I wondered if I really wanted to do the boat trip after all. Finally, the road left the mountains and ran along the south coast of the island. The traffic got heavier, and more and more often I was stuck behind slower vehicles or having to stop in passing spaces to let oncoming cars go past. Google’s ETA edged up – 12.21, 12.23, 12.24….
I stopped to call the tour operator and told them I would be about 10 minutes late. They were very relaxed and said they would wait for me. The very last stretch of road was even busier, with roadworks being the next hazard to be overcome. I finally arrived at Fionnphort at 12.34 – 20 minutes late. I grabbed the parking space closest to the jetty (normally reserved for buses), decided not to waste time buying a parking ticket, and ran to find the captain of our boat waiting patiently for me, and a large group of more agitated tourists. I gasped some apologies and jumped aboard, hiding in the cabin to conceal my embarrassment whilst the other tourists enjoyed the fresh air on deck.
Fortunately, the weather had turned sunny and soon everyone was in a good mood again. First, the boat met with a group of seals sunning themselves on a rock………..
……before reaching spectacular Staffa Island after 30 minutes’ sailing, with its dark basalt rocks rising vertically from the sea. There is a legend that hexagonal blocks that make up the island were laid by a giant, who built a bridge between Ireland and Scotland that also included Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland. In reality the hexagonal blocks in both places are the result of molten lava cooling after the same huge volcanic eruption 60 million years ago.
The boat positioned itself so that we could see the famous Fingal’s Cave, where the sea has eroded the blocks to form a spectacular cavern.
Next, the boat moored on the island and the captain gave us an hour to look around. I headed straight to the cave, beating the rush of the other passengers and taking more photos.
After that, I headed off to visit the puffin breeding colony on the other side of the island. When I arrived, the puffins were all bobbing up and down on the surface of the sea, far below the cliffs where expectant tourists were waiting. I sat and waited, admiring the beautiful views and enjoying the warm sun.
Eventually my patience was rewarded, as the birds started to fly back to their nesting grounds. They avoided people, but since I was small, they didn’t seem to be afraid of me, so I could get a really close look.
Finally, it was time to go. I took a few more photos of the beautiful patterns of the rock that makes up the island, and then boarded the boat.
Whilst sailing back we got an unexpected treat when a school of dolphins decided to swim with us.
The tour ended at Iona, a small island just opposite Fionnphort. At the harbour I was met by a fisherman whom I had called the day before to order fresh lobster and crab. He showed me two live medium sized lobsters and two very large live crabs, which he then placed in a container for me to pick up when I was ready to leave the island.
Iona is famous as the place were St Columba landed in Scotland in AD 563. He set up a monastery that became the base from which Scotland was converted to Christianity. The abbey was destroyed by Vikings and rebuilt, only to fall into ruin after the Scottish Reformation in the 16th Century. It was rebuilt again in 1938.
Iona is supposed to have a special, spiritual feel and to be a great place for exploring on foot. But I was tired after all the excitement of the boat excursion and hungry, having missed my lunch. I bought a couple scones and ate them admiring the restored abbey, before picking up my seafood and taking the short ferry ride back to Fionnphort. I was relieved that my car had not received a parking ticket, and slowly drove back to Tobermory.
Fresh lobster for dinner, then I collapsed into bed, exhausted.