A weekend on Mull
On Friday morning of the 18th April 2003 Cath and I set out across country towards Oban, one of the main ferry ports in the West of Scotland. We had booked 3 nights in a Tobermory hotel on Mull, an island we had not previously visited. This was not planned as a 'neolithic' trip, just a chance to look round somewhere we had not been to before. However, studying the maps showed that there are a lot of easily accessible sites close by the various little roads around the island (almost exclusively single-track) and so I had high hopes of visiting a few. Cath is pretty tolerant of my obsessions, as long as she's not expected to trail for miles - she'll happily sit in the car and read as I charge about the landscape! The weather was glorious, and the forecast for the whole weekend was good.
Scallastle - looking NW - remains of a row?
The crossing takes around 45 minutes from Oban to Craignure, and on disembarking from CalMac's 'Isle of Mull' we set off on what is just about the only stretch of twin-track road north towards Salen. To the west of the road at a farm called Scallastle I made my first stop, asking permission to visit the site. This was happily granted despite lambing ewes in the field, and I had a good look at this strange little clump - one upright, a recumbent, and several stones which appeared to be kerbs around the base of a small mound. An interesting little site. Then it was on up the road to Salen, where the road becomes single-track, and up towards Tobermory. Just outside the largest town on the island is the site called Balliscate, which consists of two upright stones with a recumbent one between, forming a cross-shape. The view from up here was terrific, although across on the Ardnamurch peninsula we could see the smoke rising from the moorland fires there - visible in one of the photos. And then on to our hotel, on a promontory overlooking the harbour. A couple of pints, a meal, and then a walk round the harbour before bed.
Balliscate - Looking SE across the row. Smoke from the fires in Ardnamurchan is clearly visible.
Gruline - complete with large guardian!
Saturday we had decided to visit Iona, which lies on the SW tip of Mull, almost diagonally opposite Tobermory. For those unfamiliar with island roads, it can be a bit demanding - we weren't in any hurry but it took 3 hours to reach Fionnphort, where the ferry takes about 5 minutes to cross to Iona. En route I had a quick look at the Gruline stone, which was guarded by a rather large looking bull. I didn't enter that field! Neither of us are particularly religious, but enjoyed looking around the various parts of the old abbey, the Reiligh Odhran, viewing the various Celtic crosses and visiting John Smith's grave. How different things might have been had he survived and Blair never gained high rank... Enough politics, and we sat on one of the white sand beaches before crossing back over and driving back towards Tobermory.
Fionnphort - looking SE
Tiraghoil - looking to the east
This journey gave me a chance to look at a few stones on the way back, however. First call was just outside Fionnphort itself, where a 2m tall stone sits in the driveway to a guest house. Then on a bit further to Tiraghoil, where another stone sits in a field, and finally to Taoslin, where the stone sits proud just below the crest of a small hill, with a magnificent view out over the island. Back to the hotel for more drink, food and a wander round the upper reaches of Tobermory as the sun went down.
Taoslin - looking NNE
Glen Gorm - looking SE
North from Tobermory in the morning, to Glengorm Castle, which is a monumental Victorian pile - but with a neolithic treat within the grounds. Permission asked and granted, we set out across fields of Highland cows and lambing ewes to the setting of Glengorm, a magnificent arrangement of three tall upright stones and a kerb, measuring around 13m by 8m. This is a truly spectacular group of stones, and set off well against a magnificent seascape in the background. This was a great start to the day.
Dervaig B - looking down the row and avenue of trees
Dervaig C - looking NNW along the row
From here we headed SW to the Dervaig group, near the centre of the island. Having decided against the woodland hike to Maol Mor (Dervaig A) we settled for B and C. Parking next to a spectacular viewpoint over Dervaig itself, a small path leads across to the forest where, just at the end of a short avenue, Cnoc Fada (Dervaig B) can be seen through the trees. This comprises two large uprights and three recumbents, in a very peaceful wooded setting. Just down the hill from here, partially built into the wall of the new cemetery, is Glac Mhor (Dervaig C), a row which has been disrupted over the years.
Kilninian - looking SW, across Loch Tuath
From Dervaig we drove west past the beautiful Calgary Bay, and then south across country to drive along Loch Tuath, opposite the island of Ulva. We stopped just short of Kilninian to eat our picnic lunch, in blazing sunshine and with beautiful views to the south and east. A few hundred metres SE of where we stopped is the standing stone of Tostarie (Kilninian), with a pronounced northerly lean. A superb setting for this stone, which is much-used as a rubbing post by the local sheep.
Lochbuie - the circle looking NE
Lochbuie Outlier 1 - looking east
Lochbuie kerb cairn - the southern arc
Then came a long scenic drive across Mull and down to the south west quadrant, via a rather meandering track, to Lochbuie. This is the most significant area of Mull in neolithic terms, and set in a 3/4 bowl which even Burl was moved to comment on - "Few rings could be more evocative". Druid's Field, as it is known, comprises: one standing stone, a circle, not one but two outliers, and a ruined kerb cairn. We spent quite some time looking around here, enjoying the scenery and the warm breeze, before slowly traipsing back towards Tobermory, for dinner and a good bottle of wine. A terrific day out!
Clach na Carraig - looking ESE, kerb cairn in the background
Strontoiller kerb cairn - looking NW, showing the southern kerb stones
Monday dawned and we had to catch the ferry back to Oban. After filling up the tank (Oban petrol is 10p per litre cheaper than on Mull...) we decided on a slight diversion, as we could see the clouds starting to gather and the good weather we had enjoyed was obviously not going to last! Taking the Glen Cruitten road east out of Oban towards Taynuilt, we drove up past the Strontoiller Stone and kerb cairn, pausing to take a few photographs. Then on into Glen Lonan and the Glenamachrie Stones. Setting out east into what had become a rather damp day in a very short space of time, we drove back towards Dundee and home. Having had but the briefest taste of what Mull has to offer, we're already planning a longer return!
Glenamachrie - looking SW