Welcome to Isle of Mull
The Isle of Mull lies off the west coast of Scotland, separated from the mainland by a narrow stretch of water known as the Sound of Mull. It is amongst the largest Hebridean islands, measuring some 50 miles north to south, and an island of great variety; one thousand foot high sea cliffs, a vast mountain range, whose highest mountain, Ben More, towers over three thousand feet, white sandy beaches, a clear blue sea and picturesque towns, are just some of Mull's delights. Mull's capital and biggest town is Tobermory. With its colourfully painted buildings, it is regarded by many as the prettiest town in the Hebredes. It has a population of about ten thousand, about a third of the island's total population. Mull is also home to the extremely rare White Tailed Sea Eagle and the Bald Eagle, while dolphins, whales and basking sharks are regularly spotted in the waters around the island.
Duart Castle, Isle of Mull
People first came to Mull Over 8000 years ago. The earliest settlers were hunter gatherers who lived in caves such as Livingston's Cave on Ulva, a small island embraced by the island's outstretching north-western and south-western arms. Within two thousand years, a more stable economy based on cereal cultivation provided the basis for a more sophisticated civilisation. It is from this time that Mull's inhabitants started to build stone circles, such as those at Lochbuie. As these early societies developed it appears that they were increasingly drawn into conflict with one another: from the middle of the second millennium BC hill top forts, or ‘duns', began to spring up. The best preserved dun on Mull is Dun Aisgain, near Burg, although there are a great many others.
Christianity came to Mull in the 5th century but was probably not fully established until after the arrival of St Columba, who came to Mull from Ireland, via Iona, in 563. Mull's connection with Christianity was assured by its proximity to the Island of Iona, just off the Ross of Mull. Iona was the religious capital of early medieval Scotland and, hence, a burial place for Scottish Kings, such as MacBeth. On Mull itself there are a number of interesting early religious sites; the medieval graveyard Kilmaluig on Treshnish Point, and the chapels of Pennygowan and Kilvivkeon
Tobermory Bay, Isle of Mull
The valuable religious artefacts on Iona were what first drew the Vikings to the area. The Viking raid on Iona in 795 marked the beginning of centuries of Viking influence in Mull and Scottish-Scandinavian conflict. Vikings eventually began to settle the island and through intermarriage a Celtic-Scandinavian population came into being. Direct Norwegian political influence in the development of Mull only ended when Alexander III of Scotland defeated King Haakon IV of Norway in the battle of Largs in 1263. However, the clans who had been the benefactors of Alexander's victory resisted Scottish regal authority to such an extent that the Western Isles operated as a quasi-independent kingdom until the end of the 15th century. Until that time the MacDonald chieftains, the Lords of the Isles, dominated much of Scotland's western seaboard, repeatedly coming into conflict with the crown and the competing local nobility. On Mull, one notable conflict sprung up in the 15th century between the Angus, Lord of the Isles, and the Earls of Huntley and Crawford. In the waters just north of Tobermory a vicious sea battle was fought between these powerful nobles' armies. Since then the site has been known as ‘Bloody Bay'
The MacLeans were another important family who influenced life on Mull. Their stronghold, Duart's Castle, sits at Duart's Point over the bay and greets visitors arriving on the Ferry from Oban. There has been a castle here since the 1200s but most of what we see today came into being in the 1390s. Although it fell into ruins after it was abandoned in 1745, it was bought in 1911 and has been beautifully restored. Some may recognise it as the home of Sean Connory's character in the film Entrapment. The remains of other medieval fortresses on Mull include Aros Castle, near Salen, and Moy Castle at Lochbuie.
Lismore Lighthouse on Eilean Musdile which protects shipping in the Sound of Mull
One of Mull's most intriguing legends involves the Spanish warship, The Florencia. The Florencia became separated from the Spanish Armada which had launched an ill fated attack on England at the end of the 1580's. Finding shelter in Tobermory bay, the Spaniards stocked up for the return to Spain but made to set sail without paying for the goods. Enraged, Donald MacLean managed to board the ship and set fire to the its powder magazine. The ship blew up and sank somewhere in the region of the Tobermory Bay, reputedly carrying around £300,000 worth of gold bullion. Many have tried to find the Florencia and its treasure ever since, but as yet none have succeeded. The legend inspired Robert Louis Stephenson to write the short story, The Merry Men.
Mull reached its peak in the early 19th century, with a population of well over 10,000. However, by the end of the 19th century the population had been decimated by bad harvests, famine and ‘The Clearances': a period in which the Islands' wealthy landowners forced their tenants off of the land and replaced them with sheep, which they saw as being more profitable. Islanders who survived famine and The Clearances would find new homes in the rapidly expanding industrial cities and in the New World. Abandoned townships such as those at Tir Fhearagain, Shiaba, Kildavie, and Cillie Mhuire are the only evidence that Mull's displaced islanders ever lived there.
Nowadays, the three thousand strong community make their living from farming, fishing and tourism. In the summer months visitors swell the population and there is a bit of hustle and bustle in the towns, especially in Tobermory. Visitors come to Mull to revel in the sense of myth and mystery that the island offers in such abundance, to enjoy the warm hospitality of the islanders and to take delight in natural beauty and stunning views. Mull is a sparsely populated wilderness: a rugged mountainscape on a crystal sea.