A wet and windy winter week on Mull pt2

by backpackingbongos

Before setting off I had read of a special little campsite hidden away on the Ross of Mull.  With its twisty single track roads Mull feels surprisingly large.  It took a while to navigate the Bongo to the west.  This was in part due to the stunning scenery around every bend, along with the fact that a low winter sun had made an appearance.  You may have heard about the quality of the light in the Hebrides, it really is something that you have to experience yourself.

Uisken Beach

Our destination was the small and perfectly formed Uisken beach and possibly one of the finest located campsites you could hope for. Basically it is a stretch of close-cropped grass right next to the beach.  With high tide the beach disappears and the sea is lapping literally a few metres from your pitch.  A sign simply requests that you seek permission from the croft before pitching (I think that they ask for £2 per unit).  This I duly attempted to do but no one was home.

Being the day before Hogmanay I was of course the only one there.  With no facilities at all (i.e. toilets or running water) the Bongo with an emergency portaloo was the perfect accommodation.

The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring with Reuben before getting some use out of the camping chair for the only time during the week.  I sat wrapped in down and watched the sun set, keeping warm with slugs of single malt until the stars came out. It was soon far too cold, magical surroundings or not and the van beckoned.

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Of course dawn brought totally different conditions.  When I woke the van was once more being lashed by rain and rocked by winds. The area was transformed into somewhere bleak and inhospitable after the benign evening before.

At midday a weather switch was pressed somewhere and the grey clouds lifted and the sun came out.  The speed of the change was swift and dramatic.  Time to open the door for the first time that day and explore more of our surroundings.

We walked no further than perhaps a couple of miles but I was in no hurry.  I just wanted to poke around a few corners and see what was over the headland.  Another beach was found, this time uninhabited.  Somewhere to sit and eat lunch whilst Reuben tried to destroy strands of seaweed.  A lovely area deserving of further exploration, perhaps when the daylight hours can be measured on the fingers of more than one hand.

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Back at the van I sat for a while and contemplated what to do next.  It was very tempting to stay for another night, however I was keen to see in the first day of the New Year with a hill.  I packed up and set off, stopping once again at the croft to pay up.  The owner was in this time and refused payment simply on the grounds that I was honest!

An area on a map marked as ‘The Wilderness’ is like a red rag to a bull where I am concerned.  I therefore headed towards the National Trust for Scotland’s Burg estate.  This was via a shop to pick up some locally brewed ale.

Ardmeanach Peninsular – Beinn na Sreine 521 metres

The small NTS car park is a few hundred metres down a bumpy track after the road ends.  Their attitude differs from the organisation south of the border, the car park being free rather than an extortionate £7.  The only downside is that it is situated on a hillside so I parked for the night at a rather jaunty angle.  I celebrated New Years Eve with a couple of bottles of beer, a slug of whisky and an early night.  When the New Year crept in I was fast asleep.

The forecast for the first day of 2014 was for a calm and dry morning before wind and rain swept in once more for the afternoon.  I was up and packed before dawn, walking west along the track as the first of the light was cast across Loch Scridain.

I nervously passed through a group of cattle that were hogging the track and scattered through the surrounding woodland. Thankfully they barely batted their long lashed eyelids at either the dog or myself.  The climb to the summit of Beinn na Sreine was relatively straightforward.  A case of picking a way through various tiers of rock before walking across a wide and stony plateau. Typically the mist came down before we reached the summit, lifting once we were half way down the hill.  A shame about the murky conditions as I am sure that the summit view would be superb.

I picked a more direct route back down to the van, the only difficulty being the man eating tussocks on the lower ground.

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Typically once back at the van, the clouds lifted off all of the surrounding mountains and it brightened up.  The promised rain did not come that afternoon, instead passing through later in the evening.  Due to the short daylight hours I did not set off up another hill, instead deciding on doing a bit of sightseeing from the comfort of the Bongo.  My destination was to be Calgary bay for the night.

My first stop was to have a peek of the scenery around Gribun, on the northern side of the Peninsular.  It was as spectacular as I thought it would be, a place to return to backpack around the wild and uninhabited coast past the farm and Mackinnon’s cave.

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It was a long drive to Calgary as I was constantly stopping along Loch Na Keal, which is a wild van camping paradise as I found out one summer a few years ago.

I have to say that I was as disappointed with Calgary bay as on my first visit.  Yes it is a perfect crescent of white sand worthy of the tropics.  But even on a dull winters day it was crowded, a shock after a few days of almost total solitude on the island.  Winter storms have obviously battered the wild camping area, leaving it drowned under rotting seaweed.  I returned the way I had come.

The high point of the road provided the perfect place to stop for the night, an exposed spot when the promised storm eventually rattled through after dark.

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The storm raged until noon the following day meaning an enforced lie-in (never a bad thing in truth).  Reuben was very keen to have a leg stretcher once the sun came out again.

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A mobile signal showed that a major storm was coming the following day, bang on when my ferry to the mainland was scheduled. The CalMac app on my phone showed various cancellations would be likely.  I therefore decided that I would drive to the terminal that afternoon and try to change my ticket.  Once again I found myself stopping often to take in the views and the ever changing light.

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CalMac are much more accommodating than the joke that we have for train operating companies.  The guy in charge at the ferry terminal simply asked me to wait in a separate queue until everyone had checked in.  After space on the boat was confirmed he swapped my ticket valid for the following day for a boarding pass.  Simple.  Can you imagine a train company doing that if you turned up for a different train from which you had booked?

As is traditional, CalMac fish and chips were enjoyed on the crossing back to the mainland.

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13 Comments to “A wet and windy winter week on Mull pt2”

  1. I wish I was you. I stayed until the day my visa expired (Jan 10th). I miss it so much. So much beauty.

    • I’m sure that you really don’t want to be a 40 something bloke Cali?! Sounds like you enjoyed your time in Edinburgh.

  2. The place you stopped the first night I know, it was somewhere I have camped. Right up at the far end of the beach.The lady at the farm filled my water ladder for me. The deep tussocks you experienced coupled with dense and very high bracken made the going difficult. Wonderful though James, I envy you.Calmac do do wonderful chips too..

    • I was lucky that the bracken had died back, I can imagine just have difficult it would be with it in full growth. I hate to think about all the ticks lurking in it as well during the summer. CalMac is the way to travel!

  3. Mull is a wonderful place to explore, especially out of the main tourist season. I was surprised you were disappointed with Calgary Bay. It’s a while since I was there but I have stayed in the van there before and found it a fine place for an overnighter. I don’t recall it being that busy either, but then again there are some nice walks along the coast which was probably what we focussed on.

    • When I say ‘busy’ it is all relative David, I had gone from seeing no one for days to well over ten cars parked in the car park!!

      I suppose that I was disappointed because it is sold as one of the best spots on the island. There are plenty of far more splendid places in my opinion. I can see another visit to Mull within the next couple of years.

  4. Those photos are gorgeous. It’s definitely on our must visit list now!

  5. Cheap camping, free car parks, accommodating ferries; I don’t see why you don’t just move to Scotland as you spend three-quarters of your life here anyway.

    Some lovely pics, the Hebridean light certainly helps and shooting in RAW is a good thing too.

    We’re staying on Mull for a week at the beginning of March; my first visit, which I’m quite surprised about! Got some walks planned: A’Chioch and Ben More, Beinn Talaidh, Dun da Ghoaithe, Carsaig Arches and would like to visit Ulva and/or Gometra if poss.

    Looked at your posts from your last visit to Mull again recently – a very different weather scenario.

    • Hello Mr Edwards. Gis a job and I’ll be up and living in Scotland like a shot.

      The light was changing every five minutes that week, probably something to do with 50mph winds shifting things along.

      RAW is very new to me as is using Aperture on my computer, I can play with those sliders to my hearts content and with a push of a button return the photo to its original state if needs be.

      Enjoy Mull, wish I had gone to the Carsaig Arches, thought it unwise to take Reuben along on that, you have seen his lack of scrambling prowess.

  6. Great images despite the best efforts of a damp an dreary new year. Mull can’t get that many visitors at this time of year which I guess is why you chose it. 🙂

  7. Hi James

    I was intrigued by your mention of some “man eating tussocks”. Why was he eating these tussocks? Was he very hungry? Did you give him and spare food you had on you to see him alright?

    The area looks absolutely stunning.

    • I think that it is because the tussocks look like shredded wheat, that is why the man was eating them. With a slight frost they look like they have been dusted with sugar.

      It’s a cracking island.

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