We arrived at Ulva Ferry at about 11.15am to catch the ‘Hoy Lass’ to the islands of Staffa and Lunga. At Ulva Ferry, there is a stone jetty from which you can call a ferry to cross the water to The Boathouse restaurant which is no more than two minutes’ journey. To call the ferry, you need to slide a board, which is on the side of a building, to show the red square which notifies the restaurant to come and pick you up.
There were about thirty of us taking the Hoy Lass out to the islands plus three crew members. The skipper was a friendly Scotsman with a dry sense of humour. His assistant turned out also to be the manager of a restaurant between Calgary Bay and Dervaig, further round the coast to the north of Mull. The third crew member happened to be the chef at the same restaurant. They were there to also do some fishing.
We set sail on the boat with half of us on the open, top deck. It was a bright day and the high cloud soon cleared to bring us fine, blue skies for the first leg of our trip. After an hour, we were at Staffa with the skipper giving us views of the wonderful Fingal’s Cave which is made up of hexagonal basalt columns. After the group photo shoot of the cave, the skipper took us to the small pier through the light Atlantic swell where we stepped off one by one.
The National Trust island of Staffa has a steep set of steps leading up onto it to allow you to wander over it. The four of us walked over the near northern side to sit on an outcrop which overlooked a small bay where we watched shags and gulls feeding and swoop around, while we ate our lunch. We had an hour on the island which soon passed before we were back on the Hoy Lass.
Less than an hour later, we came to Lunga, part of the Trish Nish Islands, where the boat came alongside a pontoon tied to a buoy. The crew tied the pontoon to the boat and then untied to pontoon from the buoy, before moving the shore to allow us to get off onto the seaweed covered rocks.
The skipper advised us to walk up the cliffs, past the puffins, onto the area of the cliffs occupied by the shags and gulls, and view the puffins on the way back. He added “Nobody ever listens to that advice, though!” with a wry smile on his face.
He was right. From the shore, we could see the puffins flying from their burrows on the cliffs. On reaching the top of cliffs, we saw hundreds of puffins sitting outside their burrows. I could see why nobody listened to the skippers’ advice. Seeing the puffins was just mesmerising and they were so tame that you could get very close to them to take photos, and the puffins were amusingly obliging models.
It felt very special to be able to see the puffins so close up. We soon decided to move along the coastal path to see the other birds on Lunga. The pathway had puffin burrows either side of it and we could hear the low grumbling noise they made. Some were on rocks or tufts of grass before flying off in their high speed manner.
The path came to cliffs on the northern side on which many gulls had made their nests. Shags were sunning themselves on top of the cliffs. We were taking photographs and video shots as if there was no tomorrow.
Finally, we returned the way we had come to make our way back to the puffin burrows, where we lay down next to some birds which provided us with plenty of material for photographs. A number of our fellow passengers (including Germans and Americans) had some serious cameras and equipment and were taking photos as much as us. The sun was warm and all of us made the most of this little slice of heaven.
We were soon on the shore waiting for the Hoy Lass to come to pick us up again. The skipper had been fishing but had not caught anything. Penny fell over on the rocks and damaged her hand. Back aboard, we were on the top deck and the female crew member came up with the first aid kit to help patch up Penny.
The Hoy Lass took us by the smaller northern islands showing us the Atlantic seals and the remnants of 17th century barracks and a 12th century chapel before winding through the loch back to Ulva Ferry. There were a number of isolated houses on the Mull side of the loch.
By 5.20pm, we were back ashore and walking up the short slope to our car, and an hour later we were back at Kate’s Cottage.
We decided to go to Tobermory for supper and, on the way, we saw a Golden Eagle by the side of the road which was very exciting. For supper, we ate at the local Indian restaurant which was overpriced and not very good. We should have eaten at the quayside fish and chip stall which had scallops and chips at the head of its menu. Still, it had been a wonderfully memorable day and we had fallen more deeply in love with Mull.
Will Hawkins lives in Lincolnshire with his family and is now a magazine editor and occasional adventure cyclist.
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