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The Majesty And Magnificence Of Mull

Ride Date 14 September 2022

By Ren Withnell

I must be getting old. Once again it wasn't the sleep of all sleeps yet I have slept and I feel refreshed. I leave Sharon in her bed while I take a walk around the site. Shieling Campsite offers a mix of hardstanding for self propelled caravans and the like. There's various swish mid-sized marquee tent thingies, half way between glamping and an actual lodge. It's not particularly nice in terms of beautiful manicured lawns and freshly levelled gravel on the hardstandings. Neither is it rough in terms of skanky toilets and muddy pathways. It's a middle of the road campsite. Meh.

Gravel hardstanding, some grass, various buildings, and a line of trees at the campsite
It's a... campsite.

That's strange. Today we ride to visit the isle of Iona. This is the last of the pinned places I wanted to see on Google Maps and yet we're only half way through this holiday? Ah, of course. We pushed hard on the Saturday when we came to The Highlands so that we could enjoy easy rides up here and an easy ride back home. I feel oh-so-slightly self-righteous at my intelligent pre-planning. Then I remember the Oban ferry faux-pas. Not so clever now eh boy?

It's not long after 1000 by the time Her Ladyship is ready to rumble. Once again she will be luxuriating on the rear of my 500, taking in the sights while I do all the hard work. I have done my research and I am prepared for even more single track. 35 miles of it, as such I'm expecting at least an hour and a half's ride. I'm also managing my expectations. I have heard that The Isle Of Mull is quite beautiful but I shall reserve judgement for myself.

Ah, right. Erm yeah. In the interest of accuracy Mull is not much better than the rest of The Highlands. But then if The Highlands is a 9.5 out of 10, Mull likely scores a 9.7. Mull is not bigger or greener or wilder or any other such things, it does have a certain loveliness to it though. It could be my mood, it could be today's lighting, this is not a precise science so I'm just going to enjoy it.

A narrow lane winds up the side of steep hills and deep valleys on Mull
It's just like many other Highland scenes, just a tiny bit more so.
Sharon snaps some Highland cows against a dramatic backdrop of Mull mountains
Sharon's snapping the Highland Coos.
A ginger and long haired Highland cow complete with big horns
The said Highland Coo doing it's thing.

I suppose Iona is a popular tourist destination judging by the number of cars, campervans and full size cumbersome coaches we encounter. Again it's not like Bolton at rush hour, the road is not filled with vehicles yet it is surprising how many are travelling this single track. I wouldn't fancy driving a full size luxury 50 seater coach along this narrow sinew of tarmac but we see plenty. 

I'm about right. It's getting close to lunchtime by the time we arrive at Fionnphort (pronounced "Finn-er-fert" so I'm told). Before we park at the ferry terminal I take a small detour to a campsite I'd considered while planning. Fidden Farm Campsite is as wild and remote as I'd expected, sitting right by the sea. Sharon hadn't fancied this because it would be extremely exposed if the weather was bad. She'd be right too plus it's a long way from anywhere. I agree for us it wouldn't be the right choice but I'd be tempted to return alone one day just for the experience.

Sand and rocks, grass and outcrops near Fidden Farm Campsite on Mull
The views near Fidden Farm are delighful on this clear day.

There is free motorcycle parking at the ferry terminal however this only applies in the marked motorcycle parking bays. We find the marked motorcycle parking bays - but there's a problem. In the bay is a wooden shed vending teas and snacks. We - the powered two wheeler community - have been usurped. The lady serving assures me not to worry and park in any bay, we won't be ticketed. This I do, returning to the shed to purchase Sharon and I a tea apiece while Sharon visits the lady's room. 

The ferry to Iona does carry vehicles, but this is only for the Ionians. We the tourists can only alight on foot or with a pedal cycle. This is fair, the island is only small so I secure the helmets to the bike and pay our dues. The ferry takes around 10 minutes to cross and we step off onto the island. 

A throng of foot passengers await to get on the ferry to Iona
There's plenty of us "Emmets" waiting to board the Iona ferry.

We walk around the ruins of the nunnery, they are much as you'd expect from ruins. We don't bother paying the £9 entrance fee to the abbey. We explore a tiny chapel and the graveyard. We stroll around the tiny village a little. You might sense I'm somewhat underwhelmed and I am, but please don't see this as a bad thing. I only have a passing interest in such things - so why am I here? Once again the journey here is the reason, the destination is merely a means to an end. I am more than happy with the experience of GETTING HERE, here is fine and lovely but it's not the ultimate reason for being here.

The remains of the nunnery, sufficient to see the building and how it was made but no more
The nunnery is in ruin.

A note about the abbey. Typically these things are in ruin, much as the nunnery. However Iona Abbey is not a ruin, it is a place alive and much in use -  Iona Modern Abbey Wiki. Sharon and I discuss this. In our modern era we seek to preserve our historical sites such that future generations can enjoy and learn from them as they are now. I can see the merits in this - but. This is a modern phenomena - by modern I mean the last hundred years or so. However for example at St David's Cathedral we learned that over the centuries bits were added on and changes made to suit the needs of each era. Some might argue Iona Abbey has been ruined with modern additions, I'd argue they are continuing doing what people have been doing for millennia. Hopefully the details from before the restoration are stored in an archive somewhere.

The Abbey is very much complete and there's scaffolding in places for ongoing work
The Abbey is quite complete with ongoing work.

Back to the ferry and back to the bike which is thankfully unmolested and without a parking fine. 

Gosh darn it. Why? I can't explain it. It's not especially remote and let's face it we are on a major tourist route. The mountains are no bigger or more angular or impressive. The tiny villages and hamlets aren't particularly pretty or cutesy. The beaches aren't exactly the sort of beaches your kids could spend the day playing on. I can't put my finger on it at all. Mull is a charming place. Maybe that's it? Not any more this or more that, just charming, just pleasant, just nice. We're happy to saunter back along the single track.

Mountains and Lochs and beauty seen on The Isle of Mull
It is a most pleasant place is Mull.

Rather than follow the main A849 (single track) road back to Craignure I hang a left onto the B8035 heading for Dhiseig. The first section of road across the peninsula feels a little wilder then we reach the sea and Loch Na Keal. Gosh darn it just gets better and better! The sea loch to our left stretches out to more rugged hills and mountains, to our right there's open hardy grasses, huge rocks in hardy grasses, steep hills with fallen rocks and then sheer rock faces  ready to crumble into our narrow path. 

We couldn't always get a picture - so follow this link.
A massive outcrop into the sea ends abruptly in a steep drop
Wow...
Looking up to Sharon taking pictures stood next to the CB500X on Mull
Yeah, it's alright here innit.

We are pottering along at 20mph taking this all in. There's a lot less traffic on this route, I only need to allow a couple of cars to pass. We discuss random houses and the lives of the locals. We stop and enjoy a brief stroll across a pebble beach. Our trip to Iona was definitely worth the effort for this alone. 

After filling up at Salen and enjoying a short blast along the 2 lane road back to Craignure we're back at the campsite. Sharon rustles up our evening meal in the kitchen marquee as various campers and motorhomers come and go. It's all very polite and pleasant and our meal is tasty and satisfying. I make a brew and wash up then we sit on the settee for a while. It soon becomes obvious that although the hour is not late we're tired, I think an early night might be a good idea and Sharon agrees.

Mull is lovely and I can't explain why. This campsite ain't nothing special, Tobermory was worth a visit but I wasn't blown away, I've had my fill of single track, Iona was absolutely fine, the scenery is only on a par with the rest of The Highlands, and if we had another day we could have covered all the routes on the island I reckon. It could be me and my mood? I somehow seem to be inadvertently relaxed on this trip, I am at risk of actually enjoying myself and that will never do. 

Should you go to Mull? Yes. Should you book the ferry from Craignure to Oban if that's in your plan? Yes. Doh.


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Prologue - This Time It Is Up North Ren has made this kind of trip many times and several trips of much greater magnitude. The bikes are fine and everything is under control. Don't worry dear readers, Ren is worried about having nothing to worry about.
A Successfully Dull Day The job of the day is simply moving 2 people on 2 motorcycles around 280 miles north. Is it worth the effort?
Speed, Strontian, Showers And Silliness At last! The Dynamic Muppets finally get into The Highlands properly. There's a couple of things for Ren to moan about, particularly that Sharon is far too happy.
The Ardnamurchan Peninsula - Slowly And Quickly It's not far from Strontian to The Ardnamurchan Lighthouse... or is it? The weather ain't too bad and there's a lovely bathing belle on the beach that requires Ren's attention
Dangerous Distractions, Draughts And Dapper Drivers Not all is as perfect as one would wish for today. There's a draught or two and a lairy scary moment. All in all though things seem to be going acceptably well for The Dynamic Muppets.
The Majesty And Magnificence Of Mull By keeping his expectations in check Ren finds the small island of Mull to be a delight. Apparently it's all about the journey not the destination though.

Reader's Comments

Rev. Mick! said :-
John Smith the former Labour leader is buried with the Scottish Kings on Iona. It is felt the UK was robbed of a truly good Prime Minister as a result of his untimely death.
05/01/2023 15:35:10 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
Yes, look who we got landed with.
05/01/2023 17:15:19 UTC
Ian Soady¹ said :-
Ren - you raise interesting points re restoration / originality. A quandary much discussed amongst classic / vintage bike (and other vehicle) enthusiasts. Some people like to restore bikes to how they were when new - or even better. Others prefer what they call patina and I call a rusty old heap. I prefer a middle ground* and like my bikes to be tidy and more or less as built especially older ones. But I don't object to sensible mods - eg I have indicators on my ES2 as no-one looks for arm waving or even has any idea what it means. It amuses me that there is a largely US-based forum devoted to the XBR500 and its rather more elegant cousin the GB500 whre the participants get terribly exercised about fitting the correct bolts etc. Come on chaps it's only a mass-produced relatively modern bike not a museum piece. Wait till they see what I'm doing to mine. On second thoughts I probably won't tell them.

*Oh no, I'll probably end up joining the Lib Dems.......
05/01/2023 17:22:30 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
Ed, the strangest thing just happened when I was reading your lovely wee Iona ramblings. I was reading it but it was being read to me at the same time by the big yin Connolly. How strange is that, it was my eyes but his voice reading it to my few remaining head cells.
I can only put it down to your excellent pen work, early onset failings or too much Scotch. But as I've just had my porridge we can probably discount the latter.
Ta me ducks, nice pictures, words and memories.
Upt'North.
Connolly?!?
06/01/2023 08:55:08 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Ian - it's impossible to please everyone. Some will see it as heresy to even use a non-correct washer because people in 500 years will never understand how this bike should have looked when it was new. Alternatively many believe in 500 years this bike, in spite of the love and care bestowed on it, will likely have been recycled 15 times by then.

There was a time not long since where repairs, renovations, and extensions to old building were required to almost match and blend in. Today the modern policy is to ensure the repairs and new bits are significantly different to allow historians to differentiate between the old and the new. Who's right? It's just a matter of opinion.

Upt' - why are you being nice? What are you after? If you hope that your kind words will prevent me from visiting you then you're much mistaken. I look forwards to your kind words when I write up my trip to Wooller. Every time you look at that patch of oil on the driveway and the grubby irremovable hand print on the bathroom towel you can think of me and smile.
06/01/2023 14:01:51 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
Pffffffftttttttttttt.

06/01/2023 17:03:30 UTC
Bogger said :-
Think of you and smile?? Run that by me again please!

Bogger
06/01/2023 19:37:47 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Think of me and smile Bogger. No matter how bad your life is, at least you're not Ren :)
06/01/2023 20:05:07 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
So you went all the way to Mull and you love your biccies...
But did you try these?
They're good.
https://www.islandbakery.scot/product/lime-melts/...
07/01/2023 21:50:53 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
Far far too sophisticated for me Upt'. And at that price?!?!
08/01/2023 19:28:00 UTC
Upt'North ¹ said :-
It's only money Ed.
What have I started?
Upt'North.
09/01/2023 13:07:24 UTC
Ren - The Ed¹ said :-
It is only money Upt'. But if you ain't got it ya can't spend it. Well I got some but I still ain't spending it.
10/01/2023 08:57:33 UTC

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