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Places to go, Western Mull


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Coastline

Ardmeanach Peninsula & Burg

[grid ref. NM42 • view WildMap]

The Ardmeanach Peninsula - meaning "Middle Headland", which makes some sense looking at Mull's west coast - is one of the wildest places on Mull, with interesting volcanic geology, MacCulloch's Fossil Tree, rare flora, and spectacular scenery and sea views.

Known locally as "The Wilderness", the peninsula is a much designated site for its nationally important geology and natural history. National Trust for Scotland own 617 ha of land at the head of the peninsula - an area known as Burg after a depopulated township - which was among the first to come into the care of the organisation, bequeathed by A. Campbell Blair of Dolgelly in 1932, but the majority of the peninsula is owned and managed by the Kilfinichen Estate. More information on the area's history can be found on the History & Heritage, Western Mull page.

The uplands of Ardmeanach were formed during volcanic eruptions of Ben More million of years ago at the same time as the islands of Staffa and Lunga. A sequence of lava flows formed a whale-back shaped peninsula with indistinct summits separated by blanket bog and heath. The northern and western sides features steep coastal cliffs and screes, formed from the basalt terraces and rising to 519m high (Beinn na Sreine), supporting a rich and varied assemblage of coastal and upland plants. There are three other small peaks on the peninsula: Fionaa Mham (494m), and two peaks on Burg with excellent views on all sides, Creach Bheinn (491m) and especially Bearraich (432m).

 

Geology: The western side of the peninsula is a treasure trove of geological finds. The distinctive stepped outline was created by a succession of horizontal lava flows; between 25 and 30 lava of two types can be identified from the base to the summit of Bearraich (432m). At Aird na h-lolaire (grid ref. NM4028), extremely rare sedimentary rocks - shales and limestones - laid down in shallow tropical seas at the beginning of the Jurassic period, 200 million years ago, are exposed - one of only two sites where this occurs in Scotland and crucial to understanding the historic environment of the area.

The molten lava flows even occasionally engulfed whole trees, preserving them as remarkable fossils, the most famous being MacCulloch's Fossil Tree - a 12m high, 1.2m wide fossil of a conifer on a cliff face, formed 63 million years ago and discovered in 1819 by John MacCulloch. The fossil cast contains some carbonised woody remnants but unfortunately souvenir hunters have removed most of this layer (originally two inches deep) since its discovery. On the beach nearby lies a formation of horizontal basalt columns radiating from a central point, formed due to the cooling effect of a standing tree on the lava flowing around the trunk (click here for a more detailed explanation). The walk to the fossilised tree is a popular visitor activity, but is an arduous 18.75km round trip which includes a difficult descent of the cliffs by ladder.

 

Wildlife: In addition to the geological features, the peninsula is designated as a SSSI for its plant communities and the rare Slender Scotch Burnet Moth. It is a SAC for three particularly interesting plant communities and also within the Cnuic agus Cladach Mhuile (Mull Hills and Coast) SPA for Golden Eagles.

The plantlife of Ardmeanach is tremendous, with over 400 vascular plant species bringing interest from sea level to the summits. Low cliffs towards the shore support maritime communities. Red Fescue and Sea Thrift dominated grasslands occur alongside maritime heath. Roseroot, Sea Spleenwort and Sea Plantain can be found within rock crevices and on cliff-ledges. Higher up, less influenced by salt spray, species-rich calcareous grasslands with Sheep's-fescue, Common Bird's-foot-trefoil and Wild Thyme occur beneath and over outcropping basalt cliffs; and the higher ground has a species-rich montane flora on the cliff ledges and open moor, supporting arctic apline plants including Mountain Avens, Hairy Stonecrop, Alpine Cinquefoil, Alpine Saw-wort, Moss Campion and Alpine Lady's Mantle. The most notable plant is Iceland Purslane, a diminutive flowering plant, a relic of the flora that existed at the time of the las glaciation, and now found only in two UK locations: Burg and the Totternish Hillson Skye. The plant is found on wet, bare areas on hillsides where the substrate is too mobile for other plants to get established. Plantlife has also designated Ardmeanach as an Important Plant Area for this outstanding assemblage of species.

Mull and Ulva are also the only UK locations for the Slender Scotch Burnet Moth and the largest colonies are found in short calcareous grassland on south and south-west facing slopes on Burg, where Common Bird's-foot-trefoil, the moth's foodplant, can be found. The species-rich grasslands are also home to Small Copper, Dark Green Fritillary, Common Blue and Painted Lady butterflies.

Grazing is critical to maintaining the species-rich grasslands in good condition and the grazing history extends back many generations: ten crofting families once lived at Burg. Today, large numbers of Red Deer graze the higher areas, whilst feral goats and domestic cattle belonging to the NTS graze the lower slopes. Where grazing is less, bracken can invade the grassland, but is kept at bay by conservation volunteers.

Meadow Pipit, Stonechat and Wheatear can be found on the moors and slopes, joined by Rock Pipit along the shore. Buzzards and Kestrels are commonly seen and other birds of prey regularly pass through on migration, along with birds such as Snow Bunting and Twite. Raven are also resident. Watch for Golden Eagles overhead and White-tailed Eagles offshore.

Visiting: Ardmeanach is most usually accessed from the car park (grid ref. NM477275) 500m beyond Tiroran; there is no parking further along this track.

RoutesA footpath leads along the coast from here to MacCulloch's Fossil Tree. You can also explore into the interior; we suggest following one of the larger burns such as Abhain Beul-ath an Tairbh (grid ref. NM441274), which has a series of waterfalls.

The north of the area, such as MacKinnon's Sea Cave, can be accessed from Gribun - see below.

More info: SSSI citationSSSI Site Management StatementSAC citationSPA citationBurg NTSPlantlife IPA infoArdmeanach history

 

Gribun

[grid ref. NM4433view WildMap]

Looking south from Gribun towards Creag a' Ghaill and Ardmeanach (September 2010) [Photo by Phil Capper under Creative Commons]

Gribun is a beautiful section of coast just to the north of the Ardmeanach Peninsula. A narrow low-lying strip of pasture separates the rocky coast of low sea cliffs from the vertical black basalt cliffs to the east. To the south, the view is sensational, looking along the Ardmeanach Peninsula from Creag a' Ghaill cliffs towards Burg. Out to sea, Staffa, the Treshnish Isles, Little Colonsay and Ulva are in the foreground of the larger Coll and Tiree.

The entire area, both shore and crags is of interest for its geology and designated as a SSSI; the wide variety of sedimentary rock strata from different periods found here make it of national importance. The fields are scattered with boulders of various sizes, brought down by the steep torrents flowing off the plateau above; one, it is claimed, even killed a newlywed couple staying in on a cottage on their wedding night.

Of more interest to the passing visitor, perhaps, is Mackinnon's Sea Cave (grid ref. NM440323), the largest in the Hebrides at 30m high and 180m long and also the 23rd deepest sea cave in the world. Located to the south at the top of the Ardmeanach Peninsula, it is only possible to visit at below half-tide and the 3.5km walk crosses awkward, slippery boulders. The cave is surprisingly dry and the floor of pebbles and sand; the cave is so deep that daylight is soon lost, so two torches and spare batteries are a necessity.

The cave is said to be named after a 15th century Abbot Mackinnon of Iona who used the cave as a sanctuary; deep in the cave, a large, flat slab which may have been used as an altar by early Christian worshippers. Alternatively, a piper named Mackinnon entered the cave with his dog to compete with the cave's fairies or witches in a piping competition - the dog returned, alone and without any fur, and Mackinnon was never seen again. It is more certain that Samuel Johnson and James Boswell visited the cave on their island tour in 1773, measuring the cave to a surprising degree of accuracy with a walking stick.

You can walk further south, beyond the cave, by keeping to high ground rather than following the cliff tops. Just south of the cave is a fine section of Triassic rocks where several burns, notably Allt an Ath Dheirg, join together before forming a spectacular waterfall over the sea cliff. Above are two huge gullies in the basalt cliffs, down which the streams tumble from the plateau above.

Wildlife: There is a wonderful transition here from marine habitats, through the intertidal zone to sloped ground, to crags, to cliff top. The cliffs and rocky outcrops support a rich assemblage of arctic / alpine plants at exceptionally low altitudes, including Mountain Avens, Alpine Saw-wort and Moss Campion. Look for Golden Eagles soaring on thermals along the cliffs.

Visiting: Park in the car park on the approach to Balmeanach Farm (grid ref. NM448334). Follow the track south towards Ardmeanach or carefully cross the moor to the coast.

Routes: Walk to Mackinnon's Sea Cave from Gribun

More info: SSSI citationSSSI Site Management Statement

 

Loch Beg

[grid ref. NM5428view WildMap]

This small tidal loch at the head of the Loch Scridain is easily viewable from informal roadside parking spots.

Wildlife: This is a good spot to see Otters, even from the car park at Traigh Gheal (grid ref. NM519297)! Just keep watching the seaweed fringe along the shore or for a slinky body sliding off a rock into the water.

The loch provides food for waders throughout the year; Hen Harrier and Short-eared Owl are regularly seen hunting. In summer, the coastal bogs are breeding ground for several wader species. Winter here is fantastic for migrating waders including Golden Plover, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Turnstone, Greenshank and Redshank. Goldeneye and occasionally Goosander are amongst the winter ducks. Osprey is regular in both spring and autumn, often near the Kinloch Hotel.

 

Loch na Keal

[grid ref. NM53 • view WildMap]

A fantastic sea loch on the west coast of Mull, with the uninhabited Isle of Eorsa at its mouth and the Isle of Ulva lurking just outside. The rocky shoreline is quite accessible and a long shingle beach lies at the head where the River Ba flows into the sea from nearby Loch Ba. With the islands at its mouth, the wooded slopes to the north and the stark Ben More to the south, Loch na Keal is a stunning landscape and sunsets here can be spectacular. This is also a superb place for wildlife: White-tailed Eagles and Otters can be seen daily with a little patience. If you are camping, the Killiechronan campsite, whilst very basic, makes an amazing place to watch the loch and its wildlife from.

There is a small off-road car park near Kellan (grid ref. NM525409); it can be wet and muddy.

Wildlife: White-tailed Eagles nest in the wooded hills above Killiechronan and can be seen around the loch on a daily basis. In summer, they ferry fish from the loch to the nest site and can be seen passing overhead. Try scanning the shingle bar, especially the northern end near the Killiechronan campsite, or the Scarisdale Rocks (grid ref. NM524386) for perched eagles - this can be particularly fruitful in the autumn and winter when the juveniles are exploring. Golden Eagles can also be seen in the skies around Loch na Keal.

Otters can be found anywhere along the coast here but try concentrating on the shingle around the mouth of the River Ba and along the north shore west as far as the beach near Kellan Mill. Red Deer can be found on the lower slopes in this area as well, especially as dawn and dusk. Also look for Common Seals on the loch's islets at low tide: again, the Scarisdale Rocks are a good place to scan.

In addition to the eagles, there is much else here for the birdwatcher. It's a good place to see Divers through the winter and into spring, especially the less frequent Black-necked Diver, as well as Slavonian Grebe. The usual winter ducks can be found and Whooper Swan can drop in. The softer parts of the shore, especially on the mud around the loch head, are good for waders in autumn and winter. Summer brings nesting shore birds such as Common Sandpiper and Ringed Plover and a good variety of passerines including Twite, Linnet and Whinchat in the gorse and shrubs.

 

Freshwater: lochs, lochans & rivers

Loch Ba

[grid ref. NM570376view WildMap]

This beautiful freshwater loch lies in the remains of a double cauldra of an extinct volcano, with open oak woodland - designated SSSI and SAC - along its flanks.

Tracks lead from the sharp bend by Knock Farm along both sides of the loch.

Wildlife: The relic woodland on the south side, part of the Ben More - Scarisdale SSSI, is old, low Sessile Oaks and Silver Birch, growing over moss covered boulders and shaped by the prevailing wind. Rowan is common in the understorey with Holly, Sallows, Hazel and Ash. The field layer is generally of Blaeberry and Purple Moor Grass but, where the soil is deeper, you can find herbs such as Wood-Sorrel, Yellow Pimpernel, Primrose, Common Dog-violet, Wood Anemone and Bluebell. Wild Angelica, Marsh Hawk's-beard and Meadowsweet flourish in the wetter ground.

The woodland on the north side, the Loch Ba Woodland SSSI, is less managed than other woods on the island, there are older large Sessile Oaks to be found with Holly and Rowan in the understorey throughout plus Silver Birch on the upper slopes and Alder and Ash along stream courses. A more fertile area, below Sron nam Boc, has ground vegetation of Wild Hyacinth, Primsrose, Wood Sorrel, Wood Anemone and Yellow Pimpernel.

Both these areas of woodland are also designated as SAC due to the plant community - including a rich assemblage of lichens, bryophytes, flowering plants and ferns - and the presence of otters; together these woodlands form the largest remaining native woodland in the Hebrides.

Summer birds on the loch include Red-throated Diver and Common Sandpiper along the shores. In the woodland, visitors include Wood Warbler, Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher alongside residents such as Goldcrest and Treecreeper.

Routes: a 7.75km stroll along the south side of Loch Ba.

 

Hills & Mountains

Bearraich • 1417ft (432m)

[grid ref. NM418275view WildMap]

The southerly peak of the two on Burg, Bearraich's summit provides great views east to Ben More and out to Ulva, Staffa, the Treshnish Isles and Tiree. The Outer Hebrides are visible on a clear day.

 

Beinn Fhada • 2303ft (702m)

[grid ref. NM539349view WildMap]

A long rocky shoulder leading up from Loch na Keal towards Ben More, Beinn Fhada has tops at either end of the ridge; the summit is at the south-western end, above the col with A' Chioch.

RoutesBen More via A'Chioch and Beinn Fhada ()

 

Ben More • 3169ft (966m)

[grid ref. NM525330view WildMap]

Ben More is a majestic mountain that can be seen from all over the island - and gives incredible views over Mull, the surrounding islands and even further afield. The only island Munro away from the Cuillins on Skye, the approach from Dhiseig on the shores of Loch na Keal is reasonably straightforward walk; longer and more challenging approaches with some scrambling can be made via Beinn Fhada (see above) and A 'Chioch or from Loch Scridain via Gleann Dubh.

Routes: Ben More scramble via A' Chioch () • Ben More from Dhiseig and walk report () • Ben More via A' Chioch and Beinn Fhada ()

 

Creach Bheinn • 1611ft (491m)

[grid ref. NM419291view WildMap]

The higher of the two peaks on Burg, Creach Bheinn is a sub-Marilyn summit, with a drop of 140m to 149m on all sides.

 

Islands

Wild Ulva is just a few minutes ferry trip away. Staffa, and its famous Fingal's Cave, and the scattered, windswept Treshnish Isles make good day trips via boat from Ulva Ferry.

 

Waterfalls

Eas Fors waterfall

[grid ref. NM444423 • view WildMaps]

The lower falls of Eas Fors drop 100ft on to the beach (October 2011) [© Steve Marshall/Wild Future]

On an island of amazing natural sights, Eas Fors stands tall: 100ft tall. These incredible waterfalls are the final plunge of a series of falls as the Allt an Eas Fors burn flows down the slopes of Beinn na Drise. There is a convenient car park located on the B8073, 60m east of the falls.

The Upper and Middle Eas Fors falls are situated immediately either side of the road and are easily accessible. The Upper falls - a twin horsetail - are located in a wooded gorge 20m above the road. Below the road, the Middle Falls are a sequence of cascades over about 50m, leading down towards the cliff top.

The Lower falls is a spectacular 100 foot plunge to the beach below. It is difficult - and dangerous - to appreciate this from the cliff tops; please take care and watch children in this area. To fully view the falls from below involves a 4km return walk from the car park, first south-east along the road and then back along the very rocky beach. The beach section requires careful progress and is very slippery when after rain. The return trip is by the same route. It is, however, well worth the effort.

 

Woods & forests

Glen Seilisdeir

[grid ref. NM478301view WildMap]

This Forestry Commission woodland, off the B8035 Salen Road, is home to White-tailed Eagles who have been raising young here since 2005 and from 13th April 2015 it will be home to the FC's Mull Eagle Watch hide and Ranger-led guided tours.

Booking is necessary so call the Craignure Visitor Information Centre on 01680 812556; trips tun twice per day, 10am-12.30pm and 1.30-4pm, Monday to Friday. Trips can be organised for groups on evenings and weekends. The location changes slightly regularly but follow the signage from the B8035 road in Glen Seilisdeir.

Wildlife: also look out for Golden Eagles, Hen Harriers, Buzzards and Red Deer.

Walking: walk the forest tracks to the moors beyond or climb along the Allt Chreaga Dubha burn to the flat-topped summit of Coirc Bheinn (561m)

More info: Forestry Commission Mull Eagle Watch webpageFC Mull Eagle Watch blogMull Eagle Watch Twitter accountMull Eagle Watch Facebook pageRSPB

 

Kellan Wood, Killiechronan

[grid ref. NM526414view WildMap]

This is a privately-owned woodland that has granted public access, located to the west of the head of Loch na Keal. Part of the Killiechronan Estate, this oak and birch woodland has summer visitors such as Wood Warbler, Tree Pipit, Spotted Flycatcher and Redstart. White-tailed Eagles regularly rest here between feeding trips to the loch. Also look for Great Spotted Woodpecker and other common woodland birds.

To the north, the wood abuts estate conifer plantations and beyond is the southern end of the Forestry Commission plantations that stretch north to Glen Aros.

 

Places to go, Isle of Mull

Places to go, Northern Mull

Places to go, Eastern Mull

Places to go, Ross of Mull

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