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Adders and Sea Eagles and Dervaig Bears

Dervaig Church Isle of Mull Argyll

After a great couple of days in Tobermory, it is time to start moving again.

Today I am heading inland. Being an island, a lot of Mull’s scenery is dominated by its astonishing coastline. However, the little road that takes me from Tobermory to Dervaig on Loch Cuin and then on to an ancient crossroad which trisects the island, is my route of choice.

This little road, approximately 7 miles from Tobermory to Dervaig is almost schizophrenic in character. For 363 days of the year, it is a little local single track road which takes visitors and locals alike back and forth from Tobermory to Dervaig, past some of the most beautiful scenery on the island and where highland cattle, newborn lambs and visitors taking photographs are the only causes of traffic jams, however for two days and nights in October, this wee road becomes one of the fastest and most spectacular stages of the rallying world. On roads that most people drive at under 30mph taking around 20 minutes, the fastest time for this road is a spectacular 6 minutes and 8 seconds!..yep, you read that correctly and when you come and visit, take a moment to figure out just how that is possible!

The road to Dervaig leaves Tobermory and heads north-west, past the lush fields of Sgriob-ruadh farm, home of the famous Mull cheese and winds past the Island Bakery, maker of some of the finest biscuits ever tasted and now available all over the world. From there the road follows the burn that provides Tobermory and its famous distillery with its clear fresh water and climbs until it reaches the Mishnish Lochs.

Made up of three interconnected lochs, these beautiful clear waters are stocked with fish and provide a habitat for some of Scotland’s rarest birds. Red-throated divers are regular visitors, both Shrike and Merlins can be seen buzzing about chasing down some of Mull’s abundant dragonflies and young swallows.

The Lochs sit in a deep valley. On the west side of which is the Crater Loch with the gaelic name ‘Lochan’s Airde Beinn’. Created in the remains of an ancient volcano at 138m above sea level, this place offers one of the finest views from any of the islands. To the west sits Ardnamurchan Point, the most western point of mainland UK and to the north-west the islands of Coll and Tiree. From this lofty elevation the world heritage island of St Kilda can also be seen.

To the south-east, is one of Mull’s inland beauties. Sitting in a deep valley that runs north to south and completely landlocked is Loch Frisa or the ‘Cold Loch’. Loch Frisa is not only a fabulous freshwater loch in its own right but it is home to the world famous White Tailed Sea Eagles. These magnificent birds, the largest in Europe have a nine-foot wingspan, which gives rise to the other name they’re often known by, the ‘flying barn door’!

Loch Frisa Isle of Mull

Loch Frisa Isle of Mull

These serious apex predators were hunted to extinction in Scotland during the 19th and 20 centuries for their feathers and their predation on game birds. However in 1975 a batch of young birds were brought from Norway and released into the wild on the Isle of Rum. Remarkably, the first wild Sea Eagle chick fledged on the banks of Loch Frisa in 1985.  The breeding pair went on to regularly produce chick’s year after year and the species have created a strong foothold in Mull and Iona.

I was very lucky to live in a house just a couple of miles from the nest site and spent many hours watching the aerial acrobatics of these amazing giants of the sky. To watch them pluck trout and salmon at high speed from the waters of Loch Frisa is a truly humbling sight. These days a purpose built hide is located at this site and two others on the island, giving nature lovers a bird’s eye view of the family life of these survivors of nature.

On the north shore at the head of Loch Frisa and accessed on the little tight bends that climb the hill above the Loch, sits my former home. Behind it is a little-known track that follows the contours of the Loch. This little valley is known locally as ‘Glean Toraidhean’ or the Glen of the Adders. The Adder is the UK’s, only poisonous snake and while human fatalities are rare, they carry a poison that can easily kill dogs or the old or infirm.

I  always considered this a local legend until I was walking to Loch Frisa to fish when I discovered what I now understand to be a mating ball of one female snake and five or six males. It certainly gave me a start! A visiting herpetologist once told me that the flat boulders that covered the valley were ideal resting grounds for Adders and that he had counted over a dozen on his trip. Fortunately, they are shy creatures that avoid human interaction and live largely on mice, frogs and young birds.

Back to the main road and I am soon heading for the top of Achnadrish Hill. Beyond me to the right and left lies Glen Bellart and to the village of Dervaig and the lovely Loch Cuin.

Isle of Mull Dervaig Loch Cuin

Loch Cuin at Dervaig Isle of Mull

Above the village, to the right is quite simply the best place to take sunset photographs I have ever encountered and a small group of Neolithic standing stones bears testament to a much earlier civilization. To sit here on an summer evening and enjoy the uninterrupted views across to Coll, Tiree with Ardnamurchan in the foreground as the sun slowly sinks into the western sea, is to feel the touch of a greater being. In all the years I saw this view I never tired of it.

Below, perched on the edge of Loch Cuin, with its rich waters providing the home of Mull Oysters, sits the village of Dervaig.  This little village dates back over four centuries and means ‘The Dear Place’. With its excellent village post office and shop as well at the local pub the Bellachory Hotel, this is a very local village, where most of the residents can trace their families back many generations on Mull.

Fishing, forestry and the building trades are the most common employment here and the physical nature of the jobs are reflected in the size and strength of the locals…the famous Dervaig Bears!

A Friday Night in the Bellachroy pub is an experience no visitor should miss.

This is an old-fashioned island pub where whisky and beer are drunk in copious amounts, songs are sung and stories are told. As large and occasionally rough looking as the Dervaig Bears are, any visitor will be hard pushed to find a friendlier, more welcoming and inclusive group of people. I have seen acts of kindness to complete strangers take place in this bar that included giving lifts, pulling cars from ditches, finding accommodation and producing home smoked and possibly not entirely ‘officially’ caught salmon and venison!

Next time join me at Calgary Bay, where the beauty of the landscape hides the shame of the Highland clearances.