After a very enjoyable night with the Dervaig Bears at the Bellachroy Hotel, I am back on the road again. This time, I’m bisecting the northwest tip of Mull and heading for Calgary Bay, one of the most beautiful beaches in Scotland and also one of the cleanest, regularly featuring in the top 10 best beach surveys each year.
Before leaving Dervaig and Loch Cuin, I have a wander up the River Bellart. Once a great river for sea trout and salmon, this estuary features a unique curving stone wall which is submerged at high tide. When the tide recedes, it leaves behind a range of fish large and small behind the curved wall. This ingenious device was probably built over two hundred years ago when many families relied on fishing for their living.
Nowadays the river Bellart is famous for a different reason. This lovely fast running highland stream is home to one of the last remaining colonies of freshwater pearl mussels. A look at the historical collections of Scottish Crown Jewels in Edinburgh Castle reveals the high esteem in which craftsmen held these now incredibly rare freshwater pearls.
In among these beautiful hills and glens hides a great sadness. The names of the estates around here date back into the annals of time and show the connection the people and the land had with Norse and Gaelic.
On either side of Loch Cuin sit the estates of Quinish and Glengorm. Now beautiful lands with abundant local industries and food producers like Glengorm Castle, they hide a much darker side of Mull’s history.
In 1750, the population of Mull and Iona was 10400 people. By 1830, it had fallen to 2800, where it approximately sits now. The reason for this the decline was the Highland Clearances. This terrible chapter in Scotland’s history involved hundreds of thousands of peasant people evicted from their lands and homes. Many of them were forcibly transported overseas and others chose to go rather than starve to death in Scotland.
The reason for the clearances was both mundane and tragic. Highland estates relied on a series of small farmers and crofts to run their mixed arable and livestock economy. With the introduction of more profitable sheep farming from England, people were no longer needed, and crofts took up valuable land. So the people had to go. The people were removed not because of war, or famine, or ‘The English’ as is commonly believed, but simply as a result of harsh economic greed.
There is a story on Mull, which tells of an old woman, evicted from what is now the Glengorm estate when her thatched house was burned. When the new estate owner passed her on his horse, he asked if she could give him a good Gaelic name for his new castle. The old crone looked down the valley to where the thatched roofs were burning and blue smoke was rising, she said “Glengorm….that will be the name and I curse it for a thousand years”. Glengorm in Gaelic means simply ‘The glen of the blue smoke’.
On a brighter note, the clearances formed part of the astonishing formation of the Scottish diaspora to every corner of the globe and gave their name and character to one of the world’s great cities, Calgary in Canada.
Heading to our Calgary takes me to the little road that runs down to Croig, a lovely little bay and home to Mull Oysters, who produce world class shellfish and export it all over Europe. Croig is a tiny sheltered harbour but just short of the quayside itself there are a number of gorgeous sheltered little beaches and coves where you can just lie back and enjoy the Scottish sunshine!
Further along the trail there’s a great restaurant sitting just at the side of the road, Am Birlinn, which is the old name for an ancient coastal warship. It is a beautiful and airy restaurant that specializes in serving food supplied by local people with dishes like Kenny’s crab & lobster and Gordy’s Oysers; Kenny and Gordy being brothers who both fish the local waters. There are few more pleasant places to spend time eating and drinking some of Scotland’s best food.
As I head through green fields and old woodlands, the vista of Calgary Bay opens up before me. However, I don’t rush away to the beach quite yet.
On the right-hand side of the road, I stop for a while at the Calgary art gallery run by a well known Mull husband and wife team . A fantastic outdoor gallery, it features a long meandering walk through natural sculptures and woodlands emerging on to Calgary Bay itself.
The indoor gallery featuresexhibitions by local artists in a converted wooden barn that seems to add to the beauty of its exhibits.
I head down to the beach, a 2k crescent white sand beach with dunes and machair, and framed with wild orchids of all varieties. The brooding presence of Calliach Point to one side (pronounced Kayak and meaning the point of the old woman) protects the bay from the stormy seas that occasionally hammer the coast and gives shelter to seals and dolphins who are regular visitors to the bay. This is a place that never gets crowded, where space and freedom add to its natural beauty.
I cannot count the times I have sat on this beach either alone or with my dogs, with friends, with family, in the sunshine, and storms and been simply amazed. Its beauty is hard to describe in mere words and on a sunny day, the water turns azure blue like the sky above and the white sands giveway to green machair dunes. Sometime I sit and try to imagine how it must have felt for those people taken away from this place, but there is comfort in that the names live on in a Calgary 3000 miles away.
Above Calgary bay, to the left is a tiny road which grips tenaciously to the side of the mountains. This is the start of Mull’s west coast route which take me on some of the most exhilarating climbs and scenery anywhere, past ancient names and settlements like Enzy, Burgh, Haun, Fanmore, Ballygown abd Ulva ferry. Although a strong stomach is needed, the veiws from here are worth a few nervous moments.
See you next time on the West Coast Route!