Iona Abbey from the Sound of Iona Ardoran House bed and breakfast, Iona Iona Ardoran House bed and breakfast, Iona Port Ban beach on the Isle of Iona Ardoran House B&B on the Isle of Iona

The West Coast to Ulva Ferry. Not for the nervous, but worth the effort!

West Isle of Mull Argyll

The route that visitors to Calgary Bay normally take is past the white sandy beaches, round to Calliach point with the road back to Dervaig meandering gently from the beach past the little cemetery.

There is, however, another altogether different route out of this fairy tale bay. The west coast route to which will take you, if you are of a strong constitution, all the way to Bunessan.

_MG_5543 (2)This little road clings by its fingernails to the cliffs above Calgary and gives a unique birds eye view of the sea and skerries below, all the way out to Coll and Tiree. The drops below are pretty much vertical and occasionally require nerves of steel to keep going!

I remember a European tour bus which mistakenly tried to take this route instead of turning around in the small car park at the beach. Once realising his mistake, the unfortunate driver spent over two hours attempting to reverse back down. The passengers had already seen the possible outcome and were sitting on the beach watching the special and enjoying their packed lunches! The day (and the bus) was saved by the local service bus driver who kindly jumped in and reversed all the way to the beach like it was an everyday event! However, the lack of traffic makes this an easier drive for a car.

The views below, especially on a sunny day are reminiscent of California’s Baja peninsula or Australia’s great ocean road. It is not uncommon to see Minke Whales, Basking sharks and Dolphins in the unpolluted waters below.

The road winds round the cliff face for about three miles before suddenly sweeping inland. Just before turning, you can spot the magnificent Treshnish headland jutting into the sea. To the left of the road is Enzie Croft and to the right is the entrance to Treshnish Farm and Haun cottages. Treshnish and Haun farm and cottages are a green, eco-friendly holiday settlement where everything is renewable. The accommodation is mostly refurbished former black houses, giving a real taste of the past.

A little further on is the bleak looking Treshnish Schoolhouse, which stands like a sentinel against the surrounding moorland. At one point, up to twenty local children attended this school to learn their three R’s.

The long straight road heads up the hill and yes like a few others of these tiny roads, this is part of the Mull Rally route. Known as the Enzie steps, drivers often hit 120mph on this straight and if you don’t believe me, have a look on YouTube.

As you reach the top of the straight, the Scottish moorland seems to stretch out forever, bleak yet beautiful this is home to Scotland’s biggest land mammal, the Red Deer. There is almost a sense of foreboding here and I wonder how the children at Treshnish School must have felt a century ago.

There is a saying that goes along the lines of ‘You never know what is round the next bend’ and as you crest the last couple of twisting bends near the entrance to Burg at the top of the hill, the view becomes completely breathtaking. Below lies Tuath with the Isles of Ulva and Gometra in the background, stretching into the distance are the Treshnish Isles of Lunga and Staffa, visited frequently by Staffa Tours boat trips. After the journey past the Enzie steps, this view is as spectacular as it is unexpected.Young Highland Calf Cow Isle of Mull

The houses and the Crofts on this road seem to cling to the side of the mountains above to get a better view of the sea below. The names of these houses and crofts are almost as ancient as the land they sit on. Fanmore, Oskamull, Ballygowan Bay, Lagganulva and Kilninian and its ancient church containing headstones that date back over six hundred years.

There have been many times during the tough Mull winter that I have driven over this road and I remember well thinking that an alien spacecraft had landed below. As I crested the hill at Burgh, strange and huge lights appeared to be sitting in the middle of Loch Tuath.

Now, in winter, this is a road that you are unlikely to meet another car on and the imagination can run away with you. As I was trying to figure out what was going on and why any sentient species would be landing in West Mull in the depth of December, I remembered that Loch Tuath is home to a very large salmon farm and to keep fish growing year-round daylight is artificially extended by underwater lighting….phew, that was a relief!

The road slowly drops down to sea level and the tough moorland gives way to coastal rushes. In June and July you can enjoy a fantastic display of wild orchids. All around you will see Scotland’s beautiful Highland cows and I challenge anyone to be anything less than utterly captivated by their calves. The old beech woodlands here are home to another pair of White Tailed Sea Eagles and the elusive Hen Harrier, which can be seen hunting over the sea marshes.

If you drive this road at dusk, take a minute to stop in a layby and have a listen. If you are lucky, you will find hear the bizarre song of the Bittern. A little like a cross between a deep boom and someone blowing across the neck of a bottle, there is something haunting and comforting about this mating song.

The next stop is Ulva ferry where you catch the little boat that takes all of five minutes to shoot across the narrows to visit Ulva and Geometra, two of my favourite little inshore islands.