A day’s adventure on Mull

We’d rented a car to explore Mull but unfortunately we’d had to pick it up all the way in the Northeast of Mull, to Tobermoray in fact.  It wasn’t so much that the distances were long but the roads on Mull are mostly single track with passing places every few yards so the driving speed probably averages something like 25 per hour!

The weather was changeable all day – one minute we were basking in bright sunshine, the next we were being oppressed by black clouds heavy with rain. Google maps estimated the drive time from Fionnphort, Mull’s south west tip, where we’d left the car to the deserted villages of Crakaig in the northwest of the island as 2 hours and 10 minutes  for the 52 miles. We ended up  with a long day of driving – 7 hours all told. And this was difficult, intense driving with sudden pullouts into the passing places  every couple of minutes.

We took the 10:10 ferry from Iona across to Mull and apart from a 50 minute hike I did to see the village of Crakaig we were driving all day. Lunch was just a quick stop in a layby to eat our sandwiches and give the driver 5 minutes’ rest. I’d read about the Highland clearances and two villages, long since deserted, were high on my list of ‘must see’ on Mull. I’ve spent many many vacations exploring ghost towns of South West America, had made the long arduous trip to St Kilda,  and now, here was a chance to see two more abandoned villages. I knew that the footpath led behind Reudle schoolhouse, described in my

guidebook as ‘a tall gaunt building. It is now ruined an deserted. Scratched into the plaster of the walls you can still see graffiti of full-rigged sailing ships and the initials of scholars long gone.’ This was a place of my dreams. There are so few buildings in this heather covered landscape! A village might consist of  5 to 10 buildings so when I saw a lone, isolated two storey building on the hillside I presumed this was the schoolhouse. I questioned my judgement for a minute though, since this place was obviously lived in – smoke coming from the chimney, car outside, and it looked newly painted. We back- tracked for a couple of minutes and set off up the steep track. Keith continued while I ran back to the car for my camera and by the time I got back he’d check out the trail. It was


No, this is not a stream. It’s the footpath!


The only sign I passed was totally illegible even if it once had writing on it.

severely water-logged. In fact, much of it looked more like a stream than a trail, so while I set off  into the heather Keith settled for a bit of r and r back in the car. Just as on Mull there were no footpath signs anywhere indicating that I was on the correct trail. Occasionally I had to leave the trail to scramble over rocks to avoid the deepest puddles but eventually I was rewarded with a distant view of ruined buildings.


First view of the abandoned village of Crakaig with the Treshnish islands.

There was no cell phone connection but I’d told Keith to give me 50 minutes before sending out a search party. I did get to Crakaig, but didn’t have time to reach the second village of Glacguagairidh (Hollow of the dark grazings). As many as 200 people once lived


Exploring what remains of the village, emptied during the Highland Clearances

in these houses, surrounding an ash tree from whose branches a villager committed suicide by hanging many years ago. According to my guide book “There have been well substantiated reports of  the ghostly sight of a unaccountable dark figure flitting past the doorways of certain houses.” I certainly felt ill at ease, but I  put that down to fear of


The old school house, now refurbished

getting lost and having no cell phone! As coincidences go, the fact that Brian had sent me a map of the track to the villages (which he had no idea I’d planned to visit!) the night before was at least somewhat reassuring, and fortuitous since I’d only had a few minutes of internet service in which to see and download the map!


Traffic congestion, Mull style

Our return to Fionnphort was another two hours of difficult driving, exacerbated by endless roadworks and roadside pruning, but Keith put his foot down wherever possible and we caught the next to the last ferry back to Iona, where we found we were the only ones aboard.


Waiting for the ferry back to Iona


Taken from our moving car!

We’d booked a table for dinner in the hotel at 6:45 so we had half an hour of r and r before heading into the lovely dining room with wonderful sea views. My butterfly chicken with portobello mushroom and cherry tomatoes was delicious and Keith tried haggis, tatties and nips for the first time, beautifully served in a whiskey sauce.


Keith’s first taste of haggis. What IS it made from?

So, it was now 8 o’clock and we’d finished dinner. There was no TV, no internet, so I couldn’t even listen to the radio, so how should I spend the evening? Well, this being Iona, so go to church, I guess. There’s a service a 9 every evening so ‘the tolling of the iron bell calls the faithful to their prayer.’ I’d not been inside the abbey so far so it was rather splendid to set foot inside by candlelight just as it would have been for the monks. I was quickly shown to a seat in the choir stalls and as I sat I immediately became aware of the music. Someone was playing an improvised version of the first Bach Prelude in C major, and was having quite a few problems with it. This was the piece I had played in Glasgow Central station on my way up to Oban, and I know the piece well. The service began by a not very skillful cantor teaching  the congregation  two hymns to ‘La.’ This wasn’t what I’d expected at all. People of many nationalities had gathered together in this place which many find highly sacred and somehow I’d expected a high standard of music. In fact, the following day a choir from Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, were providing the music. Various readings were spoken, perhaps by members of the clergy but they were not wearing any specific pieces of attire that would distinguish them as such. One reading was an excerpt from George Eliot’s Silas Marner and one was an exhortation written by two 14 year old boys when they were on a religious retreat to the island. Many members of the congregation, which numbered around 40,  sat with eyes closed, a beatific expression on their serene faces.I gazed around looking at the strange combination of the original parts of the building and the obvious restoration work. I rather liked the contrast.

The service was short, lasting just 40 minutes and I hung around afterwards taking photos of giant carved tombstones, and through an open door I caught glimpses of the now dark cloisters and decided i needed to come back in daylight hours. By the time  I left it was pitch dark, not a single light to be seen anywhere. I was glad of the flashlight on my phone!


Inside the Abbey, after the service.

1 Comment

  1. John A

    “Keith’s first taste of haggis. What IS it made from?”
    All sorts of sheep’s innards apparently, encased in a sheep’s bladder (or pluck?).
    We can get them on Preston Market, by the way…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *