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[Scotland] Trip – Mull and Glencoe

    Scotland Iona

    Photo: Iona abbey.

    Plan

    • Explore a section of the Highlands around Glencoe that we had to zoom through on the last trip.
    • Get out to Mull and see the wildlife, especially the puffins on the smaller islands.
    • Gorge on my native foodstuffs that I haven’t seen in years: Cadbury’s fingers, crumpets, ale on tap, wine gums, fruit pastels, scotch eggs, malt loaf, pork pies, Rolos…..
    DayStartEndHighlights
    1 MonSwitzerlandEdinburghNew town
    2 TueEdinburghLussLoch Lomond region
    3 WedLussDervaig (Mull)Scenic drive and ferry
    4 ThurDervaig (Mull)Dervaig (Mull)Scenic drive
    5 FriDervaig (Mull)Dervaig (Mull)Calgary beach
    6 SatDervaig (Mull)Dervaig (Mull)Iona.
    7 SunDervaig (Mull)GlencoeCastle Stalker
    8 MoniGlencoeGlencoeLost valley
    9 TuesGlencoeGlencoeGetting a new tyre and being ill.
    10 WedGlencoeGlencoeBeing ill and a short walk by the Loch.
    11 ThursGlencoeEdinburghScenic drive. Making it all the way despite the train strike.
    12 FriEdinburghEdinburghSurgeons Hall museum
    13 SatEdinburghSwitzerlandFlight home
    Map of the trip.

    When

    • June 13 to 25th, 2022.
    • Looooonnnnggg days at this time of year and longitude. Sunset was around 10pm and even at 2am there was still a hint of light. Driving home at 8pm one day it was effectively broad daylight still.
    • The weather was 10-20 °C and often windy. Given it was a 35 °C heatwave at home this was a welcome change.

    Where

    Two regions bookended by stops in Edinburgh.

    Isle of Mull

    • Plenty of activities on and around the island. We were especially interested in the various smaller islands (Iona, Staffa, Lunga).
    • Mull is not as well known, but I would say it is just as or more impressive than Skye.
    • The island is quite big (figure 1.5 -2 hours to drive end to end) and just about every corner had something beautiful or interesting to see.
    • Some more ideas: We didn’t make it to any, but there are a few groups of standing stones, hike to Carsaig Arches, hike up Ben More (on a very clear day), fossils around Carsaig, ideas for walks.

    Glencoe

    • Our main focus was a better look at the mountains along the A82, but there are so many glens and lochs in the region that it would be easy to fill the days without having to drive far.
    • Somewhat ruined by losing 2 of the 3 days to car issues and illness. Still got 1 very nice day at least.

    What was done right

    This was somewhat more relaxed than the previous trip. Having two longer stays worked well and I will probably repeat the method for similar trips in the country.

    What was done wrong

    Most of what went wrong was bad luck rather than anything that could have been avoided with better planning.

    • The only real mistake we made was booking everything about 3 weeks ahead after not being sure if it was a good idea to go or not. Having done so earlier would have probably been a good bit cheaper and given more choices.
    • High winds stopped the boat ride out to Staffa and Lunga. We had 3 whole days on the island, but were unlucky that the nicest day also turned out to be the windiest.
    • Car problems resulted in a half a day lost to flat and repair and then 3 days that were limited/stressful due to a 2nd tyre problem.
    • As soon as the car was fixed we were sick. Not much to be done there really.

    Costs and money

    I still have a UK bank account and credit/debit card, so that made payments easy.

    The biggest change was seeing how everything is contactless these days. Almost everywhere put the card reader forward first for payment and were surprised if cash was offered.

    This meant it was easier than usual to estimate expenditure with almost everything on a credit card.

    • Accommodation. Pretty much everything was £100-£170 per night. Value varied by area. £170 got us a box in Edinburgh and a whole house in Glencoe. Total = £1,800.
    • Food. Supermarket etc £220, Restaurants etc £320. Total = £550.
    • Transport. Train/bus/tram £60 . Car £1500. Petrol £112 (at about 190 pence per litre). Parking. Ferry £45. Total = £1,717.
    • Activities. A few little boat tours and museums. Total = £45

    Total for 2 people for 13 days = £4112.
    Per person per day = £158.
    The base cost of the car was painful (we paid far less for a similar trip a few years ago), but we left it too late and didn’t have many options. It wouldn’t have been so bad if we didn’t lose half the days with it to problems or worrying about it.


    Daily notes

    Day 1. Arrival

    • Arrived in Edinburgh at around 5pm, so simply had a walk around the new town, dinner, and gorged on a few items that I have been unable to buy for years (Cadbuy fingers and wine gums).
    • Stayed at the Haymarket Hotel. A decent enough place which was most useful for the location. I have taken to staying in the Haymarket area for easy access to the airport, trains and city centre.
    • This was my first visit back to the UK in almost 3 years, so it took some time to stop trying to speak German to people.
    Evening light in Edinburgh.

    Day 2 – Get the car and off to Loch Lomond

    • Very good breakfast at Milk.
    • Train to Stirling to pick up the car. This is slower than just going to Edinburgh airport but doing so means an easy start back into driving on the left side of the road; avoiding any big roads and with just a few simple left turns on quiet streets to escape the city and into the rural A-roads.
    • Followed the A811 for about an hour to Drymen. A pleasant little village with a few pubs offering food.
    • Took a short diversion from Drymen to Balmaha on the shore of Loch Lomond. Did what we had set out to do 2.5 years ago and took the boat to the island of Inchcailloch (£7.50). Chose a pick up 1.5 hours later; enough for a relaxed walk to take in the summit view, beach, and go through the valley to the burial ground. Despite everything being card only the parking there can only be paid in coins, with no easy way to get them.
    Inchcailloch.
    • Stayed at the Corries on the opposite side of the lake. A fantastic BnB run by a very friendly guy.
    • Went to Luss for dinner. This is apparently the most photographed village in Scotland and feels like it was the reason the word ‘Twee’ was invented. It is very pretty but also very small. You have seen everything in 15 minutes (a case of the car park being bigger than the village). At 6pm on a Tuesday it was almost empty, but I can imagine it gets busy. It seems that most of the houses are still houses rather than tourist shops which is nice, but it would be much nicer still if they didn’t have parked cars blocking them. Good dinner at the Luss Arms Hotel.
    The Corries guest house.
    Luss.

    Day 3 – To Oban then the ferry to the Isle of Mull

    • Decided on the slightly slower route via the A83 and A819 passing through Arrochar and Inveraray rather than the faster route simply sticking to the A82 and A85. Mostly to take in some new scenery. This was a good choice.
    • The pass road up to Loch Restil and the view back down from the ‘Rest and be thankful’ viewpoint were some of the most impressive parts of the trip. The rest of the route afterwards alongside Loch Awe and through the back country was also constantly pretty, but that was by far the best part.
    ‘Rest and be thankful’ viewpoint.
    • Stopped for a look around Inveraray. I had been planning to stay here on a trip that was cancelled by Covid back in 2022 so was keen to have a look around. A very handsome little village, that is well worth 30 minutes to look around (longer if the Jailhouse museum appeals to you). Approaching from the east and climbing up the steep bridge to see the sun shining on the Loch and village made a very good first impression.
    Inveraray.
    Inveraray.
    • I had Kilchurn castle marked as a point of interest but didn’t make a stop there (next time without a ferry to worry about). What also looked impressive and could be clearly seen from the road was St Conan’s Kirk.
    • Arrived with an hour or so to spare at Oban so we checked in and left the car ready in line for the ferry. Had lunch at the popular Seafood Hut stand directly next to the ferry terminal . I got a reminder of how big and brave seagulls can be.
    • The ferry ride over to Mull was fantastic, especially floating right past Castle Duart just before docking. The loading and unloading process was well directed and seamless.
    Ferry to Mull.
    • Drove north up the island hitting drizzle which stayed all night. I had expected a normal road the whole way, but as is often the case much of it was single track. The 17km from Craignure to Salen is a standard two lane road, but otherwise pretty much the entire island is single track. We took a slight diversion to Tobermory the main village on the island and home to the biggest supermarket (which is about the size of a mini/express elsewhere). The waterfront is rather handsome and it is worth a visit.
    Tobermory
    On the way to Dervaig.
    • Stayed in the little village of Dervaig. It is actually big enough to have a shop and a restaurant. Ideally I would have preferred Salen for a more central location, but we booked late so took what there was.
    • Stayed in a chalet at the Glen Houses at the edge of the village. A nice fairly modern building with big windows overlooking the countryside. The only problem was that they had a policy of the previous tenant cleaning it for you, which clearly is asking a bit much of the general public.

    Day 4 – Towards Iona (Mull)

    • Started off well enough. A bit rainy but not terrible and looking to dry up later. Planned to go to Iona and see most of the island on the way.
    • Set off south, taking the little single track road to Salen then on the scenic B8035 route via Knock and Balmeanach to rejoin the main A849 for the last section to the ferry. The B8035 was really beautiful. The section along the base of the cliffs at Dhiseig and up to the pass at Balmeanach was especially impressive. As impressive or more as anything we saw on Skye, but without the crowds.
    • Everything started to go a bit tits up when we got a tyre pressure warning on the dash board followed by clear problems with the tyre as we came down the pass. Thus we found ourselves in a very rural area with no signal. A 20 minute walk away was a house where a lovely couple let us use their phone, and then hosted us for 5+ hours whilst we waited for the useless help service to actually find some help.
    • Ironically when the repair van did get to us it had to take us almost all the way to Iona where the garage was.
    • The drive back along the A849 did at least make up for the experience somewhat. The landscape was stunning and being June there was beautiful evening light, almost empty roads (it is single track almost the whole way), and deer were out and about. We were delayed a bit having to squeeze past sheep or chase them out of the road.
    B8035 route via Knock and Balmeanach.
    The three lakes.

    Day 5 – Tobermory and Calgary beach (Mull)

    • Initially the forecast was for heavy rain all day, which slowly improved to clearing up later in the day. In the end it is mostly dry and often sunny.
    • A relaxed start to wait out the rain then headed to Tobermory for lunch and to grab a few things (including some bottles of beer from the micro-brewery). I had planned Cafe Fish but despite the name only open at night.
    • Drove to Calgary. Beautiful bit of bay with sandy beach. Typical British seaside experience of high windows, but got some clear bits of sky and sunshine. Even on a grey and windy day the car park was full.
    • Looped back to Dervaig via the coast road to Torloisk. A very fun and beautiful drive with almost no other traffic.
    Calgary beach.
    Calgary beach.

    Day 6 – To Iona (Mull)

    • The plan for the day had been the boat ride out to Staffa and Lunga. Sadly this was cancelled due to high winds, so we fell back on the Iona plan from 2 days ago.
    • Again followed the scenic route south to Salen then the B8035. Arrived at Fionnphort and got on the ferry without incident.
    Day 1 in Scotland: How cute!
    Day 6 in Scotland: Get out of the way you wee fluffy bastard!
    • Arriving on Iona we walked through the village and along to the Abbey (£8.50) and spent an hour or so exploring the site which is small but packed with history. Taking the free audio guide was worth it for the extra information.
    • Carried on a few minutes further beyond the Abbey and climbed up Dun I, the highest point on the island at 110m. An easy ascent and worth it for the views.
    • Taking the ferry back over our plan was to go to the weavers cottage. Sudden low pressure warning with 30 minutes before any local garages closed forced a last minute change of mind.
    • Again a beautiful drive back through the mountains on the A849 (whilst a little concerned about the tyre).
    Arriving on Iona.
    Views from the highest point on Iona.

    Day 7 – To Glencoe

    • Packed up and left. Tyre warning right away, quickly changing from check tyre to inflate the tyre. Not ideal in a rural location on an island on a Sunday morning. Made for a rather tense ride to Tobermory. I would like to thank the petrol station there for having an automatic air station, seemingly the only one on the island.
    • Breakfast by the harbour in Tobermory.
    • A slightly less tense drive down to Craignure with the knowledge that the tyres were full and the mainland and civilization were not far away, even if we had to push the bloody car off the ferry at the end (luckily not the case given that we ended up being the lead car coming off).
    • Unable to get a new tyre in Oban, but more air and an appointment for 10:30 on Tuesday. Having a solution did at least make everything much more relaxed (if still a bit annoying )
    • Stopped on the way to admire Castle Stalker – aka The castle of Aaargh home to the holy grail in Monty Python.
    • Stayed in Glenachulish which isn’t really Glencoe, but is only a few minutes drive away. Glenachulish itself is just a short row of houses but it was a nice spot to use as a base. Stayed at the ‘Step Gailey’ which was a bit much for just two of us being a whole house, but was a fantastic place.
    • Took a short walk down to the Loch to enjoy the evening sun.
    • The evening midges were MUCH worse here than on Mull.
    Castle Stalker of Monty Python fame.
    The loch at Glenachulish.

    Day 8 – Lost valley and Kinlochleven (Glencoe)

    • Waiting on a new tyre which could actually hold some air for more than a day, so we stayed very local to be safe.
    • It was lovely weather at least, easily the best of the whole trip.

    Part 1 – Up to three sisters and into the lost valley.

    • Headed up to the car park at the three sisters and followed the path up to the valley (more details here).
    • The path up is a bit steep and at times requires a bit of hand work to scramble. Entering the gorge. It is probably a nasty shock if you are used to a gentle meander along the canal path to the pub, but after years in the Alps and Jura it didn’t stand out to me.
    • There was a steady trickle of other people going up to the valley. Some well prepared and experienced walkers, some tourists. The limited parking meant that it would still be quiet even if everyone who stopped there had intended to hike the valley.
    • The glacially carved valley with a flat upper part turning into a narrow gorge could easily have been a lonely valley somewhere in Switzerland like Graubünden. It was strange to think that we were less than 400m above sea level. The lack of any sheep/cows and whistles from marmots was also a little strange.
    Starting off at the three sisters.
    The hidden valley.

    Part 2 – To Kinlochleven

    • Took a scenic detour around the end of Loch Level to Kinlochleven.
    • The village itself isn’t overly interesting, but the landscape around it is impressive. We took a short walk to the Grey Mare’s waterfall (which is as impressive a fall as I have seen in the UK) and popped into the National Ice Climbing centre for a quick look around.

    Part 3 – The Appin memorial.

    • Getting back to the house I took a quick walk along the foot/bikepath from Glenachulish to the Appin memorial. The Appin muder was something I had no idea about before but the marker just around the corner from our accomodation stuck out on Maps.me . Not a must see, but it was interesting to have a look whilst I was so close by.

    Day 9 – New tyres and sickness (Glencoe)

    • Morning drive back down to Oban to get the leaking tyre replaced. Started the day with a warning on the dashboard and 13 PSI in the tyre (out of a recommended 32 PSI), requiring a bit more colourful language and a quick detour to Glencoe petrol station.
    • Back to the Seafood hut and had a wander around Oban while we waited. Returned to the car to find we were getting 2 new tyres. One of the previously ok front tyres was also changed as they deemed it ‘barely legal’.
    • Feeling ill. Headed home and just got comfy. Not the worst in a nice house with endless QI on demand.

    The question of how to make the most of the forced drive was made rather moot by the illness. But these were our Ideas for what to do on the way back to Glencoe area from Oban:

    • Loop around via Tyndrum and Bridge of Orchy. Possibly also by the little single track B8074.
    • Find a nice beach near Oban or somewhere along the way.
    • Go up the glen beyond Loch Creran.

    Day 10 – Illness (Glencoe)

    • The first full day of freedom without car worries. Just in time to hand the bloody thing back tomorrow. Still sick, but not as bad as the previous day at least. Still ended up just staying inside and watching QI.
    • I had been hoping to drive up Glen Etive, but that will wait for another trip.
    • It was at least cloudy and on/off drizzle so it wasn’t the worst day to be ill.

    Day 11 – Back to Edinburgh

    • After the car issues and then illness there were train strikes just to top it off. Found a news article showing no trains would be running to/from Stirling, which started a panicked rush to find a coach service with spaces left. Megabus had 2 spots left but my payment wouldn’t go through. Thankfully Citylink had spaces, it was as expensive as the train despite being slower, but it was better than nothing. Trying to return the car to Edinburgh airport might have been a better idea, but that probably would have been more expensive.
    • Very scenic and easy drive along the A82 then taking a (new to us) route via the A84 and A85.
    • Happy to find out at least that nothing was taken from the deposit for the rental car. I had been expecting some remark about bringing a car back with 3 new tyres, but they didn’t really seem to care. Just a quick look at the outside and fuel level, then waved us off.
    • Bus into Stirling, lunch, and hanging about until our coach. The City Link bus was only half-full despite the train strike. The route was very round-about going through some rather dull obscure areas – but did give us a good view of the Kelpies at least.
    • Stayed again the in the Haymarket area, this time at the Cumberland Hotel. Looked nice but wasn’t worth the extra cost compared to the Haymarket hotel or other places in the area.
    Passing the Kelpies.

    Day 12 – Edinburgh museums

    • Dropped down to walk of Leith into Dean village, then on through the new and old towns to the National Museum (free) to see Dolly the sheep. I had visited years ago and seen more/most of the museum, but couldn’t recall seeing Dolly in her full glory rotating away in a glass jar.
    • The main point of interest for me was the Surgeon’s Hall museums (£8.50) which had been on my to-do-list for a few years now. Only just around the corner from the National Fascinating. Very quiet. Platypus. As someone who has spent the last 15 years working with medical imaging, body parts, gooey bits, and medical implants.
    • I had a quick look in the National Library of Scotland which is always worth 10 minutes if you are passing by to see whatever the latest little exhibition is, if nothing else it is free and you might see an interesting old book or document in person.
    Village of Dean.
    Dolly the sheep.

    Day 13 – Homeward

    • Early(ish) start for an 11am flight. Actually very quick security despite all the recent news.
    • As much as I don’t want to give money to Weatherspoons I must say that free refills of tea are as good a way as any to spend the time waiting for a plane.
    • Landed in Geneva at 15 past with my train at 5 past the next hour normally a safe bet. This didn’t turn out to be the case post-Brexit with what should have been a 3 minute wait dragging on for much longer. Made it to the train with seconds to spare having learned that the passport gate to train can be done in 3-4 minutes if you really don’t want to spend an hour hanging around Geneva airport.

    Misc

    A few blogs I used when prepared the trip plan:

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