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History of the Island of Mull
Chapter II - Description of Mull


The island of Mull is situated between 5░ 40' and 6░ 20' longitude west from Greenwich, and between 56░ 18' and 56░ and 40' north latitude. It is separated from the mainland of Scotland by the Sound of Mull on the north and the Firth of Lorn on the east. In shape it is very irregular, owing to the great indentations formed by the sea water-lochs. Speaking generally, its greater length is about thirty miles and breadth twenty-five. Its coast line has been roughly estimated at three hundred miles, and its entire area at four hundred and fifty miles. The northern shores are irregular, rising to a height of twelve hundred to fifteen hundred feet, exhibiting basaltic terraces, trap veins and dykes, exposed like ruined walls and castles. The middle division is greatly elevated and rugged, forming high cliffs on the western shores. Along the south-eastern shores, commencing at Loch Spelve, and continuing onward to Loch Ba, the land occupies a low position on the shore projecting near to the level of the sea, that ad,-mits of a passage along the base of the cliffs. The southwestern point of the isle, called the Ross, is a rugged elevated tongue of land. Almost the entire surface is rugged, while Ben More, near the center, rises to a height of three thousand, one hundred and sixty-nine feet, but similar to the other mountains of the island, is wanting in bold outlines. The base, upon which rests the many mountains of Mull, is limited to a diameter of only twelve miles.

The mountains and hills of Mull have the softness of a pastoral range, which consequently makes the scenery remarkable for a quaint and solemn beauty. Its valleys, outlines of mountains, purple moorlands and lochs have charms seen in no other island. Owing to its varied geological disturbances it presents attractions to the geologist, artist, and tourist alike.

The most picturesque part of the island is at Grulin, where may be found the highest mountains, the deepest glens, and the darkest corries, for all of which Mull is specially noted. Not only does Ben More lift its gigantic peak, but Ben Talla also comes little short of the same altitude. These bens with others, form that gigantic range of mountains which stretches athwart the island to the Sound of Mull. The scene presents one great idyll in which wood, loch, river and mountain appeal to poetic fancy.

A panorama is presented from near Loch Ba,gjthe most prominent landmarks being Ben Talla, Mam Reapadail, and Mam Chlachaig* all bare and forbidding, with rugged flanks, exhibiting small streams, which rapidly expand into torrents, and wild cascades as they approach the more level lands. The background shows lofty Ben More, whose sterile peak frowns over their heads.

Ben More, located between the heads of Loch na Keal and Loch Scridain, has a commanding view of the scenery on every side. This Ben is a conical figure, beautifully formed, and noticeably resembles Mt. Vesuvius. The summit is an extinct crater, and from this point of observation, as far as the eye can reach, there is a wonderful extent of land and sea. Looking towards the west, and spreading out, within the arms of Mull are many isles, hemmed in by the surging waves of the ocean. Lying close to Ben More, and located within the mouth of Loch na Keal, is the isle of Ulva, which is separated from the mainland of Mull by a narrow channel, about three hundred feet in width. The extent of this isle is about eighteen square miles. West of it is Gometra; to the souhh Little Colonsay; close to the mainland, and approaching Ben More, is Inch Kenneth, and well within the loch is Eorsa. Almost due west is StafFa, with its wonderful caverns. Still farther west the Treshnish Isles, forming a wonderful barrier, break the waves of the ocean. Beyond the latter line, Coll and Tyree are distinctly visible. Off the point of the Ross of Mull, Iona, sacred to the Christian, fascinates the eye. Due south, Oronsay, Colonsay and the Paps of Jura loom up. Looking to the south-eastward many isles are seen dotting the frontage of the mainland, though appearing not greatly removed. Such are the Garveloch, Scalpa, Luing. Almost due east Kerrera’s rugged surface rears its summit. To the north an inviting view is given by the Sound of Mull, thus described by James Hogg:

“Nay, look around, on green sea wave,
On cliff, and shelve, which breakers lave,
On stately towers and ruins gray,
On moat, on island, glen and bay;
On cataract and shaggy mound,
On mighty mountains far around
Jura’s fair bosom, form’d and full,
The dark and shapeless groups of Mull;
Others far north, in haze that sink,
Proud Nevis, in Lochaber’s bank,
And blue Cruachan, bold and riven,
In everlasting coil with Heaven,
View all the scene, and view it well,
Consult thy memory and tell
If on earth exists the same,
Or one so well deserves the name.”

A general view only affords a summary, but the closer the view the richer the beauty. Geographically, the isle is divided into parishes, the largest of which is Kilfinichen and Kilvicuen, but among the people is generally known as Ross. Exclusive of the islands included within the parish, it embraces about one hundred and seventy-five square miles, which covers the south-western part of Mull, extending on the north to Loch na Keal, and on the east and north-east by a ridge of mountains that separates it from the parish of Tor-osay. Tn general the parish presents a barren appearance, although there is much fertile land and good pasture; but the greater part is hilly, though adapted to grazing. The district of Ross, comparatively speaking is flat, with most of the surface covered with moss and heath. Its arable land is formed of clayey and sandy soils, though in places thin and light. The quality of the grass makes good feeding for cattle.

The district of Brolas rises in a gentle assent from Loch Scridain, having a northern exposure. Itú surface consists mostly of heath and rocks, with the soil light, dry, and rather barren; but the south face ot the district, called Carsaig and Inimore, is more fertile.

The district of Airdmeanach rises to a considerable height from Loch Scridain and is somewhat similar to Brolas. All the mountains and hills within the parish are covered with heath.

The only mountains within the parish are those which divide it from Torosay. Among these is Ben More. The bold headland of Burg rises to a great height above the sea, which contains basaltic columns, such columns also occur at Ardtun, in Ross; in many places in Brolas, particularly so in Inimore. At this place these rocks rise almost perpendicular from the sea, and to a great height, forming' very picturesque appearances, especially when the sea rages beneath.

The parish of Kilninian and Kilmore, exclusive of its numerous isles, lies in the north-west part of Mull, and is surrounded on all sides by the sea excepting at the isthmus made by the intruding of Loch na Keal into the land. It embraces, in Mull, about one hundred and sixty square miles. The land is generally hilly, and for the most part is covered with heath. The arable land, for the most part, lies near the seashore. The pasture-land is in the interior part. The soil is of a light-reddish earth. There are no mountains of any considerable height.

This parish has three divisions, one Kilninian, one Tobermory and the other Salen. The first occupies about seventy square miles and lies in the extreme north-western part of Mull. Tobermory division contains twelve square miles, and stretches along the Sound of Mull a distance of six miles. Salen is to the east and borders the isthmus.

Torosay covers the north-eastern part of Mull, and contains one hundred and sixty square miles. A chain of mountains runs along its entire length, all having a common base except Ben More and Ben Talla. The latter is almost a perfect cone. It impresses the eye with an agreeable blending of grandeur and beauty. The interior of the parish is so hilly that very little flat ground can be seen.

Glens.—The numerous mountains of Mull, covering so limited an area, would produce many glens of scenic beauty, grandeur and wildness. The most noted of the glens are More, Forsa, Cainail, Iris, or Silisdear. As the parish of Torosay embraces the greater part of the mountains of Mull, it would necessarily include more of the glens, and those of greater size. The most noted of all is Glen More, which derives its name from its length, which is about ten miles. It begins along a stream that pours into the head of Loch Scridain, and from thence to the west shore of Loch Squabain, and on to the valley of Lussa River. On either side the mountains hem it in so that it is only a long narrow pass winding its tortuous way in the narrow defile between the adjoining bens. The depth of the valley, at its highest point, is about three hundred feet above sea-level. Its sides have an acclivity varying from 40░ to the perpendicular.

Next in importance is Glen Forsa which follows the Forsa River, having its source in Glen More, eastward of Ben Talla, and at its base empties into the Sound of Mull near Pennygown. It is about five miles long by three-quarters broad. The average height of its depth is about one hundred and sixty feet above the level of the sea. Its surrounding hills have an acclivity of about 30░. The hills are covered with grass and heath.    .

Glen Cainail, or Glen Cannel is three miles farther west,, runs parallel to Glen Forsa, and is of the same breadth, but two miles shorter in length. It drains the western slopes of Ben Talla and Ben Chaisgidle, and pours its water into the eastern extremity of Loch Ba. It is three miles in length.

The lesser glens are quite numerous, and are noted in the chapter on Geology, Reference here will be made to Glen Iris which lies along the road between Gribun and Kilfinichen. Glen Byre partially drains the northern and eastern face of. Ben Croise, and empties into the western shore of Loch Buy. Glen Lidle commences north of Carsaig Bay and empties into Roadways. The glens offer roadways, over which the various parts of the isle may be reached. Glen More offers a passage-way for the people of western Mull, but a roadway was not constructed, until about the middle of the nineteenth century. Beginning at Loch Don, a roadway skirts along the Sound of Mull to Tobermory. From this roadway another branches off from Loch Don, follows along the west shore of Loch Spelve, passing Loch Uisg and ends at the head of Loch Buy. Near the mouth of the Lussa, where it enters Loch Spelve, a road begins, runs along the river a considerable distance, then turns at right angles, taking a south-westerly course, follows the eastern shore of Loch Scridain, passes through Bunessan, and ends at the ferry, connecting with Iona. A road leaves Salen, passing the mouth of Loch Ba, sweeps east of Ben More, and at the head of Loch Scridain connects with the road to Bunessan. From this road branches another, taking a north-westerly direction, following the northern shore of Loch Tua. From Tobermory a road takes a south-western direction to Calgary, and other points along the western coast of Mull. A road leads from Bunessan to the east coast of the Ross of Mull, bearing a south-eastern course. A road starts from Carsaig House and leads to a point immediately opposite Inch Kenneth. It is solid and well built.

Rivers. There are many small streams that take the name of river, which, at times become veritable torrents. The principal rivers are the Lussa, Forsa and Ba. The Lussa is in the north-eastern part of Torosay; is about six miles in length, and empties into the sea at the east end of Loch Spelve, where it is thirty yards broad. The Forsa drains Glen Forsa, is about four miles in length, and has its rise at the base of Ben Talla. The Ba issues from Loch Ba, and after a course of two miles empties into an arm of Loch na Keal.

The rivers are simply mountain streams. A striking illustration is afforded in that at the extreme head of Burg, athwart Loch Scridain. Here are two depressions, which run perpendicular to the sea. These two large waterfalls are dry in summer, but in the winter pour out millions of tons of water which have been drained from a thousand streamlets. During the storms of winter the water rolls over the banks of the frightful precipice, and as it is launched over the rocky ledge, there arises a contest with the wind, which causes a vapory smoke to arise skyward. The wild grandeur of the surroundings gives a faint sight to Ben More vomiting forth its liquid flame of lava projecting itself into the sea.

Lochs. The lochs render additional interest to the surface, whether sea or fresh water. The most interesting and picturesque part of the isle is the western shore. The two great arms of Mull form a bay which contains over twenty isles, not including massive rocks laid bare during the ebb of the tide. On the border of this bay are numerous lochs, the most noted being Loch na Keal, which is hemmed in by the isle of Eorsa, and that in turn is guarded by the islands of Ulva and Inch Kenneth. An important feature of this loch consists in nearly cutting into two parts the isle of Mull, for it penetrates into Mull a distance of eight miles, and comes within four miles of reaching the Sound of Mull. The loch is so deep and so wide that it has sheltered a large fleet of ships. The name means a “loch of Cells,” which designation may have come down from the St. Columban era, though no remains of a chapel have been found near its shores. The cliffs composing the shores are very striking and pleasing to the eye. A peculiar feature consists of the lava sheets of the shore dipping from 2░ to 5░ toward the great central masses of eruptive rocks, and increasing in inclination as the volcano is approached.

Within the arms of Mull is a sister loch, known as Scridain, somewhat larger than Loch na Keal. The word Sgrio-dain is probably from the Norse Skrida, a landslip. The Gaelic name should be retained, which is Loch Leven, or more properly Leamhain, the loch of elms. Between the heads of Loch na Keal and Scridain, Ben More rears its lofty altitude. Also between the two lochs lies the lofty headland of Burg. The lava sheets along the shore have the same characteristics as those of Loch na Keal.

Loch Caol is near the point of the Ross of Mull. Its name signifies narrow. During the storms of winter the waves of the sea come careering one after another, forcing themselves into the very parapet of the roadway that guards the village of Bunessan.

Forming a part of Loch na Keal is Loch Tua, though not so long as Scridain, yet reaching a length of eight miles, including the narrow strait between Ulva and Mull. Its greatest width is nearly three miles. The meaning of Tua (Tuadh) is “hatchet.” Or, if the word should be Tuath, as some have it, then the meaning is “northern.” It is noted for its shores presenting an example of a volcanic mud-stream, having been buried under a flow of lava. The loch offers safe anchorage for a large fleet of vessels.

Proceeding northward, and passing a horn of Mull, is Calgary Bay, forming a considerable indentation on the shore. This bay is an illustration of the results of the mighty surges of the waves of the ocean against basaltic rock.

Between Caliach Point and Quinish Point is Loch Cuan, forming a very narrow fiord, a distance of three miles into the land. The name is probably Cumhang, or narrow loch.

Not far distant from Cuan is a very small loch known as Mingary.

Ardmore Point is the most northerly part of Mull, and near it is Bloody Bay, which takes its name from a sea battle, there fought in 1482. In Gaelic the bay is called Badh na fola. The bay is a part of Sunart.

Near the western end of the Sound of Mull is Tobermory Bay, hemmed in by Calla (from Norse Calabh, calf) island. In Gaelic the name is Tobar Mhoire, a survival of Romanism, meaning well of St. Mary. The bay is one of the best anchorages on the west coast of Scotland. Hills almost completely shelter it, and in stormy weather, ships of all sises take refuge there.

Aros, Salen, Fishnish, Scallasdale and Duard Bays are but indentations along the Mull side of the Sound of Mull.

On the east coast is Loch Don, which is very crooked Following its crooks it is about three miles in length.

Farther south is Loch Spelve, with a greatly extended shore line, but narrow breadth.

Loch Buy, or the yellow loch, is three miles in length. At its head is the plain of Laggan and Moy Castle. When the tide is out a great extent of rocks is exposed.

Fresh water lochs are very numerous, the greater number being very limited in size. On one estate alone (Glengorm) are Lochs na Torr (one half mile in length), the three Mish-nish, connected the one with the other (about two miles) and Loch Friza (three miles in length).

The largest of all the Mull lakes is Loch Frisa, located about the center of the western division of the island. It is enveloped by basaltic rocks. The cutlet is by Aros River into Salen Bay. Its length is about five miles.

The second in size is Loch-Ba (the cow loch), which is about two and one half miles in length. It is near the foot of Ben Greig, and a short distance from the head of Loch na Keal, into which it pours its water.

Loch Uisg is on the Loch Buy estate; is very narrow, and is surrounded by beautiful scenery. From it a small stream leads into the head of Loch Buy.

About two miles from Bunessan is Loch Assapol. This small body of water is reputed to be the best fishing point in Mull. It is easily reached by roadway from Bunessan.

Other lochs, some of which are but the broadening of small streams, will be referred to in the Chapter on Geology.

Caverns. The many seismic convulsions, which the island of Mull has undergone, produced fissures in all the various rocks, and in these rents were deposited materials of decay. To these disturbances must be ascribed-the great num* ber of caverns which form an important feature in the structure of Mull.

The most favored spot for caverns is Gribun, noted for its wonderful grottoes. Numerous subteranean cavities, with long winding galleries, whose sides are draped with stalagmi-tic ornaments of various forms, arrest the scientist and observer alike^

The most noted of all the caverns is MacKinnon’s Cave, known to the native by the name of Umaha Chloinn Fhion-ghainn. This cave, located in Gribun, can only be reached by boat, and even then only when the tide is out. The entrance is difficult of access, owing to the rocks which lie in its front, and against which the tides dash with great force. The entrance is forty-five feet in height. The roof rises in regular arched form, and is so high that the dim light, furnished by a candle, does not afford a good view. Its depth is about two hundred feet, and in the innermost recess is another cave about twenty-five feet, in breadth. The roof and form of the outer cavern demonstrate that it was formed by the constant washing of a fissure.

Another cavern in Gribun is called the Ladder Cave, to which there is an open passage of about eighty feet. At the opening of the cavern is a small breastwork, which requires a ladder in order to enter. There is also a large flagstone m position, behind as though it had been used for a table. During troublous times the cave was used as a place of refuge.

Located in the extreme point of the peninsula of Laggan, which separates Loch Buy from the Firth of Lorn, is Lord Lovat’s Cave, though anciently called Odin’s. It is composed of three chambers: the main, or entrance one, is three hundred feet in length; breadth, for the first hundred feet from the entrance, twenty feet, and the height forty. It then rapidly widens to forty-five feet, its height increasing until it reaches an altitude, said to be over one hundred and twenty feet, which is retained to its extremity. Near the point of expansion on the west side, there is a depression, and also a cavity in the wall. At the deepest part of the depression, and almost against the wall, is a fissure in the rock, wide enough to admit the body of an ordinary sized man. Descending into this fissure another chamber is reached, the roof of which is on a level with the main avenue. It bears off in a west by north direction and extends a distance of about one hundred feet. The breadth and height vary—the greatest dimensions being twelve in breadth by twenty-four in height. The floor is irregular—the lower part being near the center. At the western extremity the third chamber is reached, the direction of which is toward the main avenue and at right angles with it. It descends rapidly, and from a breadth of ten feet, it soon terminates in a fissure, instead of being perpendicular, bends towards the south at an angle of about ten degrees. The entrance to the first or main avenue, is about fifteen feet above sea-level. The cavern was formed during a period of subsidence, and by the action of water through the fissures. The fetch of the ocean, if the cavern was partly above the ocean, would rapidly cut away such soft parts as might still cling to the walls or lie upon the floor.

From the head of Loch Buy to the Carsaig Arches are many caves and indentations in the rock, all of which are below the basalt. Near the entrance of Loch Buy, on the Carsaig side, is a large rock cut off from the cliff. It is composed of two parts, the base being cretaceous, and the upper part basaltic columns. A beautiful recess has been formed in this rock, extending through both formations.

Carsaig Arches form the most wonderful geological feature on Mull. This formation is located just below Carsaig Bay, and at a point where the cliff rises to a height of nine hundred and seventy feet, They give a clear and definite idea how a cavern may be formed in basaltic pillars. The rock in which are the excavations have the oolite for the base and basalt for the covering. The longer arch is open at both ends, having a length of one hundred feet; height sixty feet, and breadth fifty-five feet. The smaller arch cuts through the detached rock, which is one hundred and twenty feet high, producing a cavity of seventy feet in altitude. The aperture was first produced in the softer material, and when this had sufficiently widened the basalt dropped from above,—aided by a fault and the erosions of the sea.

Not far from the Arches is the Nun’s Cave, or Uamh nan Cailleach, protruding into the sandstone at the foot of the cliff. It is specially noted for its supposed connection with the Cathedral on Iona. While the sandstone at the cave is of the same material as that used in Iona, yet there is neither written nor oral evidence that the stone in Iona was quarried at this point. The rude carving of crosses on the walls within the cave, may indicate that it was used by monks or nuns.

Tradition affirms it was a place of punishment meted out to nuns who had gone wrong. Barring the rude crosses the cave is not of special interest.

“O the island of Mull is an isle of delight,
With the wave on the shore and the sun on the height,
With the breeze on the hills, and the blast on the Bens,
And the old green woods, and the old grassy glens.”


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