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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
“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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