In the southwest of Mull, far away from the hustle and bustle of Tobermory and Craignure, lie the Ross of Mull peninsula and the Isle of Iona. Together, they entice nature lovers, adventure seekers and spiritual pilgrims with beautiful landscapes, fun outdoor activities and inspiring locals to meet. Read on for a dose of travel inspiration and unique experiences to have on the “Wild Isles” of Mull and Iona.
This post is part of a paid campaign with Visit Mull & Iona funded by VisitScotland.
This post contains affiliate links from which I may make a commission. Find out more here.
While the Isle of Mull is by far no secret, there is a place where you still get it to yourself: the Ross of Mull. It might just be the quietest spot on the island. Many drive down to the peninsula on their way to catch a boat to Iona or Staffa, but few stop to explore the region more in-depth.
I recently had the pleasure to spend a few wet and windy October days on the Ross of Mull peninsula and the neighbouring Isle of Iona. I tried outdoor activities, met inspiring locals and enjoyed the scenery from its wild side.
Quickly, I realised that travelling to Mull and Iona in the off-season is worth it for anyone who is looking to connect with nature and locals in a more meaningful way.
The weather might be wilder than in the summer, but if you learn to embrace the elements instead of fighting them – a mantra I learned from one of the locals I met – you will still have a great time. You’d be surprised how a good mindset changes your experience of rain and wind.
In this article, I will tell you about 6 unique ways to experience the Ross of Mull and the Isle of Iona in a different way. From kayaking with a social enterprise to connecting creativity with seaweed, it’s all about spending time outside and learning about the islands from local guides.
Read on for:
- Water activities on the Ross of Mull,
- Suggested hikes on the Isle of Iona,
- Where to stay on Mull & Iona,
- And lots of other practical tips.
Ross of Mull Travel Guide
Where is the Ross of Mull?
The Ross of Mull is the long, finger-shaped peninsula in the southwest of the Isle of Mull, one of Scotland’s largest islands. There are a few villages and settlements on the peninsula. The largest is Bunessan with its horseshoe-shaped waterfront and Fionnphort at the end of the road from where you can take the ferry to Iona.
The Isle of Mull is a stop on my Hidden West Coast itinerary. If you like what you read here, why don’t you follow it next time you’re in Scotland?
How to get to the Ross of Mull
First, make your way to Oban either by car or by train from Glasgow along the West Highland Line. From Oban, take the ferry to Craignure on the Isle of Mull.
It takes just over an hour to drive from the ferry port at Craignure to Fionnphort. Note, that the entire route is a single-track road. Plan some extra time as you will drive slower than you’re used to!
If you are travelling Scotland on public transport, you will be happy to hear that you can take a bus from Craignure to Fionnphort. It takes approx. 1h 15m and an open return ticket costs £17 (2021 price).
You might also like: Find out what else to do on the Isle of Mull!
Where to stay on the Ross of Mull
On my trip, I stayed at the Ross of Mull Bunkroom, a small boutique hostel-style accommodation in Fionnphort. The bunkhouse is available for whole cottage bookings and sleeps up to 8 people in two rooms. Each has two bunk beds and there are two bathrooms. There is a cosy common area with couches and a fireplace, a dining area, and a fully-equipped kitchen. You’ll find books and maps, board games and even two guitars.
The bunkhouse is a perfect, budget-friendly accommodation for families or groups of friends travelling together, but in the shoulder and off-season, they also have a special single occupancy rate for solo travellers (£50 per night). Since it’s always rented as a whole cottage, you won’t have to share with anyone you don’t know.
While there are no big supermarkets in the area, you can pick up self-catering supplies at the small Spar in Bunessan or Fionnphort. Non-vegans can also purchase high-quality free-range meat as well as seafood produce locally from boats and crofts.
Rachel and Matt, who run the bunkhouse, are happy to give recommendations for the area – from wild swimming to hiking.
If you’re looking for something a bit more upmarket, check out Achaban House – also run by Rachel and Matt, and just next to the bunkrooms. This self-catering property sleeps up to 14 guests in 6 en-suite bedrooms and comes with a private hot tub in the garden.
Getting around the Ross of Mull
Apart from the bus from Fionnphort to Craignure, there is no public transport on the Ross of Mull. There are several taxi companies on the Isle of Mull, but they are all based in Tobermory (approx. 1.5 hours from the Ross of Mull) – feasible to book for longer transfers, but not so useful for short, local journeys.
If you travel to the Ross of Mull by public transport, consider bringing or hiring a bike or arranging transfers with your accommodation hosts or activity providers.
Isle of Iona Travel Guide
Where is the Isle of Iona?
The Isle of Iona is a small island off the southwest coast of Mull. It is separated from the Isle of Mull by the Sound of Iona, a narrow stretch of water. There is only one village on the island with a small shop, several local makers and boutiques, a post office and a couple of hotels/restaurants.
How to get to the Isle of Iona
The ferry to the Isle of Iona leaves from Fionnphort on the Ross of Mull. The crossing takes approx. 10 minutes and you can only buy tickets on the boat (not online, not in advance).
Where to stay on Iona
Give glamping a try and stay at Iona Pods! Each pod can sleep up to 4 people, has a kitchenette and a picnic bench for sunny days. There is a central building with a washing-up area, toilets and showers and everything is kept squeaky clean by host Dot and her team.
Even though there are 10 pods near each other, they are all positioned in a way that gives you maximum privacy. You’ll either get views of Dun I – Iona’s highest hill – or the Sound of Iona and the coast of Mull beyond.
Iona Pods are located a 10-15 minute walk from the ferry pier, but I’m sure Dot would be happy to assist you in booking local transport if you need any help.
Getting around the Isle of Iona
Visitors cannot take their cars across to Iona – only locals are allowed to bring cars onto the island. You can explore Iona on foot, or by hiring a bike from Iona Craft Shop. There is also a taxi company on Iona.
Unique Experiences on the Ross of Mull and the Isle of Iona
Sea Kayaking with Bendoran Watersports
The Ross of Mull peninsula is surrounded by water on three sides. That makes it perfect sea kayaking territory, because regardless of where the wind is blowing from, you’re bound to find a sheltered section of coastline to explore.
Bendoran Watersports is a community interest company based on the Ross of Mull. They are part commercial business, offering sea kayaking trips to visitors like myself, and part social enterprise, providing opportunities for locals.
Through their social paddling club, locals of all ages can learn how to paddle safely. They meet once a week to explore their coastline in the sea kayak.
I joined founder John Lloyd and a group of paddling club members for a trip to Market Bay. Along the way, I heard about the improvements the club has brought to their lives – from learning new skills and fostering career opportunities to the chance to socialise across ages and improving your physical and mental wellbeing.
I love the fact that John hasn’t just started a business, but created an organisation with a purpose. Visitors and locals alike can bask in the beauty of the Ross of Mull.
And beautiful it is. We paddled from Bendoran to Market Bay, which is one of the Queen’s favourite beaches. It’s easy to see why: white sands, crystal-clear waters and no crowds in sight.
Sea kayaking excursions with Bendoran Watersports are available from £45 per person for a half-day.
Want to travel responsibly? Read my travel tips for a positive impact!
Wild Swimming on Fidden Bay
There is something about swimming in the sea, that brings you closer to the land – ironic isn’t it? Immersing yourself in the elements changes your perspective and brings with it a new appreciation for the landscape, the wildlife and the power of nature.
There are many beaches on the Ross of Mull that are suitable for a swim in the sea – as long as you take great care, of course. Fidden, Uisken, Ardanalish and many more.
Rachel, who runs the Ross of Mull Bunkhouse with her partner, is an experienced swimmer and took me out for a wild swim at Fidden Bay. And on this occasion, it really deserved to be called “wild swimming”.
It was raining and the wind was blowing, but dressed in a warm, neoprene armour (a wet suit, gloves and socks), the weather was no issue. After all, you get wet in the ocean anyway, so it doesn’t matter when it rains. Who knew, swimming could be the perfect rainy day activity?!
We spent an hour swimming among the rocky skerries in the bay. We spotted sea birds on the rocks and kept our eyes peeled for curious seals. Rachel often encounters them on her swims in the area. We discovered sandbanks and rockpools and looked at the wildlife that lives on the rocks.
Turns out, swimming is a great activity to switch off, connect with yourself, but also the places you visit in a unique way.
Just as we left Fidden, we saw a male hen harrier put on a show above the road. We watched it flying for several minutes. This bird of prey is super rare – basically non-existent on the mainland because of illegal persecution – so this was a very special moment. It shows that there are surprises behind every corner on Mull and even if you don’t go on a wildlife tour, it’s worth keeping your eyes peeled.
While Rachel isn’t a swimming instructor, she can share her local knowledge with guests who are up for a swim in the sea.
You might also like: 5 Pretty Places for Wild Swimming in Scotland
Hiking on Iona
The Isle of Iona is known for its spirituality. In the 6th century, the Irish missionary monk St Columba landed here on the island and founded a monastery, bringing Christianity to Scotland. For centuries, Iona was the religious centre of the region and even today, many pilgrims travel to the island to spend time with the Iona Community and visit the medieval Abbey.
But even if you’re not religious, one can’t argue about the sense of tranquillity that overcomes you when you step ashore the Isle of Iona.
Since the island is small and visitors are not allowed to bring their cars across, Iona is best explored on foot. There are many footpaths leading to beaches and bays, remote lochs and the tops of small hills.
One such hike I recommend is the walk to St Columba Bay, the beach where St Columba first landed on the coast of Iona in 563 AD. The walk takes approximately 1-1.5 hours each way, but it’s worth planning some extra time (30 minutes to several hours) to explore the bay at the end. Bring a picnic, comb the beach for “St Columba’s Tears” (a unique greenstone) or simply sit on a rock and watch the waves.
- Follow the main road on the island to the golf course on th west coast of Iona.
- Soon after the tarmac road turns into a track and you pass through a gate, take a smaller path to the left. This path runs parallel to the shoreline of the so-called “Bay at the back of the Ocean”. If you have a bit of extra time, head down to the pebble beach.
- Past the golf course, the track climbs up a little into the hills – it’s not particularly steep, but it can be quite muddy up here.
- Continue on the track as it narrows even further and leads past a small loch on your right. You’ll find short sections board walks and stepping stones which help you to navigate the bog.
- Eventually, the path descends torwards the coast again and the bay comes into view.
There are actually two bays here. But it’s the bigger one on the left – Port of the Coracle – where St Columba’s boat landed all those years ago. In between the bays, there is a big rock. If you climb to the top, you can see both bays really well, watch the waves and count the islands just off the coast.
Other beautiful hikes include a walk to the north end of the island to see the sandy beaches Calva and White Strand of the Monks. Or you could climb the highest hills on Iona – Dun I. It’s 101 metres (333 ft) above sea level and the path leaves from the main road just beyond Iona Pods.
Seaweed Safari with KNOCKvologan
A great way to spend time on the beach without actually having to get in the water or on a boat is to go on a seaweed safari. There are hundreds of species of seaweed on the Scottish coast, and at low tide, a whole new world opens up for you to explore.
Nothing beats heading out with an expert who can point out different species and knows which ones are worth tasting. Dutch artist Miek Zwamborn is such an expert. Together with her partner, Rutger Emmelkamp she runs KNOCKvologan, an artist residency and study hub on the south coast of the Ross of Mull. They moved to Mull many years ago and are now facilitating creative projects that connect artists with the landscape, nature, wildlife and the local community.
As an avid swimmer and observer of nature, Miek has written a book about seaweed – the Seaweed Collector’s Handbook. In 2022, she will host several seaweed walks on the beaches of the Ross of Mull to teach others about seaweed, coastal plants and the importance of seaweed for our eco-system.
I was lucky enough to experience one of her first seaweed safaris, read her nature-inspired poetry and learn about her and Rutger’s approach to slow, but meaningful tourism.
Follow their social media to find out about dates next year!
You might also like: 11 Educational & Science-Based Tourism Experiences in Scotland
Back in the day, there was an unwritten law in the Scottish Highlands, called Highland Hospitality: strangers were to be welcomed with open arms and hosted with great hospitality. Wary travellers benefit from this cultural practice to this day and the locals on Mull and Iona are living up to the expectation. They are true masters of Island Hospitality.
It started with the local bus driver, who gave us a full tour of the island on our journey from Craignure to Fionnphort. There is an official, recorded audio tour which he can play, but he preferred to give us his version. He pointed out landmarks and small businesses, told stories about little known locals, and talked about everything from wildlife to geology.
I felt welcomed by my hosts on the Ross of Mull, who offered to drive me to my kayaking trip, and equipped me with staples for breakfast and dinner. Rachel took me swimming and shared some of her secrets with me, like how to deal better with the cold water. The members of the paddling club were amazing as we exchanged our stories and found confidence at sea together.
The staff on the ferry to Iona let me board even though none of my cards would work in their card machine. My host at Iona Pods had the pod ready for me, hours before official check-in. The staff at the hotels where I ate, took good care of me, and made sure I had all the vegan food I could dream of.
The Isles of Mull and Iona are obviously beautiful, but it’s the hospitality of the locals and their small acts of kindness that make a trip to the wild isles so special.
Foodie Heaven on Iona
Let’s talk about food. If you eat fish, the Ross of Mull and Iona will spoil you with the freshest seafood one can imagine. Caught right off the coast of these islands, you’ll be blown away by the quality.
There aren’t many restaurants on the Ross of Mull, so unless you’re happy to drive to eat out, self-catering is your best option. There are small shops in Bunessan and Fionnphort for essentials, but for any special dietary requirements, you’re best to bring what you need from Oban.
But what if you’re vegan like me?
On Iona, however, there are two hotels with outstanding vegan options on their menu. Both grow their own veggie gardens and you can really taste the freshness of the produce.
- St Columba Hotel has vegan options on their lunch and dinner menu. I had a delicious pea veloute with a parsnip and potato rosti – all homemade and sourced as locally as possible. The hotel is closer to the Abbey and the restaurant has beautiful views of the sea and a field with Highland coos
- Argyll Hotel lies right on the waterfront near the pier of Iona. For dinner I had a vegan three course meal, including an excellent rhubarb “cheesecake”. I also came here for breakfast and love that they even make their potato scones from scratch.
The level of vegan food on Iona came as a complete surprise to me – it’s definitely a great place to visit for foodies!
You might also like: Vegan travel tips for Scotland
Visiting the Scottish Isles in the off-season is an adventure for the senses. The beauty of the landscapes. The touch of autumn colours. The delicious tasting produce. The warmth of the welcoming locals. It’s all worth braving the elements.
In the end, nothing beats a wild isles getaway to the Ross of Mull and the Isle of Iona.
Did I give you itchy feet?
Pin this post for later:
One thought on “Ross of Mull & Isle of Iona: 6 Ways to Experience the Wild Isles”
Pingback: 'Wild Isle' - Isle of Mull - Wild for Scotland