Seven-hour tour offers grand look at Isle of MullWritten by Roger Holliday Claudia Fischer | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Peter Hall of Mull Wildlife Tours has an idea. A very good idea, in fact.
Anyone who takes his seven-hour SUV tour around the magical Scottish Isle of Mull receives a complete listing of all the bird and wildlife species spotted during the day’s outing. This serves not only as a timely reminder of the tour itself, but also as a very useful assist to birders — or ‘twitchers’ in Brit-speak — who like to compile their own lifetime lists.
Peter simply talks into a tape machine at each spotting and then e-mails (or snail mails) the list to all participants.
Due to less than perfect birding conditions — read heavy, unremitting rain — on the day that we went out along with two Scottish twitchers, our list was a mere 25 species long…but still included such wonderfully evocative names such as the red breasted merganser, meadow pipit, oystercatcher, kittiwake, great northern diver and black guillemot.
The island’s most famous resident however, the sea eagle — now coming back from near extinction and recently featured in a PBS documentary about Mull — escaped our spotting scopes despite several optimistic visits to their known nesting locations.
But their nonappearance, the heavy Scottish “mists”…and some rather soggy sandwiches…did little to diminish the fun we had learning about the island’s history, culture and wildlife.
Guided nature tours have become an increasingly popular part of the island’s tourist industry which speaks volumes about the variety of wildlife on this tiny Hebridean isle — albeit with 300 miles of coastline — and the growing interest in all things ornithological.
(Mull Wildlife Tours cost 35 pounds ($56) per person including lunch. www.mullwildlifetours.co.uk
The next day, on our whale watching trip with Sea Life Surveys, we didn’t spot any whales either mainly due to some rather heavy seas…but we did get a couple of brilliant sea eagle sightings. One in full flight….with its magnificent 8-foot wing span. The other framed dramatically in a very tall tree.
We also saw several seals, common and Atlantic greys. Heard porpoises via a lowered hydrophone. And watched the antics of all manner of sea birds as our captain and crew of four maneuvered in and out of secluded bays while imparting all the marine biology we could possibly handle!
The captain of our boat, the Sula Beag, was the same one who had taken us out eleven years earlier when we saw and adopted a Minke whale named Betty and when the company was operating, as we remembered it, out of a quonset hut somewhere in Mull’s hinterland.
Today, they have their own purpose-built HQ at one end of picturesque Tobermory Bay, featuring showers, washing machines and a gift shop.
As dedicated and long-time leaders in the preservation and recording of marine mammals in the Hebridean Seas, we can think of no better reward. Don’t miss a tour with them if you’re on the island…or staying in Oban, just a short ferry ride away. www.sealifesurveys.com
A totally different “boating” experience was a visit to The Royal Yacht Britannia, now decommissioned and a floating museum in Leith harbor, a 15-minute bus ride out of Edinburgh. www.royalyachtbritannia.co.uk
For 10 pounds ($16) you can take a self guided audio tour through this 412-foot fabulously outfitted yacht that served the current British Royal family from 1953 to 1997 — before financial pressures and good sense, perhaps — conspired to take it out of service and into a charitable trust.
But as the 83rd in a line of Royal yachts that stretches back to 1660 and the reign of Charles II…it’s well worth a visit.
We spent two hours wandering the ship’s decks, ogling the Royal sleeping quarters and the opulent living and dining rooms. Looking in on the officers quarters and bars. The Marine Band bunk room. Medical facilities replete with operating theater. The kitchens. And a large laundry room where the Royal wash must never be done on the same day as the rest of the crews…for fear of contaminating the Royal undies!
We enjoyed our tour. Ate cucumber and watercress sandwiches on the aft deck. And remembered that the ship had not just been a royal toy — but also a fine place to entertain foreign dignitaries during some 968 official voyages and more than a million nautical miles.
But a permanent crew of 240 souls? Well, that was probably a ship too far!