United Kingdom > Scotland > Isle of Mull


Mull is the second largest island of the Inner Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland in the council area of Argyll and Bute.

With an area of 875.35 square kilometres Mull is the fourth largest Scottish island and the fourth largest island surrounding Great Britain. In the 2011 census the usual resident population of Mull was 2,800 a slight increase on the 2001 figure of 2,667; in the summer this is supplemented by many tourists. Much of the population lives in Tobermory, the only burgh on the island until 1973, and its capital.

Tobermory is also home to Mull's only single malt Scotch whisky distillery: Tobermory distillery.


Early history

It is widely believed that Mull was inhabited from shortly after the end of the last Ice Age, around 6000 BC. Bronze Age inhabitants built menhirs, brochs and a stone circle with examples of burial cairns, cists, standing stones, pottery and knife blades provide compelling evidence.

Between 600 BC and AD 400, Iron Age inhabitants were building protective forts, duns and crannogs. Whether or not they were Picts is unclear.

In the 6th century, Irish migrants invaded Mull and the surrounding coast, establishing the Gaelic kingdom of Dál Riata. The kingdom was divided into a number of regions, each controlled by a kin group, of which the Cenél Loairn controlled Mull and the adjacent mainland to the east. Dál Riata was a springboard for the Christianisation of the mainland; the pivotal point was AD 563, when Columba, an Irish missionary, arrived at Iona (just off the south-west point of Mull) and founded a monastery, from which to start evangelising the local population.


In the 9th century, Viking invasions led to the destruction of Dál Riata, and its replacement by the Norse Kingdom of the Isles, which became part of the crown of Norway following Norwegian unification. The Kingdom of the Isles was much more extensive than Dál Riata, encompassing also the Outer Hebrides and Skye. To Norway, the island kingdom became known as Suðreyjar (Old Norse, traditionally anglicised as Sodor), meaning southern isles. The former lands of Dal Riata acquired the geographic description Argyle (now Argyll): the Gaelic coast.

In the late 11th century, Magnus Barefoot, the Norwegian king, launched a military campaign which, in 1098, lead the king of Scotland to quitclaim to Magnus all claim of sovereign authority over the territory of the Kingdom of the Isles. However, a coup some 60 years later, led by a Norse-Gael named Somerled, detached the whole of Suðreyjar from Norway, and transformed it into an independent Kingdom. Following Somerled's 1164 death, nominal Norwegian authority was established, but practical control of the realm was divided between Somerled's sons and the heirs of Somerled's brother-in-law, the Crovan Dynasty. His son Dougall received the former territory of the Cenél Loairn, now known as Lorn, of which Mull formed part.

Meanwhile, the Crovan Dynasty had retained the title king of the Isles, and control of the Lewis/Harris, and the Isle of Man. After a few decades, they acknowledged the English kings as their overlords, so Dougall's heirs (the MacDougalls) complained to Haakon, the Norwegian king, and in 1237 were rewarded by the kingship being split; rule of the Hebrides was transferred to the MacDougall line, and they were made the king of the Hebrides. They established the twin castles of Aros (in Mull) and Ardtornish (on the Mainland, opposite), which together controlled the Sound of Mull.

Throughout the early 13th century, the Scottish King, Alexander II, had made aggressive attempts to expand his realm into Suðreyjar, despite Edgar's earlier quitclaim. This naturally led to a period of high hostility between Norway and Scotland, that continued under Alexander III, Alexander II's successor. The Norwegian king died shortly after the indecisive Battle of Largs. In 1266, his more peaceable successor ceded his nominal authority over Suðreyjar to the Scottish king (Alexander III) by the Treaty of Perth, in return for a very large sum of money. Alexander generally acknowledged the semi-independent authority of Somerled's heirs; the former Suðreyjar had become Scottish crown dependencies, rather than parts of Scotland.

Lords of the Isles

At the end of the century, a dispute arose over the Scottish kingship between King John Balliol and Robert de Bruys. By this point, Somerled's descendants had formed into three families - as well as Dougall's heirs (the MacDougalls), there were also the heirs of his nephew Donald (the MacDonalds), and those of Donald's brother (the MacRory); the MacDougalls backed Balliol, while the MacDonalds and MacRory backed de Bruys. When de Bruys defeated John, he declared the MacDougall lands forfeit, and gave them to the MacDonalds and MacRory, with the latter acquiring Lorn (and hence, Mull). John, the head of the MacDonald family then married the heir of the MacRory family, thereby consolidating the remains of Somerled's realm, and transforming it into the Lordship of the Isles.

In 1354, though in exile and without control of his ancestral lands, John, the MacDougall heir, quitclaimed any rights he had over Mull to the Lord of the Isles. When Robert's son, David II, King of Scotland, became king, he spent some time in English captivity; following his release, in 1357, he restored MacDougall authority over Lorn, effectively cancelling Robert's grant to the MacRory. The 1354 quitclaim, which seems to have been an attempt to ensure peace in just such an eventuality, took automatic effect, splitting Mull from Lorn, and making it subject to the Lordship of the Isles.

In 1437, the Lordship was substantially expanded when Alexander, the Lord of the Isles, inherited the rule of Ross maternally. The expansion led the MacDonalds to move their centre of power from Islay to the twin castles of Aros and Ardtornish.

In 1462, the most ambitious of the Lords of the Isles, John MacDonald, struck an alliance with Edward IV of England, to conquer Scotland. Civil war in England prevented this from taking effect and from being discovered, until 1475, when the English court voluntarily revealed its existence. Calls for forfeiture of the Lordship naturally followed, but they were calmed when John quitclaimed most of his mainland territories. However, ambition wasn't given up so easily, and John's nephew launched a severe raid on Ross, but it ultimately failed. Within 2 years of the raid, in 1493, James IV of Scotland declared the Lordship of the Isles forfeit, transforming the realm into an intrinsic part of Scotland, rather than merely a dependency.


Throughout all this time, the descendants of the Cenél Loairn had retained their identity; they were now the MacLeans. Now that John MacDonald was exiled, James IV restored the authority of the MacLeans over Mull. An earlier chief of the MacLeans had married the daughter of the first Lord of the Isles, and received Duart Castle as the dowry; this now became the stronghold of MacLean control of Mull. The senior branch of the family constructed a tower house at Moy, on the southern side of Mull, while the cadet branch retained Duart Castle.

Legend has it that the wreck of a Spanish galleon, laden with gold, lies somewhere in the mud at the bottom of Tobermory Bay, although the ship's identity and cargo are disputed. By some accounts, the Florencia (or Florida, or San Francisco), a ship of the defeated Spanish Armada fleeing the English fleet in 1588, anchored in Tobermory to take on provisions. After a dispute over payment, the ship caught fire and the gunpowder magazine exploded, sinking the vessel. In her hold, reputedly, was £300,000 in gold bullion. Other sources claim the vessel was the San Juan de Sicilia (or San Juan de Baptista), which, records indicate, carried troops, not treasure. According to that account, the island's chief, Lachlan Mor Maclean, struck a deal with the Spanish commander to re-provision and refit the ship in return for military intervention on the side of the MacLeans in their feud with enemies on nearby islands. Whatever the true story, there have been numerous searches for the wreck, and its rumoured treasure, from the mid-17th century to the end of the 20th century. No significant treasure has yet been recovered in Tobermory Bay.

Following the Scottish Reformation, the MacLeans became supporters of Protestantism. By the mid-17th century, they had become promoters of conventicles, opposed to king Charles II's repudiation of the Solemn League and Covenant, and supporting acts of civil disobedience. Though personally opposed to persecution of such people, Archibald Campbell, the Earl of Argyll, was specifically ordered by the Scottish privy council to suppress conventicles within his lands, which included Lorn. The atmosphere of hostility soon spread to Mull, where opponents of the conventicles now felt emboldened, leading to outbreaks of violence between the two religious factions.

In 1678, Campbell was specifically instructed to seize Mull, and suppress both the violence and conventicles. It took him until 1680 to gain possession of the whole island. Campbell took charge of Duart Castle, and ejected the MacLean leadership from Mull; they moved to Cairnbulg Castle in Aberdeenshire. Campbell's own position was somewhat undermined when he instigated Argyll's Rising, against the reign of James VII. The loyalty of subsequent Campbell leaders ensured the Campbells retained possession of Duart (indeed, it was only after the Campbells sold it, and it had spent a century under other owners, that the MacLeans were able to recover it, by purchase). Under Campbell pressure, shrieval authority was established under the sheriff of Argyll, which they controlled.

Later history

Following Jacobite insurrections, the Heritable Jurisdictions Act abolished comital authority in Mull, and Campbell control of the Argyll sheriffdom; the Campbells could now only assert influence as Landlords. Many castles which had been in the hands of the MacLeans (such as Moy) had been slighted by the Campbells, or fallen into disrepair, but more comfortable homes were built nearby.

In 1773 the island was visited by Samuel Johnson and James Boswell during their famous Tour of the Western Islands. Farming, fishing and burning seaweed for kelp ash (used in the manufacture of soap and glass) were the main economic activities on the island until the 19th century. Tobermory was built by the British Fisheries Society in 1788, as a planned settlement to support the fishing industry. Following the Highland Clearances in the 18th and 19th centuries, and the Highland Potato Famine, the population fell from 10,000 to less than 3,000 and the island economy collapsed. Despite this, several grand houses were built on Mull in the period, including Torosay "Castle". By the early 20th century there were more sheep than people.

In 1889, counties were formally created in Scotland, on shrieval boundaries, by a dedicated Local Government Act; Mull therefore became part of the newly created County of Argyll.

The whole island became a Restricted Area during World War II. The bay at Tobermory became a naval base commanded from HMS Western Isles. The base and the Restricted Area were under Commodore (later Vice Admiral) Sir Gilbert Stephenson, whose strict discipline and ferocious temper earned him the nickname "The Terror of Tobermory". The base was used to train Escort Groups in anti-submarine warfare. 911 ships passed through the base between 1940 and 1945. Following late 20th century reforms, Mull is now part of the wider area of Argyll and Bute.


There is one secondary school on the island (Tobermory High School, which includes a Gaelic medium education unit) and several primary schools. Salen Primary School has a Gaelic medium education unit. Secondary pupils (age 11 - 18) from Iona, Bunessan and Fionnphort in the south west attend Oban High School, staying in an Oban hostel from Monday to Thursday.


Mull has a coastline of 480 kilometres (300 mi) and its climate is moderated by the Gulf Stream. The island has a mountainous core; the highest peak on the island is Ben More, which reaches 966 metres (3,169 ft). Various peninsulas, which are predominantly moorland, radiate from the centre.

The Aros peninsula to the north includes the main town of Tobermory, which was a burgh until 1973 when burghs were abolished. Other settlements include Salen, Dervaig and Calgary. The Ross of Mull lies to the south west and includes the villages of Bunessan, Pennyghael, Uisken and Fionnphort. Lochbuie, Lochdon and Craignure lie to the east.

Numerous islands lie off the west coast of Mull, including Erraid, Inch Kenneth, Iona, Gometra, and Ulva. Smaller uninhabited islands include Eorsa, Little Colonsay, the Treshnish Isles and Staffa (of Fingal's Cave fame). Calve Island is an uninhabited island in Tobermory Bay. Two outlying rock lighthouses are also visible from the south west of Mull, Dubh Artach and Skerryvore. The Torran Rocks are a large shoal of reefs, islets and skerries, approximately 15 square miles (39 km2) in extent, located two miles (3 km) to the south west, between the Ross of Mull peninsula and Dubh Artach. Frank Lockwood's Island near Lochbuie is named after the brother-in-law of the 21st MacLean of Lochbuie, who was Solicitor General from 1894-5.

Part of the indented west coast of Mull and some of the offshore islands there are part of the Loch Na Keal National Scenic Area, one of 40 in Scotland.


The economy began to revive when the construction of Craignure Pier in 1964 started to bring tourists. Tourism is now the mainstay of the island's economy. Ecotourism became popular from the 1990s, and the reintroduction of white-tailed eagles in 2005 became a particular ecotourist attraction.

There is a small amount of farming, aquaculture and fishing, and Forestry Commission Scotland has several plantations on the island. Tobermory also has one whisky distillery (Tobermory distillery) and from 2005 to 2009 had a brewery (Isle of Mull brewing company).

Isle of Mull cheese is Scottish Cheddar cheese made from raw cow milk produced on the Isle of Mull.


Ferry links to Mull from the mainland include Oban to Craignure (approx. 45 minutes), Kilchoan to Tobermory (approx. 35 minutes) and Lochaline to Fishnish (approx. 15 minutes). Advance bookings are not required for the Kilchoan or Fishnish ferries; access to those two ferry terminals on the mainland side is via single-track roads.

There are ferry links from Fionnphort on Mull to the neighbouring island of Iona and from Oskamull to Ulva. In past years there were direct sailings to Oban (calling at Drimnin, Salen, Lochaline and Craignure), and to Barra, Coll and Tiree from Tobermory. During the summer there was also a sailing to Staffa and Iona from Oban which called at Tobermory.

The Isle of Mull Railway ran from Craignure to Torosay Castle, but closed in 2011.

One can fly to Mull in a private light aircraft using a landing strip near Salen. There was a seaplane that linked Tobermory with Glasgow and Oban. The regular scheduled service terminated in 2009. Loganair operated a scheduled service to Glasgow in the 1960s from Glenforsa airfield, a 780-metre-long (2,560 ft) grass airstrip constructed by the Royal Engineers in 1965 near Salen. The airstrip has been operated since 2014 by pilots Brendan and Allison Walsh, owners of the adjacent Glenforsa Hotel.

Buses are operated by West Coast Tours Ltd. There are routes from Tobermory to Calgary via Dervaig (Service 494), Tobermory to Craignure via Salen (Service 495), and Craignure to Fionnphort via Bunessan (Service 496). Limited services operate to Lochbuie and Gruline. West Coast Tours also provide guided tours around Mull, Iona and Staffa, including boat transfers. A minibus service also operates seasonally from Craignure to Duart Castle.


Mull was connected to the mainland by a submarine telegraph cable between Oban and Grass Point in 1871. There were telegraph offices at Tobermory, Dervaig, Calgary, Craignure, Pennyghael, Tiroran, Fionnphort, Bunessan and Iona.

The Post Office built an experimental wireless telegraph station on Meall an Inbhire near Tobermory in 1892.

AM radio, broadcast from Oban, came to the island in 1930 and television in 1954. New AM radio and UHF television transmitters were constructed on Druim Mòr, 1 mile west of Torosay Castle, in 1978. Digital transmissions commenced on 15 November 1998 and analogue transmissions ceased on 27 October 2010. The digital transmitters have 22 relays on Mull, surrounding islands and parts of the mainland. They are collectively called the Torosay Transmitter Group.

In 2014 fibre optic cables for support of high speed internet were laid between Kilchoan (in Ardnamurchan) and Tobermory, and between Dunstaffnage (near Oban) and Torosay. In February 2015 additional cables were laid underground between Tobermory and Torosay to provide a complete link.

Media and the arts

Mull has been used as a location in a number of feature films over the years. These include I Know Where I'm Going (1945), Kidnapped (1971), When Eight Bells Toll (1971), Madame Sin (1972), Eye of the Needle (1981), The Sea Change (1998), Entrapment (1999), Highlander: Endgame (2000) and Blooded (2011).

The BBC children's TV series Balamory features the town of Tobermory on the island. This provided an additional tourist attraction on the island. Grand Tours of Scotland, a TV series featured Mull as one of the islands visited in the series.

Mull Theatre is a professional theatre company based in a new (2008) theatre production centre on the outskirts of Tobermory. The company commissions plays, tours throughout Scotland and beyond and runs an education and outreach programme. It started at the "Mull Little Theatre" at Dervaig in 1966 and was the "Smallest Professional Theatre in the World" according to the Guinness World Records. The National Theatre of Scotland were in residence at the Mull Theatre in April 2009.

An Tobar ("The Well"), based in Tobermory, is the only publicly funded multidisciplinary arts centre in Argyll. Established in 1997, it is a centre for visual arts, crafts and music.

Wildlife film-maker Simon King went on location to Mull for the first week of Springwatch with Bill Oddie, and observed a resident family of white-tailed eagles: a male (Skye), a female (Frisa), and their two chicks, Itchy and Scratchy. Wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan recently returned to his native Mull to film a year in the life of the wildlife. First broadcast in 2005 for the Natural World series, "Eagle Island" focuses on sea eagles, golden eagles, otters, basking sharks and the cetaceans found off the coast.

The singer-songwriter Colin MacIntyre famously uses the name Mull Historical Society as a pseudonym. Born on the island, he took the name from the actual Historical Society, which has since changed its name to Mull Historical and Archaeological Society.

Whilst part of the Argyll and Bute council area, Mull should not be confused with Mull of Kintyre, which was immortalised in a 1977 hit single by UK rock band Wings.

Natural history

The Isle of Mull is a popular destination for naturalists and photographers as it is one of the primary spots in the UK for seeing some of Britain's more elusive species. Information about the island's wildlife (including species lists, photographs and distribution data) is being compiled on a website called Wild Mull.

Mull has over 800 species of vascular plant (684 native and 171 naturalised) including 33 species of fern, at least 18 species of orchid and 22 native species of tree. There are about 700 species of lichen, 571 liverworts and mosses and 247 marine algae (seaweeds), making a total of 2,388 species of plant recorded from the island. In addition, more than 2,000 species of fungi have been recorded on Mull: in their 1983 paper about the fungi of the Inner Hebrides, Dennis and Watling say, "When one speaks of the Inner Hebridean fungi one is referring to the floras of Mull and Rhum".

The island has 261 different bird species, including the white-tailed eagle, which was reintroduced to the nearby island of Rùm and migrated to Mull, where it now has a stronghold. Basking sharks, minke whales, porpoises and dolphins are among the sea life that can be seen on boat tours from Mull.

The island is home to a thriving population of otters that live in coastal habitat, hunting during the day. The Mull Otter Group has been established to create positive awareness regarding the conservation needs of otters on the Isle of Mull.

The island also has several birds of prey, such as hen harriers, golden eagles, and short eared owls: all difficult species to see throughout the rest of the UK. Pine martens have also recently become established on Mull. According to a paper by Scottish Natural Heritage it is unlikely that pine martens have ever been native to the Isle of Mull. Based on sighting records, and from resulting modelling exercises, it is believed the species arrived in 2004 through accidental transportation on timber boats from the mainland.

The Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust was established in 1994 as a registered charity to pioneer practical, locally based education and monitoring programmes on cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) in the Hebrides. The Trust is based at Tobermory, where it has its main, education and research offices and a visitor centre.

There are also a number of invasive non-native species that occur on the island, including invasive plant species such as Japanese knotweed, and invasive animals such as feral cats and American mink that are believed to be causing damage to the indigenous species populations through competition and predation.


The Tour of Mull is a closed road rally event held on the island every October. While some well off competitors benefit from superior cars, the locals benefit from their knowledge of the roads and thus anyone can win. "The Best Rally In The World" is the title of a book written by the founder of the event, Brian Molyneux. Previously sponsored by Philips, it has been sponsored since 2005 by Tunnock's, the Lanarkshire biscuit manufacturer.

There are several shipwrecks around the shores which offer scuba diving.

There is an Isle of Mull Cycling Club.

The Cross at the Castle cyclocross event is held annually at Glengorm Castle near Tobermory and features the World Santacross Championships and the Scottish Singlespeed Cylocross Championships.

Mull Runners organise a half marathon and 10K run each August. It is run between Craignure and Salen.

Rugby is played at Garmony (beside the Craignure to Salen road 6.5 miles north of Craignure). The Mull Rugby 7s Competition takes place annually in May at The Isle of Mull R.F.C's rugby club.

There are golf courses at Tobermory (Erray Park), Craignure (beside the Craignure to Salen road a mile north of Craignure) and on the Isle of Iona.

Mull Highland Games are held each August in the grounds of Tobermory Golf Club (Erray Park). Events include Heavy Weights, Light Field, and Highland Dance. See the Scottish Highland Games Association website for dates.

There is a swimming pool at the Isle of Mull Hotel, Craignure open to the general public at advertised times.

There are tennis courts in Tobermory. Apply at the Argyll and Bute Council Offices, Breadalbane Street, Tobermory for details.

Community initiatives

Following research and community consultation in 1996/7, a development trust was created to identify key goals for the communities of Mull and Iona. Mull & Iona Community Trust (MICT) was formed in 1997 and published a comprehensive "Community Regeneration Strategy" for the islands. They have purchased the only butcher's shop on the island (closed February 2010), created a community-run Countryside Ranger service, instigated various recycling initiatives and provide a fundraising and training consultancy.

Notable residents

Alphabetical Index of Pages | Hierarchical Index of Pages

All content originates from the English Wikipedia, licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0