MM1BUU - Isle of Mull

I have two sons, and my youngest son wanted to go to London. We had been to London as a family earlier in the year and I firmly decided that I preferred going north (to Scotland) rather than south (to London)! I love open spaces, countryside, the sea, and hills, London doesn’t really offer that. The final decider was the fact that I managed to pick up Covid, probably on the Tube. My wife suggested that I should take my eldest son to Scotland, whilst she took my youngest son to London, then we’d all be happy - sounded good to me! My nephew is the same age as my eldest son (both 17) and has had a mild health problem, plus issues with his education (entirely not his fault, in fact my son is in the same boat after attending the same college), so my wife suggested that my nephew should join us on our trip. My nephew is firmly on the mend now and both him, and my son, start at new colleges next month.

I had a tight time window to fit the trip into and it was right in the middle of the English school holidays, so fairly quickly I settled on to a trip to the Isle of Mull. I figured that the ferry acts as a means to regulate the number of people on the island, plus once the island is full, it’s full - you’d be daft travelling to Mull without some sort plan regarding accommodation. I found out that the Scottish school holidays ended two weeks before the English ones, so I took advantage by booking our trip for the week that the Scottish schools reopened.

My parents own a classic motorhome - a 2002 Autosleeper Amethyst- which they bought with the intention of being used by the extended family. The motorhome hits the sweet spot in being small enough to be driven on a car licence, but also being a 4 berth.

My parents live near Hadrian’s wall in Carlisle, about 75 miles north of me by road, so it made for a great place to break the journey and pick up the motorhome. We travelled to Carlisle last Sunday afternoon and stayed overnight. We set off from Carlisle in the motorhome just after 7am heading towards Oban, stopping at Tyndrum for an early lunch and coffee at TJ’s Diner (a suggestion from @MM0FMF on a different Scottish SOTA trip). We arrived at Oban in good time and I called in at Aldi to stock up on food. I had the intention of parking up somewhere but I didn’t see any opportunities, so I continued on to the ferry port. I asked at the CalMac hut where I should park and was given the answer that they had just opened the queue for our ferry, so I went straight into the waiting lanes, it couldn’t have worked any better! The lads went off for a wander whilst I stayed with the motorhome.

I had booked on to the smaller of the two ferries serving the Oban to Craignure route and I counted 24 vehicles disembarking before it was our turn to embark. The ferry staff were great and I was soon parked up on the vessel with no issues at all. I think that the motorhome was the largest vehicle on the ferry. Getting off at the other was equally pain free.

I called in at our campsite in Salen as we headed towards Tobermory. Salen is about half way between the ferry terminal at Craignure and Tobermory the main town on Mull. The campsite reception closes at 5.30pm and I needed to pay the remaining balance and check in.

We enjoyed exploring Tobermory and I settled for the easy option of going to the MacGochans pub for our evening meal. We had burgers and chips, the food was pretty good, the chips were excellent! The prices seemed about what you usually pay in a pub these days, it was £13.95 for burger and chips and a soft drink was £2.10.

I had picked my camping plot at Salen Bay Campsite from a map back in May, so I knew where I was heading, I was thankful to find the pitch unoccupied upon our return from Tobermory. It was a mild worry that I’d return to the campsite one evening and find somebody parked on my pitch!

Tuesday 15th August.
We had been keeping an eye on the weather forecast and originally it looked as if we would have a very soggy week, with thunderstorms thrown in for good measure. As our Mull trip got nearer, the forecast improved substantially. I’ve been to the Isle of Iona (a small island reached by a 10 minute ferry journey from Mull) a number of times and when the sun is shining is has to be amongst the most beautiful places in the world. I had really wanted my nephew to experience Iona at it’s best. The weather forecast looked great all week with the best days being Tuesday and Thursday. The journey from Salen to Fionnphort was about 50 miles, mostly on a single track road with passing places, I soon found a good rhythm but it made for slow progress. You could tell the locals from the holiday makers, and most locals either waved or peeped in appreciation as I let them past me at the earliest opportunity by using a passing place.

Iona did not disappoint! Oh my goodness, what a stunning place that is! Given that we had gone on a hill walking trip, conversation had soon veered, somewhat jokingly, towards what summits we could climb not long after landing on Iona. (Ferry £3.70 return, foot passenger). I hadn’t even given hills a thought and I can’t remember whether it was my son or my nephew, but one of them said, there’s a hill on Iona, called ‘The Hill’ and it’s 101m. Oh! I suddenly thought about radio schemes and sure enough, the hill is valid for a radio award scheme and what’s more, it’s never been activated before! Guess where my radios were - yup! We climbed ‘The Hill’ anyway, even though my radio equipment was overseas on another island. :smile:
We had a great time on Iona, the sun was shining and the sea took on it’s beautiful pale blue / turquoise colour. Not sure if I should admit it or not, but I went for a paddle on the northern beach whilst the lads explored the rocks and I was in tears. The sheer beauty of the place really affected me and I was so happy that everything had fallen in to place so well. My sons have seen Iona in the sunshine before and I had wanted my nephew to enjoy the same experience.

It’s fair to say that I was on a massive high as I was driving back to the campsite on Tuesday evening, through the gorgeous Isle of Mull landscape. I kept grinning to myself, I couldn’t believe just how perfect the day had been. If you go to Mull - make sure to visit Iona - take tissues (and a radio!).

Wednesday 16th August.
My nephew reckoned that Thursday would be the better weather day and he wanted to save the best day for Ben More GM/SI-003. Eventually we settled upon a plan to attempt Dun da Ghaoithe GM/SI-016. Parking would be an issue for a 7m long motorhome, so we decided to park near Craignure golf course and tackle the hill from Scallastle Farm. We’d found some vague details of a route online. Unfortunately we took the wrong side of the Scallastle river and ended up bush wacking through chest height bracken for quite some time. The plan was to head to the ridge near the masts and then follow the ridge around to Mainnir nam Fiadh and then on to Dun da Ghaoithe. It took us about 5 hours to reach the summit! Within a few minutes of reaching the summit, a plague of wee beasties (Midges) descended upon us. Thanks to the tip off on this reflector, I’d bought midge headnets and Smidge, so we were able to survive the attack. :grinning: It was a bit distracting having a massive swarm of midges flying around my head, but I battled on and managed to work 7 QSOs with my MTR-5B on 20m and lightweight dipole.The bands seemed to be in bad shape.

We retraced our steps back to the mast but then instead of climbing the deer fence on the west side of the river, I suggested that we should aim for a gate that could be seen on the eastern side of the river. We were on the wrong side of the river but it turned out to be quite easy to get across by stepping across large stones. The gate wasn’t locked and a path lead to a bridge - the bridge we had mistakenly crossed on the way up. We then followed the forestry path all the way back to Scallastle Farm. The path was mostly good although boggy in places and at times closed in by bracken. The descent took around 2 hours. Three ticks seen in total, two on a walkabout, one deciding that my left knee was a tasty option. Tick tweezers soon ousted my unwelcome guest.

Thursday 17th August. Ben More GM/SI-003
This was the main event and the reason for visiting Mull. I’ve had the ambition to activate Ben More for many years after climbing Ben More in 2001 before SOTA existed. The (tourist) path is clear and easy all of the way up from the shore of Loch na Keal. I suspected that the parking spot on the shore would be busy, and it was, but I was able to get the motorhome parked ok. We were walking by 10am.

The ascent was trouble free and we frequently stopped to take in the views and take photographs. It was quite windy at the top, which kept the midges at bay but it meant that putting up my 40m dipole was a bit marginal. I should have used guys really, but I felt time pressured, I wanted to get the radio over and done with - I had my son and nephew to think about. 40m proved to be very quiet, and I managed only 3 CW contacts. It was great to get Gerald @G4OIG as I know he has ambitions to activate Ben More. I reluctantly decided that I’d have to try another band to qualify. I decided to try 20m. I soon had a bit of a pile up. I was working Chris DL1CR/P on DM/NS-122 when my antenna fell down and Chris faded into the noise. I managed to put the antenna back up and thankfully Chris was still on frequency and we managed to complete the contact. I was then called by Uwe, DK8OA/P on the same summit as Chris. It was great to work Ignacio @EA2BD, especially as he told me that he was specifically watching the spots and aiming for a QSO.

It would have been great to have spent more time on the radio, but I had to balance things, I’d successfully activated Ben More GM/SI-003 and that was the main thing. The views across the islands were stunning and I had another ‘moment’ as I spotted the Isle of Coll, a place that was an inspiration for my name and where I had spent my summer holidays as a kid.

As we reached the shores of Loch na Keal on our return, I awarded my son and nephew with embroidered Ben More patches, which they were delighted with.

My nephew stated that it was the best holiday he had ever been on! We spent our last morning on Friday gift shopping in Tobermory, where I also filled up the motorhome with diesel. I managed to put 62 litres of fuel in, at a cost of 156.9p per litre. I’d intially planned to fill up back in Oban, but the fuel guage was below ¼ and was unknown to me. I worked it out at 29.7 mpg. The ferry journey back to Oban on the big ferry, MV Isle of Mull, was uneventful and bang on time.

We arrived back in Carlisle at 8pm Friday evening, exhausted but happy.


We had a great time on the Isle of Mull, the weather was pretty much perfect. The scenery is breathtaking. The scope for SOTA is good, although there aren’t many marked paths. The roads are all part of the fun and I wouldn’t want them to be any different, but they’re definitely hard work in a large motorhome. I think renting a holiday cottage would be the ultimate way to do SOTA on Mull, followed by tent camping in a car.
The gift shops are expensive and the food costs are around average to high. The ice cream in Tobermory on the sea front is so good we had to sample it on two different occasions! The ferry conpany gets a lot of bad press, the ferries may be old, but they’re still smart and ours ran perfectly on time. The CalMac staff were friendly and helpful.

Would I recommend Mull? 100% yes!


Ben More summit GM/SI-003

Ben More summit GM/SI-003

Parking for Ben More at Loch na Keal

Dun da Ghaoithe summit GM/SI-016

73, Colin