On the wildside

Columnar basalt at the Carsaig Arches on Mull.
Columnar basalt at the Carsaig Arches on Mull.

Just of the coast of Mull lies the small island of Staffa, famous worldwide for Fingal’s Cave which is part of a 55 million year old lava sheet containing the spectacular hexagonal basalt columns.

However, much of the island of Mull is composed of the same lava sheet and in several places similar basalt columns are visible on the sea cliffs.

On the south coast of the Ross of Mull we did a walk on our recent holiday, from the beautiful Carsaig Bay along four miles of rough track to the Carsaig Arches, which are just as spectacular as Fingal’s Cave and can be visited without having to pay for a boat trip!

On this stretch of coast the lava sheet covers much older Jurassic limestone rocks which have been protected from glacial erosion and now outcrop just below the high water line.

In the sheets of limestone we found many small fossil shells, some looking exactly like modern-day Scallops, and one magnificent Ammonite over a foot in diameter.

As we left Carsaig Bay we spotted a very large bird of prey high up in a spruce tree, of course a Sea Eagle for which Mull is famous.

It then obligingly flew down to the sea right under our noses and snatched a tern from the water, then lazily flew on to some rocks mobbed by Herring Gulls and Hooded Crows.

As we approached it returned to its lofty perch in the trees to enjoy its meal and was gone when we returned in the evening.

The walk to the Arches took over two hours but round every bend were new vistas of cliffs, views to Jura and Colonsay, and lots of wildlife.

The plants were magnificent with Sea Pink in full bloom and yellow splashes of Kidney Vetch, just like on the Berwickshire coast.

A very unexpected find was a colony of Fritillary butterflies enjoying the morning sunshine.

Luckily I got a good photograph and they turned out to be the very rare Marsh Fritillary, in Scotland restricted to Mull, Islay, Jura and adjacent Argyll.

Rounding the final bend, the first of the spectacular Carsaig Arches came into view, really a cave going right through a rocky headland composed of basalt columns. Getting to the second arch, almost a cathedral of basalt, required climbing up the steep slope and traversing a very narrow path, made by the local wild goats, and then a scramble down the slope again.

A good head for heights is needed for this one, but very well worth the effort.