Sea eagles, otters, seals, scenery and a stand off with a highland cow…plus rain, wind, fog and sun…all before lunch time! How could any photographer not want to visit Mull…
This trip was back in 2007 but I thought I’d share the experiences on here now anyway as it will hopefully be useful for anyone who might be either thinking about visiting or is curious about places to visit in the Scottish Highlands…you can also read about my week on the Isle of Skye here.
We had to take a ferry from the mainland and did so from Oban, getting to Oban was a lovely drive through some mountain roads and along several lochs. We had to be at the ferry by a certain time as it was pre-booked so no time to stop. I did however take a few pictures from the window as we drive along which got me some shots but I would much rather have stopped and taken my time rather than pointing the camera out the window at 40mph (I was a passenger).
The ferry from Oban not only sells the best steak pie but it also takes you past Duart Castle, unfortunately the weather wasn’t very good on the left side of the boat – yep the weather was bad one side of the boat and reasonable the other side, this is Scotland were the weather has a mind of its own!
We were in this area the year before in 2006 but on the mainland opposite Mull and to be honest it was a very dull location for photography. During that time we took two day trips over to Mull and loved it over there, so when the time came to visit again it was decided Mull would be the location for the whole week. As a photographer Mull is full of potential as literally every direction you look there is a photo opportunity and if there isn’t, you only have to wait 10 minutes for the weather and lighting to change and the chances are what wasn’t a photo opportunity will soon become one!
Mull itself is roughly 20 x 30 miles in size although driving around it can be long and hard work as most of it is single track, twisty and sometimes bumpy road. The only down side to that is you’ll often want to stop and take a photo but you won’t be able too as there is nowhere to stop or there is something obstructing the view when you can. Its defiantly worth either riding around (which would be a killer with all the hills/mountains etc) or going with a few people and having a non-photographer type drop you off at places so you can explore on foot. Having said about the bikes though, we did drive 300 miles in total during the time we were there so it would be a very hard slog on bike with camera equipment!!
Its everywhere on Mull, its superb. However…trying to get shots of the things you see can be very difficult and at times frustrating. You see all kinds of birds, hare and even deer in the fields and mountains but as soon as you stop or slow right down they scarper so its very challenging. If its your first time and you want see the whole island you have to be prepared to just take whatever opportunities you get…in an ideal world you would want to scout out one location and keep going back to get the best possible chance of successful images. To be honest the fact you can even see all this activity in the beautiful surroundings of the island means most of the time your just pleased to be there and to see it full stop with a photo being a nice bonus. There are also sheep and cattle all over the place, by the road and in the road. At first you find yourself taking photos of them just because they are there but as time goes by you take them for granted and start to ignore them which can be a big mistake as sometimes an extraordinary photo can be taken of seemingly ordinary subjects. Although…we had to sit for 10 minutes watching this big old fella chew some grass until he eventually got bored and moved over!
One of the days it was really overcast and miserable so we put our water proof gear on, wrapped our camera’s in bin bags and headed out to the field/bay just down the road from our farmhouse. We saw a couple of Rock Pipits darting around collecting food and after watching them for a while worked out what rocks they were perching on. So I waited for one to fly away and crawled very slowly to one of the rocks they kept flying back to. I had just got myself in position and was looking through the viewfinder to set manual metering up when this chap practically landed in the centre of the viewfinder! I was lucky that this is the only time out of 3 landings they made in two hours and this was the only time in which one of them had food in its mouth!
The same bay had an island just off shore with some very curious wild seals. I spent ages trying to scramble silently to the waters edge without them seeing me and being frightened off…then once I managed it, I was laying there for a few minutes proud of my achievements when my friend suddenly appeared behind me, standing bolt upright asking why I was hiding as the seals are actually very curious and rather than swim away they started to swim up close to us to have a look and see what we were up too!
As for landscapes, well its an island just off the west coast of the highlands…what more can you say really. I thought I’d try my hand at panoramics and image stitching for the first time as I’d never done that kind of thing before. I really really enjoyed it and ended up doing loads. When you end up with an image that’s 10,000 x 6,000 the standard resolution of the D2x suddenly seemed tiny! Not to mention the file sizes (385mb images anyone!!). Unfortunately as it was my first time doing this type of thing I had my polarizer on for a fair few so they sky looked a little off on some. One thing I will say, Mull is one of the most colourful places I’ve ever seen. Even when its dull there are shades of green and brown everywhere and if its been raining everything seems to have this magical glow about it…when the sun is out everything just comes alive. My favourite lighting was having bright sunshine all around us but shade and moody sky in the distance – enhanced all the more by the fact you could see for miles if you were up high.
Eagles and otters
Mull is well known for its eagle and otter population. This year we didn’t see any eagles unfortunately despite hanging around some of the ‘eagle watch’ areas. However on our last full day we were informed of a location that a family of otters went to every morning for breakfast. We just assumed it was a wild goose chase as usual but thanked the man who told us. Then on the morning we left, we got to the ferry terminal at about 715am for the 8am ferry. The otters were supposed to be nearby so we ummed and ah’ed for a while before deciding to go have a quick look whist we waited for the ferry. I’m so glad we did as we were treated to a family of otters playing around on the rocks!! The sun was in totally the wrong place and but we watched and fired off shots until they saw us and retreated in to the water. Then the adult otter came back with a huge fish in his mouth and sat there eating it not more than 10/15 feet in front of us!! You really can’t beat seeing and photographing wildlife in its natural habitat! We wanted to stay but we could see the ferry coming across the loch (it was a case of, looking right and shouting ‘ferry!!’ then looking left and shouting ‘but the otters…’, then looking right shouting ‘ferry’ again). It was such a shame to have to leave them but an amazing experience to watch wild otters going about their business. Getting record shots of it was fine by me, although if we ever go back I think we’ll spend more time at that location in a hope to get better shots.
Mull is stunning and I can’t recommend it enough to anyone who loves wildlife or landscape photography or even for someone who just wants to get away from everything (you really don’t see many people, even Tobermory which is the only ‘town’ isn’t particularly busy at that time of the year). For anyone interested we stayed at Penmore Farmhouse as it was a good location although I’d maybe try the south of the island for accommodation if you prefer wildlife as we ended up seeing most of it down there. On a side not about Penmore, the morning we packed to go home everyone commented on how they heard one of us going to the toilet in the middle of the night. Except, we all heard the footsteps but none of us actually got up! Yep, it was definitely time to go home…
Unexplained footsteps in the night aside…I can’t recommend Mull enough so if your ever looking for a good location in the Highlands, give it a try.