It is difficult to imagine, but up to the time of the infamous Highland Clearances and potato famine, the Isle of Mull supported a population of over 12,000 inhabitants. Today’s appointment with the past took us to the rough, exposed coastline of the North-west of the island where, in the 19th Century, cattle from the Small Isles, Coll and Tiree were landed to begin their long drove to markets on the mainland.
Huddled for shelter behind the ruins of the clachan at Ardantairbh, we pondered the inhumanity and injustice served upon families by bullying landowners who preferred to put sheep before people. Such clearance evictions, in the early half of the 19th Century, have become a brutal indictment of Mull’s history, foretelling the destruction of a previous way of life.
Clambering over rocks, blackened with tar lichen, we arrived at an impressive remnant of the island’s volcanic past. Moulded some 55 million years ago, the cast of an ancient tree’s rootball and trunk has been preserved on the shore. Having only been discovered as recently as 1984, this ‘fossil tree’ has largely escaped the ravages of time and the attentions of man. Thankfully, not being a true fossil, it will be safeguarded from the hammers of collectors, allowing visitors to marvel at its creation for some time to come.
Before returning to base, we made the short and not too steep climb towards the grassy plateau of one of several Iron Age fortifications that are found in the area. The wind’s icy blast dictated that we did not, on this occasion, make the final ascent to the top and the (quite literally) breathtaking panorama it affords. The views to Skye, the Small Isles, Ardnamurchan Point, Coll and Tiree are life-affirmingly spectacular on a good day. As this is one of our favourite walks, we know that those good photo days are just around the corner!