Friday, 14 January 2011

The Remoteness of Life in a Joined-Up World

The recent wintry weather that greeted the New Year provided Mull Magic with an exhilirating start to its walking programme for 2010. Having ‘conquered’ An Gearna, it was the turn of another nearby mountain in the Ben More range to receive our attention. Rather than tackle the ascent of Coirc Bheinn (561 metres) from the path that leads up Mull’s greatest mountain, we decided to park up in nearby Glen Seilisdeir (‘Glen of the Irises’) and walk up the Allt Chreaga Dubha burn to this flat-topped mountain. With the weather due to change, we couldn’t have picked a better day, as conditions were near perfect, affording us a 180 degree panorama that stretched from the snow- covered hills of Harris, far away to the North-West, all the way round to the impressive Paps of Jura to the South-East.

No sooner had we left the comfort of the vehicle and commenced our trek up the initially steep moorland when the shape of a large raptor caught our attention as it soared above the skyline in the distance. Being so large at that distance meant only one of two things, Golden Eagle or the even larger White-tailed Eagle, both species we know to breed in the area. Binoculars confirmed the small head and long tail of an adult Golden Eagle and we watched this bird effortlessly glide along the craggy lava flows of the appropriately named Beinn na h-Iolaire (‘Hill of the Eagle’) – Golden Eagle is Iolairean-bhuidhe in the native Gaelic language of Mull. Like the island’s eagle population, Ravens have a very early breeding season and take exception to any raptor that intrudes in to their airspace, as can be seen in the above photograph (the Raven is the smaller, black bird at the top of the picture). Such altercations are commonplace throughout the Isle of Mull; this eagle wasn’t bothered by the attentions of the crazy crow and with a shrug of its hefty shoulders simply carried on its way!

As we stood on top of Croic Bheinn, the distinctive Paps of Jura appeared resplendent in the pink glow of the afternoon sunshine, where alongside could be traced the outline of Jura’s nearby neighbours in the Firth of Lorne, the islands of Islay and Colonsay (not in photograph). The Isle of Jura, with its sparkling raised beaches, mountains and moorland, beloved of Red Deer, was where George Orwell took inspiration when writing his classic novel, ‘1984’. In the foreground of this picture lies Loch Scridain, the second largest of Mull’s sea lochs, and the steep moorland of its South side, which runs in to the Ross of Mull at the village of Bunessan. Close to the shore runs the island’s main road artery, which links the Iona ferry at Fionnphort with the Oban ferry at Craignure and Tobermory, some 42 road miles to the North. Despite all its apparent remoteness, we do live in a joined-up world, here on the Isle of Mull, after all!

Over our shoulders, away to the West, we could already see tomorrow’s weather building. The earlier clarity that had allowed the Long Island, from Vatersay and Barra, North through the Uists to the Southern hills of Harris had become enveloped in cloud that would threaten rain before the night was through. Still, on the distant horizon, we could make out those two islands that are outermost in the Inner Hebrides (from left to right), Tiree and Coll. It is easy to see why the machair island of Tiree is referred to as the ‘Land Beneath The Waves’, as a very flat stretch of land joins the island’s two principal high points, Ben Hynish and Balephetrish Hill. If you didn’t know that the flat ground around the village of Scarinish and along Gott Bay was there, you would never believe it actually existed! Closer to the eye (in the middle distance) the characteristic ‘sombrero’ of the Dutchman’s Cap (Bac Mhor) in the Treshnish archipelago can be seen, with the Isle of Staffa to its front and left.

Back safely at the vehicle, we were joined by a herd of around 40 Red Deer, all stags, that had made their way down from the hills to feed in the hollow below Beinn na h-Iolaire. With very few people traversing the Glen Seilisdeir road at this time of year, the deer could graze away to their hearts content without much fear of being disturbed. The ravages of another long, hard Winter will surely take its toll on the island’s deer population, when it really will be a case of the survival of the fittest. With an estimated population of 5 – 6,000 Red Deer on the Isle of Mull, some would say that Mother Nature was simply being cruel to be kind!

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