I’m not going to lie, I found this post quite difficult to write because of the sheer amount of ‘playing’ we did while on holiday. Where does one even begin? I’ve had to actually split it up into two posts, there’s so much to write about.
Let me preface everything with a bit of information about my husband: he is the type of person where relaxing only happens in the afternoon, once you’ve done a session of yoga and some pretty intense, pretty extreme physical activity in the morning. Lately, Pat has been doing increasingly more extreme activities to prepare for the Craggie Island over-road triathlon in August and the Loch Ness Marathon in September, and if this likes-to-sloth-on-the-beach-and-read-all-day wife wants to spend time with her husband, she must do these things with him. Keep this in mind as you read about play time on Mull.
As mentioned in my first camping-related post, going to the Scottish Hebrides (pronounced Heh-brih-dees), is something Pat and I do every summer holiday. It’s at this time that most Scots leave the country for hotter climes – some going to Florida (like Alison), Turkey, Greece, Spain, etc. Anywhere that has guranteed sunny, hot weather, something that sadly, Scotland can’t provide reliably. What’s quite ironic is that while natives are leaving Scotland for sun and heat, many northern Europeans – from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland and Austria – are coming to the west coast of Scotland for its crystal clear blue waters, white sandy beaches, unique island culture, dramatic landscapes and unforgettable experiences. Every year, we take our chances, and so far, it’s worked in our favour. The first year of Hebridean holidays, we went to the Isle of Islay (pronounced Isla) for our honeymoon. The following year, it was sunbathed Tiree (Ty-ree), where I learned to SUP – Stand-Up and Paddleboard. Last year, we did encounter really bad luck with a whistle stop tour of the Outer Hebrides, where we encountered gale force winds pretty much the entire time. It’s safe to say we were a bit traumatized by that trip and it marred our outlook on island holidays. Our fingers were crossed that this year’s annual island holiday would be better.
*Spoiler alert -> it was!*
We drove to Oban to catch the ferry.
And sailed to Craignure we did. We then took to the single lane with passing places roads of Mull and drove to Fidden Farm, a campsite at the far southwest edge of Mull, very close to Fionnphort (pronounced Finn-neh-fort) and the ferry to Iona.
On the way, as per island custome, we encountered some Highland Cows grazing freely. On the road.
Fidden Farm is on the water’s edge of the Atlantic Ocean. There’s a bit of a lagoon, with shallow, clear blue waters, white sand beaches and rocky mounds perfect for bouldering, which after a daily morning yoga session, Pat did. And he got there via SUP. From our beach front camp, we also spotted a sailing race our first full day on Mull.
After a 7.5 mile out-and-back run – really good I might add, I had 10min average pace per mile – we decided to take the ferry to Iona (I – Own – A) to check out among other things, the Iona Abbey, which has been on the island in some shape or form since 563. It’s pretty old: that’s one of the things I love about Scotland, it’s so old! For instance, parts of Pat’s parent’s house are older than Canada! Older than my home country! That’s for another post though. Back to the abbey.
The Abbey is one of the most important and oldest religious centres in Western Europe, and was responsible for the spread of Christianity by St. Columba, who had originally come from Ireland, and his monks. It’s got a very interesting history, which you can read about here. The island itself is also known as a ‘thin place’ – a fine veil separating heaven and earth. Apparently some experience a ‘great sense of peace and spirituality’ as described by the signs at the Abbey.
Unless you’re a resident of Iona, cars aren’t permitted on the island. To remedy this, we took our mountain bikes and cycled around this very Bohemian and quiet community. The island had jewellery workshops, interesting food shops and of course, a pub or two. We had time to kill before our return ferry so we cycled the 5 minutes it took to get to the other side of the island to check out a beach, then cycled back. Pretty fun.
The next day involved an open water swim for Pat with me accompanying him on my SUP. We paddled out from our campsite to an island between Mull and Iona, to let Pat take a break – this around a mile out. Tired from already having swam in the morning, Pat straddled the board to eventually lie on it while I paddled back. It was a bit nerve-wracking to maintain balance and not fall into the frigid Atlantic Ocean! As I was also wearing my wetsuit, I decided I wanted to have a shot at open water swimming so with about 100m to go until the beach, I donned Pat’s swim cap and goggles and jumped in. I know open water swimming can be a scary thing, especially once you get deep enough that you can’t see the bottom, swim through weeds or see jellyfish (which Pat did), but for my wee experience in shallow, clear water the hardest part was actually trying to keep my head underwater for more than ten seconds! It so cold I got brain freeze and it literally took my breath away everytime I tried to do the front crawl. I also found my surf wetsuit to be far too buoyant, which also made the front crawl more difficult. I can see the need for triathlon wetsuits! Unfortunately I don’t have any photographic evidence from this experience, apologies.
The following day involved an ascent of the highest peak on the island: Ben More, all 3,169 feet of it. As part of Pat’s ongoing training, he wanted to run up it, and I’m not a fan of hill walking, so I decided to join him. I mean, I’ve run up hills with 800 foot elevation gains, surely I could manage a munro, right?
*FYI a munro in Scotland is a peak higher than 3000 feet.
Ben More’s path up is just that: up, straight up. There is no gently winding trail to make the journey up less painful, and to make matters worse (or more challenging as I like to say), the path was mainly loose stones or larger stones that you had to walk on top of. I think I jogged up all of 5 minutes before the steepness, as well as very uneven ground, made even jogging difficult. Pat pranced up ahead of me, more fit and experienced when it comes to running up massive hills. I just kept power-walking up.
I knew I was doing a moderately decent job when I began passing casual walkers who were also on their way up. I was also maintaining a good heart rate but still finding it easy to breathe. The last third of the ascent involves even steeper trails with rocks, so I adopted a fell running technique of leaning forward, hands just where my knees and quads meet, and pushing down on my legs as they impacted on the ground, allowing me to use the momentum in an upward fashion. Let me tell you: does it ever work!
It took about 1.5 hours to power-walk the 3 miles straight up to the top. And when I got there – after words of encouragement from Pat and others on the trail, as well as some water from a nice man that offered – oh what a view it was!
And what goes up must come down, and down I ran, or more appropriately, plodded. The path made for some cautious footing, and I continued down like this until I cleared the rocky area and made it back on to grass. I jogged through the grass with legs like jello, just pushing on until the end. I also wound up passing everyone making their descent as I was still on my way up. The parking lot for Ben More is conveniently located on the ocean, so I greeted Pat and continued to walk into the cold water, perfect after a hot, sweaty and tough munro run. Cold water never felt so good.
It was a challenge to get to the top, but I’m so happy with my achievement. It made dealing with annoying horse flies worth it, and it also showed me that I could really push myself.
The only downside to the hill run was the days that remained of our holiday: my legs were absolutely trashed, and my quads had DOMT -> Delayed Onset Muscle Trauma for almost a week after. They even hurt to touch!
I headed back to Fidden Farm alone as Pat cycled back instead, all two hilly hours of it!
I’ll continue our play time in tomorrow’s post: there was so much play, it would’ve lead to a post of epically long proportions. Until then!
Have you ever run up a munro or a mountain?
What’s your favourite extreme sport or activity?