When it comes to travel planning, one of my favorite things to do is to keep looking at the map, searching for remote places and wondering how is it like over there? Maybe it is just out of pure curiosity, or maybe I just like to test my imagination, either way, I start to dream of visiting the actual place and seeing it by my own eyes. The Inner Hebrides is one of those places and withing it lies small Treshnish isles. Once I looked at the map of Scotland, I couldn’t help myself, but wonder, what is over those islands scattered around the western coast of Scotland. Luckily for me, this is also one of those places which I got to visit.
- Difficulty: Easy to Uncomfortable, depending on the Scottish weather
- Duration: 10h15 (9h50- 8h05)
- Starting Point: Oban or Ulva Ferry (Isle of Mull)
- Destination: Staffa and Lunga Islands, Treshnish Isles
- Service: Calmac & Turus Mara
- Price: £71 (From Oban)
- Website: https://www.turusmara.com
Getting to Oban, Argyll and Bute
Though on the edge of the island, Oban is a popular tourist destination, therefore, it is well connected with most of the major cities in Scotland. You can find your route on city link website.
Pro tip: Traveling through Scotland could be pretty expensive. If you are planning to travel by bus, buying CityLink’s Explorer Pass could be a good idea. Just have in mind that buses first will board people with tickets in advance. More information.
Oban can be also reached by train via The West Highland Line from Glasgow. See the time tables.
By car — A82
Despite the direction you are coming from, it is probably best to approach Oban via A82 connecting Glasgow to Inverness via Fort William. Just be sure not to miss the turn to road A828 in North Ballachulish.
Pro tip: Scotland is a vast and beautiful place, but once you start traveling toward the North it is not as populated as the South. Some of the roads could be quite challenging for an inexperienced driver. Therefore, if you don’t have a lot of confidence in your driving skills, especially, if you don’t have any experience driving on the left side of the road, the local drivers will appreciate if you choose another method to travel across the northern part of Scotland.
Visiting Staffa Island & Lunga of Treshnish Isles in the Inner Hebrides, Argyll and Bute, Scotland
I know, there are a lot of titles in this article, but a lot is happening in Scotland. While most of what I write is about Hen Ogledd (the “Old North”), I need to be more precise for those who are actually planning of visiting Scotland Highlands.
In this article, I’ll focus on a must-do Staffa Island & Treshnish Isles Wildlife tour, and hopefully, after you’ll finish reading this, these random names will have more meaning to you. …so, where the fcuk are these islands?
Everybody probably heard of The Highlands of Scotland. While it is a separate region, since the population is scarce, sometimes Highland is grouped with the Islands to form one bigger region. Argyll and Bute is one of the islands regions. This is where we find Oban Town, which is actually Scotland’s fishing capital on the shore of the mainland. The Inner Hebrides are a group of islands belonging to Argyll and Bute, which are surrounding Oban.
Treshnish Isles are located within the Inner Hebrides, just to the West of the large Isle of Mull. Lunga is one of Treshnish Isles. In fact, Lunga is the biggest Island of all Treshnish Isles, and Staffa Island is between Treshnish Isles and the Isle of Mull.
Finding the right Staffa Island & Treshnish Isles Wildlife tour
When it comes to tour choices, it is not as diversified as tours to the Highlands of Skye Island, but on the other hand, this will just make your choice easier. We decided to go with Calmac & Turus Mara because we expected to see more of the isles and beautiful rock formations going from Ulva ferry.
There is another option provided by Staffa Tours company which will take you to the isles from Fionnphort. I expect it to give a totally different angle of Isle of Mull and smaller Isles, also a possibility to see Iona Island from nearby.
If your goal is just Staffa Island, there are even more options, but this article will focus on the Treshnish isles wildlife tour. You got to see those puffins.
Facilities and Itinerary of Staffa & Treshnish Isles CalMac & Turus Mara Cruise Tour
The first 45minutes starts on a big ferry from Oban to Craignure, Isle of Mull, operated by Caledonian MacBrayne. Anything that could be expected will be there including restaurant, café, bar, souvenir shop, bathroom, plenty of spaces to sit while enjoying the trip and some drunk British, going for their holiday to the Isle of Mull.
Turus Mara bus from Craignure to Ulva ferry is basically a taxi. If you expect to see the Isle of Mull, you are on the wrong tour. The minibus bus will zip you from Craignure to Ulva Ferry just in 30 minutes. Meanwhile, expect to be told some things about the Isles visible from the road. Each one of them feels like a mini version of Scotland, having some mountains, cliffs, trees and the sheep grazing the fields.
Once the driver gets you to the spot, you’ll join the rest of the group. The Isle of Mull is a popular tourist destination thus many people come directly to the Ulva ferry. Though you need a car for that.
After boarding Turus Mara ship, this is where the magic of the day starts. The next 6 hours you’ll spend out at the sea by the islands, but more about that later. Inside the ship, there is a possibility to charge your devices, use a bathroom, buy water, tea, coffee, and even puffin therapy mug!
There is nothing similar to civilization found either on the Treshnish Isles or Staffa Island, not even to mention a bathroom or a source of drinkable water. Prepare in advance!
Once the cruise tour is over, you’ll be brought back to Oban the same you were brought here. If you want to read more about the itinerary of the tour, visit the official page.
Is it difficult to walk in Staffa & Treshnish Isles?
I wish I could say no, but in reality, it depends on the weather conditions and preparation. I’ve seen old people doing it, but I also saw really old people not doing it. If the weather is nice, expect nothing more difficult than a hike by the sea washing a cliff. If it’s rainy you’ll have to watch your steps because it might be slippery. If it is windy and the waves are high, I doubt the ship will moor by the shore of Staffa Island, then there will be no need to worry about the difficulties it could cause.
The meaning of the island is pretty obvious to those who spent their share playing computer games, to those who didn’t, the word Staffa originated from Old Norse stafi-oy (stave or pillar). If you somehow haven’t seen a single picture of the island, and you don’t understand what staff could have to do with naming an island, the answer is pretty simple. The East rock face of Staffa looks like it was built from pillars, and NO, Vikings didn’t build it. They were just as surprised as we are today. The island resembled of their homes, which were built from vertical trees. Maybe, homesickness, eh? Nevertheless, to everybody’s amazement (unless you are a geologist), the amazing rock formations of Staffa Island are of natural origins.
Even though Staffa Island is a part of the tour, it is so spectacular that I decided it needs a separate article. Learn more about the history and formations of this wonder of nature here.
The Treshnish Isles
Most known for their natural beauty, the Treshnish Isles for ages was playing with the imagination of inhabitants of the Isle of Mull. Dark shapes of the isles gained the title of a fleet of dreadnaughts, indicating the fear of an invasion of the people that used to live here. It was for a good reason, all coastal territories of Scotland been challenged by the Vikings for several centuries, who even inhabited the Treshnish Isles between the 9th and 13th centuries, and for better or worse, the island found themselves in many wars afterward.
Today, the situation had changed dramatically. It is no longer inhabited by the humans and the fear of invasion was changed by the curiosity of adventurers. It is a popular tourist destination for its natural beauty and the rich biosphere. The Treshnish Isles are monitored by the authorities, but it is still open for everybody. At least, as long as the visitors act wisely and respect the status quo. For more than a century, not a single person is living in the Treshnish Isles, but many bird species found the isles as their home during the breeding season.
General Rules of Visiting Treshnish Isles
Conservation of this incredible habitat depends on us. The Treshnish Isles are open to everybody, even during the breeding season. It is up to us, visitors, to keep it this way. Please, be conscious of your actions and follow the official rules:
- DO take all your litter home.
- DO NOT disturb or approach the wildlife, particularly during the breeding season.
- DO sit and wait for a while — it is often possible to gain a more rewarding view of the wildlife.
- DO NOT climb on old walls or move stones. This can damage a valuable archaeological site.
- DO avoid the cliff edges and wet grass on steep slopes.
- DO NOT bring dogs (unless assistance dogs) or any pets onto the islands.
You can read more about the conservation of the Treshnish Isles landscape and its wildlife on the official page.
Treshnish Isles Wildlife
Dolphins in the area include and killer whales. Unfortunately, we didn’t see any. We’ve been told that they usually come to the boat (a common behavior of these majestic animals), therefore should be expected. Wherever the waves made them hard to spot or something else, it wasn’t the case for Grey and Common Atlantic Seals. While it is almost guaranteed that you’ll see them chilling on the islets, don’t be surprised by spotting some out in the open waters.
There is also a possibility to meet whales, basking sharks, and otters. But mammals and fishes are not the reason you should be here, the birds are.
Puffin tour on Lunga Island
Some things just cannot be described. Visiting puffins and their neighbors is one of those experiences. Once on Lunga island, there are two options:
- First is a walk to a huge rock which is home to thousands of guillemots (picture a);
- The second being the same, just failing to do so (picture b).
It is very easy to get seduced by any of the many puffins living their everyday lives not too far from where you’ll get set ashore. I know it is hard, but you need to resist the puffins. There are plenty more of them on the road to the guillemot colony.
The walk will not only reward you with meeting more birds but with the beautiful nature of Lunga Island and the surrounding Treshnish Isles. You’ll be circled by the charismatic puffins during your time in Lunga island, so be prepared to smile for a while as these birds will definitely cheer you up.
The wildlife tours to the Treshnish Isles are even advertising themselves as a stress-relief remedy called “Puffin Therapy”. It is hard to describe how, but after the experience, you’ll feel a boom of optimism, so strong that for a while ill-fortune will seem as an impossible concept.
The Magical Puffins — Conservation status: Vulnerable
These little creatures look like they are straight out of a fairy-tale. Due to their similar appearance, they even gained a title of the Atlantic Parrot, but in fact, they are not closely related to them or penguins as people often mistakenly try to link them. Puffins belong to Auk family and could be seen living next door to their neighbours Guillemots and Razorbills. Among whom, they definitely are the cutest ones and often seem to steal the show from their close relatives.
Puffins lose their key feature — the colorful markings of their beaks every autumn and regrow it in spring. They can carry large amounts of fish with a current record somehow being 62. With time the upper part of their beak grew small spines to hold on the fish while the tip of their tongue had developed a similar feature to grab the slippery fish and stick it to the spikes above.
Conservation of Puffins
While puffin population here is healthy, recently, the rapid decrease of these magical birds in the Shetland Islands, started to raise scientists concern. It is ever more important to follow the rules of the park and if you want to help to preserve puffins, you can do so by participating in Project Puffin, which is very simple. Just take pictures of these magnificent birds while they are carrying food in their mouth and send it to the authorities. Read more
The Curious Razorbills — Conservation status: Near Threatened
The dark horse of the wildlife tour — Razorbills — are easily the most underrated thing of this trip. Overshadowed by the charm of puffins and vastness of guillemot colonies, razorbills are nothing less than very interesting and beautiful birds. If you want a better shot of any birds it is suggested to sit and wait, but the curious razorbills are simply approaching humans by themselves.
I was quite surprised once one of them landed right next to me while I was trying to take a shot of a nearby puffin. Just like I caught the attention of the razorbill, he instantly got mine. No matter how much I kept filming or taking pictures of him, the razorbill just kept posing. For most of the time, it looked like his focus was rather on the camera than me. Maybe he saw the thing as the head of the creature staring right back at him.
Razorbills are similar in size to their close relatives — common guillemots, but despite that, they are easy to recognize due to their black bill and white unique features. The name of the bird itself is pretty much self-explanatory. Bills of these beautiful birds resemble old-fashioned cut-throat razor, therefore razorbills. Like everybody else around this neighborhood, these birds are on the islands only during the breeding season, they spend winters at the sea in the northern Atlantic.
Guillemot Colonies — Conservation status: Least Concern
Just like the two species I mentioned before, guillemots belong to the auk family. This is probably the reason why these birds coexist in vast numbers so close to each other. Though to play devil’s advocate, there are other species living nearby like kittiwakes, oystercatchers, and cormorants. Have in mind that guillemot is the word to describe these birds only the United Kingdom, if you are from the New World, you might know them as murres or turr.
The first time I saw guillemots I had to spend quite a while trying to understand who are these birds because they look exactly like penguins. As the popular reasoning test goes — “If it looks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, then it probably is a duck”. Despite guillemots positively passing this test, in reality, it can’t be a “duck”. Penguins live only around the South pole, still, being completely unrelated, they look alike. Both species probably followed the same design for optimal swimming and diving, though guillemots haven’t lost their ability to fly. Probably because they are way smaller than penguins, which is hard to say from a great distance.
Another interesting feature of these beautiful birds is the shape of their eggs which looks like a pear which stops them from rolling off the narrow cliff ledges. Guillemots live and mate in the sea, so they inhabit the cliffs only during the breeding season. During that time, those cliffs become quite a sight to see. Without a doubt, I’ve never seen anything more similar to a city in the animal kingdom than this. Just little “penguins” growing their children in a safe neighborhood on a beautiful island. Sounds like paradise, isn’t it?
Conservation of Animal Havens
Paradises like Lunga island are getting harder and harder to find in the heavily civilized regions like Western Europe. I believe this beautiful island is only so because there are so many islands in Scotland, and the preservation of this bird haven is up to us.
Wildlife tour to Treshnish isles is a good way to experience the thin barrier between humans and nature. It doesn’t matter if you are an enthusiast of birds, animals or nature in general, this place will be a pleasant surprise. If you decide to visit the Treshnish Isles, be respectful. Environments like these are very fragile, especially, during the breeding season, and if they are to remain open to the public, we, visitors, must be conscious of what we are doing. That slightly better shot is just not worth the stress of a loving mother and her chick.
The good thing is that the Treshnish Isles doesn’t seem to be touched by the “popular” tourism with the mindless ghouls torturing the environment to get some extra likes on their social media page. Though I still saw some idiots, taking close up shots of a desperate mother trying to protect her child, unlike the more popular regions, on average the people we met here showed way higher respect to nature.
Is it worth to do Staffa & Treshnish Isles Cruise Tour?
I feel like I’m talking the same points over and over again, but like many things, in Scotland, it depends on the weather and your tolerance to it. I wouldn’t suggest booking tickets in front, but if the forecast for the day suits you, just come 40 minutes early and get them at the ferry administration office. Despite that, if the weather conditions are satisfying, those two hours on Lunga island together with Puffins, Razorbills, Guillemots and other birds, could be easily the highlight of your whole trip to Scotland.
Originally published at https://ctdots.eu on July 24, 2019.