If you stand at Ulva Ferry on Mull the island of Ulva seems only a stones throw away but at the same time it looks as if the island is so remote. From the Isle of Mull all you see is the Tearoom opposite the Sound of Ulva and a deserted slipway where the Ulva ferry is docked, waiting for (foot)passengers. A little to the right is a thatched cottage known as Sheila’s cottage. It has been restored and contains a life size model of Sheila. Looking across the Sound it is almost as if the landmass on the other side of the Sound of Ulva seems one of the loneliest places in Scotland and in fact it is. Ulva, and the even more remote island of Gometra, have no roads, no cars, no hotels or restaurants, no hustle and bustle of modern life. What Ulva and Gometra do have is a stunning nature and an extremely peaceful and almost forgotten way of life. The main sources of income are sheep and cattle farming, fish and oyster farming and tourism.
The islands of Ulva and Gometra are located east of the Treshnish Isles, south of the northern part of Mull with Loch Tuath in between, and north of the Isle of Staffa with it’s famous Fingal’s Cave. Just south of Ulva is the uninhabited island of Little Colonsay, Inch Kenneth is a little further to the south-east and further south is the Ross of Mull.
Ulva’s history goes back a long way, in fact Ulva has been inhabited for thousands of years. The standing stones and a shell in Livingston’s cave are the witnesses of these early inhabitants. It’s hard to imagine that a long time ago over 600 people inhabited the islands of Ulva and Gometra untill the potato famines and clearances reduced the population to around 100 in the late 1800s. From there onwards the population declined even further and nowadays the islands are inhabited by around 20 people.
Ulva Ferry Pier (Mull)
Ulva belonged to the MacQuarries from the 10th century until the 19th century whereas Gometra belonged to the monastery of Iona before it came into the posession of the Duke of Argyll. Samuel Boswell wrote about the MacQuarries when he visited Ulva in 1773: “M’Quarrie’s house was mean; but we were agreeably surprised with the appearance of the master, whom we found to be intelligent, polite, and much a man of the world. Though his clan is not numerous, he is a very ancient chief, and has a burial place at Icolmkill. He told us, his family had possessed Ulva for nine hundred years; but I was distressed to hear that it was soon to be sold for the payment of his debts.” Nowadays Ulva is owned by Mrs Jean Howard and managed by her son, Jamie Howard. Gometra has been sold in 1991 by Mr Roc Sandford.
Ulva seen from Mull
There are two peaks on the western side of Ulva, the Bein Eolasaray and Beinn Chreagach, with 313 metres the highest point on the island. The eastern side of the island is more sheltered and has some beautiful woodland. Most of the island however is covered in bracken and heather. Wildlife is plenty here and many species of birds can be found at any given time on the island. There are good numbers of Red deer, seals and hares and also the fauna is quite exceptional with 500 recorded species. Ulva is one of the last refuges of the beautiful red and black Scotch burnet moth, which is extinct elsewhere, and Ulva is also home to the exceptionally rare blue dragonfly.
Access to Ulva is available for passengers only, except on Saturday’s so I’m told. To summon the ferry you have to uncover a red panel on the side of the building. Ferry fares are £5.00 for adults, £2.00 for children and a bike is £.50 extra.
Gometra South Coast
Gometra was at one time known as the granary of Iona. A granary is a storehouse for grain or animal food. On the south west of the island is Gometra House, with it six bedrooms, has been unoccupied since 1983 but it was renovated and reoccupied in 1993. It has extensive outbuildings and a walled garden. The old schoolhouse still stands near the shore and the most easterly of the cottages near Gometra House is called Teacher’s Cottage. It has occasionally been occupied by a resident caretaker and his wife and family. The four dilapidated cottages beside Gometra harbour were formerly occupied by MacBrayne’s Staffa boatmen, who used to row passengers out to the steamers which were unable to come alongside. There is a graveyard behind these old cottages. (quote from Hamish Haswell Smith)
Ulva and Gometra Community & Local Websites. Tourist Information:
www.ulva.mull.com – Isle of Ulva information
www.holidaymull.co.uk – Holiday Mull visitor information and accommodation
www.visitscottishheartlands.com – Tourist Information for Argyll
Ulva & Gometra Map – A detailed map of the islands