(Isle of Mull)

A historical perspective, drawn from the Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland: A Survey of Scottish Topography, Statistical, Biographical and Historical, edited by Francis H. Groome and originally published in parts by Thomas C. Jack, Grange Publishing Works, Edinburgh between 1882 and 1885.

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Mull, an island of NW Argyllshire, separated from the mainland by the Sound of Mull and the Firth of Lorn, whilst the western extremity of the Ross of Mull is divided by the narrow Sound of Iona from the island of the same name. The remaining shores of Mull are wasted by what used to be known as the Deucaledonian Sea. The island of Mull is the third largest in the Hebridean group, Skye and Lewis alone being larger. It lies within 4 miles of the promontory of Ardnamurchan on the N, within 7 miles of Oban on the E, and within 24 miles of Rudha Mhail Point in Islay on the S. Its greatest length, from ENE to WSW, is 30 miles; its greatest breadth, from WNW to ESE, is 29 miles; but the extreme irregularity of its form arising from the indentations of its coastline prevents any adequate notion of its size being given by these measurements. Indeed, its circumference may be safely put down at 300 miles, if one follows all the ins and outs of the coast; and its area (including Iona, Gometra, Ulva, and some smaller islets) is 351¼ square miles or 224,802 acres. The island has been fancifully described as presenting the general aspect of a cray-fish, the long narrow peninsula called the Ross of Mullforming the tail, and the eastern coast-line forming the curved back. Were a line drawn from Treshnish Point on the NW to the headland on the W side of Loch Buy, the main body of the island lying to the E of that line would form an irregular parallelogram of 25 miles by 14, extending NW and SE; but this would be indented in several parts by the sea, especially in the W, where Loch-na-Keal would run for 8 miles E of the line. Between this line and the main ocean the island would consist only of 6½ miles of the peninsula of Gribon between Loch-na-Keal and Loch Scridain, and about 16 miles of the Ross of Mull, which, notwithstanding its great length, has a mean breadth of little over 4 miles. No fewer than 468 islands, islets, and insulated rocks lie adjacent to Mull, and many are within the parish of Mull, but they are not included in the above measurements. By far the greatest irregularity of coast-line is on the W and S, especially the former; while the N and E, protected by the mainland, are comparatively unbroken. The chief inlets on the W coast, in order from N to S, are Loch Cuan, Calgary Bay, Loch Tuadh (between Ulva and Mull), Loch-na-Keal, and Loch Scridain, stretching between the peninsula of Gribon and the Ross of Mull. Loch Lathaich is an inlet of the sea on the N coast of the Ross. Along the S and SW coast, in order from W to E, the chief inlets are Ardlamont and Carsaig Bays, square Loch Buy, Loch Spelvie, and Loch Don. Tobermory Bay is on the NE coast. Of the neighbouring islands the chief are Gometra, Ulva, Staffa, Iona, Kerrera, and Lismore. Mull has a boisterous coast, a wet and stormy climate, and a rough, unpromising, trackless surface, redeemed only by a few spots of verdure and cultivation in the sheltered valleys, or at the head of the various lochs and inlets. Lord Teignmouth described it as 'a vast moor,' though of a spot near Tobermory he said that it is 'a sequestered scene of much beauty, recalling to the Italian traveller, in miniature, the recollection of Terni. Sacheverell, 150 years ago [in 1688], was struck with its resemblance to Italian scenery. A lake is enclosed by an amphitheatre of hills, covered with oak, interspersed with torrents, forming picturesque cascades. 'Modern taste sees much to admire in the misty hills and stretching moors of Mull; and in many places the scenery is grand, and even magnificent. The northern district rises from the sea, sometimes in grassy slopes, sometimes in rocky cliffs or naked terraces, and sometimes in sheer walls of basaltic pillars. The picturesque SE seaboard rises from the coast, with much variety of contour, to a mean altitude of more than 2100 feet above sea-level. Its culminating point, Benmore (3185 feet), 8 miles inland, is the highest summit in Mull; lesser elevations, from N to S, being Cairn Mor (1126), Spyon More (1455), Dun-da-gu (2505), Creachbeinn (2344), and Ben Buy (2352). The W peninsula of Gribon, between Loch Scridain and Loch-na-Keal, has an average breadth of 5 miles, and is formed of trap terraces receding inland, and rising in their highest crest to 1400 feet, whence lofty plateaux extend to the shoulder of Benmore. The predominant rock throughout Mull is trap, to a large extent basaltic and columnar. Granite and metamorphic rocks are found in the W part of the Ross of Mull; and there is a quarry of fine red granite directly opposite Iona, whose cathedral has been largely built of that stone. Syenite, blue clay, limestone, and sandstone belonging to the Lias and Oolitic formation are also found. Fresh water lakes are common. The largest are Loch Erisa in the N; Loch Houran, in the S, near the head of the salt-water Loch Buy; and Loch Ba, in the W, near the head of Loch-na-Keal. Streams are numerous, but, from the size and configuration of the island, are necessarily small. The soil, except on a small rocky district at the extremity of the Ross of Mull, and on the shoulders and summits of some of the mountains, is comparatively deep and fertile, and bears a larger proportion of pasture than Skye. But the beating rains and violent storms of Mull render it one of the least suitable of the Hebrides for grain cultivation. It is much more suited for exclusive attention to grazing. The cows of Mull are numerous and of excellent quality; and some southern breeds of sheep have thriven very well on the moist but verdant pastures of Mull. Natural forests were at one time extensive and flourishing, but they are now much scantier. Coppices of larch, Scotch fir, pine, etc., have been planted in the N; and the ash grows with vigour and beauty in sheltered spots in the E Mull and the adjacent islands were divided into several parishes during Romish times; but at the Reformation these were united into a single parish of Mull. This is now subdivided into the quoad civilia parishes of Kilninian and Kilmore, Kilfinichen and Kilvickeon, and Torosay; and into the quoad sacra parishes of Tobermory, Salen, Kinlochspelvie, Iona, and Ulva. The only town and the seat of the civil administration is Tobermory in the NW. The chief villages and residences will be found named in the separate articles on the various parishes, to which reference must be made for more detailed information. Pop. (1851) 7485, (1861) 6834, (1871) 5947, (1881) 5229, of whom 2666 were females, and 4591 Gaelic-speaking. Houses, occupied 1055, vacant 43, building 6. There are a number of interesting castles or fortalices on the rugged shores of Mull, to which Scott alludes in his Lord of the Isles. The chief are those of Aros, Duart, and Moy. Other antiquities consist of barrows, cairns, camps, small forts, grave-stones, and sculptured stones; for an account of which see a paper in the Proceedings of the Scot. Soc. of Antiq., 1883-4. A leading event in the past history o Mull was the fierce seabattle between Angus of the Isles and the Earl of Crawford and Huntly, which was fought in the 15th century, and has given name to Bloody Bay, a little N of Tobermory.

The presbytery of Mull includes the quoad civilia parishes of Ardnamurchan, Coll, Kilfinichen, Kilninian, Morvern, Torosay, and Tyree, and the quoad sacra parishes of Acharacle, Hylipol, Iona, Kinlochspelvie, Salen, Strontian, Tobermory, and Ulva. Pop. (1871) 15, 233, (1881) 13, 933, of whom 1225 were communicants of the Church of Scotland in 1878.-The Free Church also has a presbytery of Mull, whose nine churches had 1775 members and adherents in 1883.

An accompanying 19th C. Ordnance Survey map is available, or use the map tab to the right of this page.

Note: This text has been made available using a process of scanning and optical character recognition. Despite manual checking, some typographical errors may remain. Please remember this description dates from the 1880s; names may have changed, administrative divisions will certainly be different and there are known to be occasional errors of fact in the original text, which we have not corrected because we wish to maintain its integrity. This information is provided subject to our standard disclaimer

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