Camilla Frances travels to the Inner Hebrides - the archipelago of remote islands on Scotland’s west coast - discovering vast, still lochs, jaw-dropping landscapes, a stylish 'bothy' and isolated islands inhabited since 6000 BC. Along these quiet shores, creativity and community prospers; discover the rare, restorative beauty of the Isle of Mull.



Rugged, mountainous landscapes. Vast skies. Dramatic vistas. Welcome to the Isle of Mull on Scotland's remote West Coast © Camilla Frances 


For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to visit the Inner Hebrides, the archipelago of remote islands on Scotland’s west coast, closer to Iceland than London. The shores and caves that inspired Robert Louis Stevenson and Felix Mendelssohn always sounded impossibly romantic to a Londoner: isolated, wild and windswept.

This is Outlander territory, inhabited since 6000 BC. A land of Big Nature. Rugged, mountainous landscapes. Vast skies. Dramatic vistas. Abundant wildlife. Beautifully still lochs where otters hide and seabirds glide. It’s a land deeply connected to its tumultuous past, where stories have sunk into the seas and been woven into folklore.

And so, at the end of 2023, I made something of a pilgrimage to the Isle of Mull – the second largest island in the Inner Hebrides – to start 2024 in blissful isolation.


Mull's beautiful gradation of colors and mesmerizing still lochs © Camilla Frances


It took a full 24 hours to reach Mull: a seven-hour drive from London to Glasgow, followed by an overnight stay, a long, early morning drive through wintery darkness and a 40-minute ferry from the Scottish mainland (the only way to reach the water-locked island (no tunnels or bridges here)). But the journey was not arduous, and undoubtedly part of the adventure; we sailed through snow-dusted mountains – just visible as the sun started to rise – and tiny islands, empty but for lighthouses, before a dramatic hilltop castle signalled our arrival at the tiny port of Craignure.

The island we found was in deep hibernation, its skies heavy with sleet and its 2000-odd residents nowhere to be seen. We assumed most were wrapped up warm in or near the island's only town, Tobermory - famous for its colorful stretch of waterfront houses - where Mull's population is clustered. Although the island is small (around 338 square miles), it is punctuated by sea lochs creating some 300 miles of natural coastline. Travelling anywhere here takes time due its single-track, coast-caressing road.


But, like so many remote, rural places, Mull forces you to slow down, disconnect and marvel at its natural offerings. I was endlessly impressed by the island’s almost-unreal gradation of colors: grasses ranging from an acid lime to a moss olive, dusky purple and claret heathers, straw-brown reeds and black pebble beaches. The heavy silence, total darkness (but for the few stars not blanketed by cloud) and freedom to leave the house without triple checking the doors was striking too.

Our home on Mull was straight out of a Celtic fairy tale: a milky white cottage, or bothy (a traditional Scottish word for a simple hut or dwelling), with thick stone walls, sitting at the foot of a hill, near a waterfall and facing the sea. It was exactly the sort of cozy, nostalgic bolthole that you don’t want to leave and can’t wait to return to.


Fern Cottage: an extended Scottish bothy with stylish interiors, tucked away in one of the most remote - and beautiful - spots on Mull © Camilla Frances


In the heart of the Croggan estate, on the south west corner of the island, Fern Cottage is in one of the most remote spots on the already-remote island. Its humble walls concealed an unexpected treat, courtesy of owners Lettie Corbett and her husband, Stephen, who has been coming to the island since childhood.

The cottage was built in the 1850s and came into Stephen's family in 1921, where it has remained for five generations. It would have been built for a farm worker or fisherman, Lettie says, noting that the property was tenanted until very recently. "The last tenant - Iain - was a wonderful character," she says. "We have kept his old records of ceilidh bands and Scottish music at Fern cottage."


The Calke Green-covered kitchen at Fern Cottage, just moments from the sea © Alexander Baxter from the book, Wild Isle Style by Banjo Beale. 


Inevitably, Fern was in need of total renovation when the couple decided to transform it into their Hebridean bolthole (and a holiday rental when the London-based pair aren't in residence). Along with a generous supply of hot water, despite the remote location, Lettie has been careful to ensure that Fern has universal appeal with an immaculately well considered interior scheme. The kitchen, drenched in Farrow and Ball's Calke Green, is a real show-stopper, reflecting nature's own color chart just beyond its door, while collected ceramics and locally sourced woollen blankets nod to the craft traditions of the Hebridean Isles and Scottish Highlands. 

Base yourself here and the Isle of Mull will suit almost anyone, not just those who favour backpacks, canvas and all-weather attire. This cottage is a charming, thoughtfully designed space full of collected treasures and comforts. 
You can rough it in the wilds of the Hebrides, stalk through rain-soaked countryside to reach empty beaches or the ancient Duart Castle, and return to great design and every modern comfort, bar WI-FI (which most escaping to Mull will regard as a positive).

Mere footsteps from Fern, I drank my coffee at the water’s edge most mornings, waiting patiently for otters and daylight. The sun rarely surfaced before 9:30am in January, so the island slumbered in silence, but for rustling trees and lazy waves. 

Amid the peace and quiet, there are tight-knit creative communities, and great industry and entrepreneurship; many a business has capitalised on Mull’s unique brand of Scottish romance. One of my favorite afternoons was spent exploring the Isle of Mull Cheese Shop (which sells much more than cheese) at the beautiful Glass Barn Cafe (pictured above). Over towards Tobermory, the operation - the last remaining cheese farm in the Hebrides - is run by Mull matriarch, Chris Reade.

The 80-year-old, along with her late husband, Jeff, opened the Glass Barn on the family-run dairy farm they built when they moved to Mull some 40 years ago. Now co-run with the hugely capable interior designer, Banjo Beale, and his partner, Ro, the vine-filled Glass Barn and Isle of Mull Cheese (both pictured above) are a stylish affair. Banjo (who first moved to Mull in 2017 from Australia via Sri Lanka and the Himalayas) has recently redesigned the space, while Ro manages the production of cheese.


A short ferry from Mull, Iona - only 1.5 miles wide with around 170 full-time residents - is considered the birthplace of Christianity in Scotland © Camilla Frances


Writing in his 2023 book Wild Isle Style, Banjo - who worked in advertising before leaving Australia - described the couple's monumental move: "[After returning to Australia briefly] the call of the wild west coast of Scotland was too loud and after a year we returned to our spiritual home... For me, no two days are the same, whether I am mucking in to feed goats or tourists in the cafe, playing with clay in the pottery, gardening, turning cheese in the cellar or weaving baskets."

Mull is a seasonal island with many businesses closed from October to April. When you visit largely depends on how much time you are happy to spend alone, cooking at home and preparing thermos flasks of coffee. During the long winter months, this is mandatory - unless you stay close to Tobermory - but by April the island is in full swing again, with many spots offering excellent food and barista-brewed caffeine.

It's hard not to fall in love with this wild, windswept isle, as romantic as it is remote, but if you find yourself craving isolation and adventure still, take a ferry from Mull to the storied Isle of Iona, which is only 1.5 miles wide with around 170 full-time residents. Here, you truly feel in a different zone of time and space.


Where to Stay: Explore Mull and discover Iona from beautiful Fern Cottage on the Croggan Estate, available to book via Boutique Retreats | @ferncottagemull

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