Walking

Ulva, Inner Hebrides

Just shy of 20km2, Ulva is one of the most beautiful islands in Scotland’s Inner Hebrides. Once home to over 600 residents, it today shelters a small population of just a few dozen people and is known for its rich heritage, famous connections, and awe-inspiring natural beauty.

Ulva is a truly unique destination, exuding outstanding natural beauty and woven with thousands of years of history. Here’s everything you need to know about the island.

Getting to Ulva

Separated from the Isle of Mull by a narrow strait, Ulva is completely surrounded by sea. Naturally, arriving at the island is all part of the fun, and visitors should factor in a ferry crossing from Mull to get there. Privately operated, there is a ferry that runs from Mull to Ulva, operated by Donald Munro. A privately-run foot-passenger ferry, it has regular operating times throughout spring and summer and twice-daily crossings in autumn and winter – although this can be affected by the weather. 

History

Ulva’s tiny size belies a complex social history. From Mesolithic man to the ancient kingdom of Dál Riata to Norse invaders and more, it has experienced a huge array of cultures and conflicts, shaped and reformed by communities now constrained to the annals of time. Dubbed Ullfur by the Vikings, or Wolf Island, it may once have shared its wild spaces with one of Europe’s last largest predators too, although these have long since vanished. Today, you can still visit Livingstone Cave where a Mesolithic shell mound was found, as well as Neolithic Standing Stones. 

Heavily influenced by its Celtic culture, Gaelic was the dominant language on Ulva until well into the 19th century – until the Highland Clearances decimated the island’s population. Home to a thriving community of over 600 people at the beginning of 1800s, by the end of the century, the clearances had forced out all but around 50 residents. Even today, the remains of old townships with their ruined Blackhouses still pepper the island, providing a haunting reminder of the times. 

If you go back far enough, many of the residents of Mull (the neighbouring island) can actually trace their family lineage back to Ulva. It was even the birthplace of the “Father of Australia”, Sir Lachlan Macquarie, who is credited as one of the founding fathers of modern Australia and who held the longest tenure of any Australian governor. As such it holds a very special place in the heart of many, and draws visitors from all over the world looking to discover their roots and explore the island’s unrivalled natural beauty. 

Wildlife on Ulva 

With no cars allowed on the island and minimal human footprint, Ulva’s wildlife is able to thrive, from the smallest residents like scotch burnet moths to enormous whales. Some of the most famous residents of the island include nesting pairs of white-tailed sea eagles, which can often be seen flying along the coast with formidable power and regal grace. Other beautiful birds of prey include golden eagles and hen harriers, while hidden amongst the island’s moorland, woodland and farmland are also red deer, mountain hares and otters.

Exploring Ulva 

Follow in the footsteps of Beatrix Potter and Boswell & Johnson and explore the island of Ulva. A place of wild beauty and stark contrasts, you can tread footsteps across pristine beaches, wander through atmospheric broadleaved woodland and hike across open moorland strewn with the purple flowers of hardy heather shrubs. One day, you can discover the ghostly shells of ruined townships like Ormaig, and then picnic in the lap of a hidden cove, looking out over ever-changing seas that change from slate-grey in winter to turquoise in summer. If you have time, you can also take the bridge across to the neighbouring island of Gometra.

Feeling inspired? Take a look at our luxury cottages in Mull here.

 

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