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Salen

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Salen is a small village on the island of Mull, in the Scottish Inner Hebrides. With a population of 500 (as of 1991), it's little more than a road junction midway between Tobermory and Craignure. It was created to serve as a harbour in the 19th century and had a mailboat service until 1964, then the boats got bigger and the ferry landing was relocated to Craignure. In Gaelic Sàilean denotes a bay - the name in full is Sàilean Dubh Chaluim Chille, the little black bay of St Columba. It's said St Columba preached here but few people came to hear him; it is, after all, a small place.

You also come through Salen to reach the even smaller village of Gruline by the B-road south, and the island of Ulva by a short ferry crossing.

Get in

Salen is on A848, 10 miles west of the ferry terminal at Craignure and 10 miles southeast of Tobermory. The road from Craignure is two lane but the road northwest is single track and twisty for six miles towards Tobermory.

West Coast Motors Bus 95 / 495 runs five times daily from Craignure via Fishnish to Salen (30 min), continuing to Tobermory; no Sunday service Nov-March. Bus 96 / 496 runs four times M-Sa and once on Sunday between Craignure and Fionnphort, so it's possible to travel between Salen and Iona by bus and ferry.

Ulva Ferry Community Transport minibus runs twice F-Su from Calgary along the west coast to Ulva Ferry, Gruline and Salen, where it connects with the 95 / 495 bus to Craignure. The ferry to Ulva runs on demand between Ulva Ferry on Mull and Oskamull the landing point on the little island - you shift a marker board to red to call the ferry. The pier is being rebuilt and no vehicles can cross until Sep 2022 (visitor vehicles can't in any case) but the foot-passenger ferry still sails from a temporary jetty.

With your own light aircraft, use Glenforsa airfield next to the hotel. It's open daily May-September and Saturday & Sunday throughout the year, but you need prior permission (+44 1680 300377 and radio 120.805). The grass strip is 780 m x 28 m: the north end gets very boggy in wet conditions.

Get around

You'll want wheels to reach the mausoleum, and certainly to get to Ulva.

See

  • 1 Aros Castle (or Dounarwyse Castle) is the stubby remains of a 13th century redoubt. In 1688 it was described as "ruinous, old, useless and never of any strength" and it hasn't visibly improved since.
  • 2 Macquarie Mausoleum, Gruline (Off B8035, 2 miles south of Salen). Always open. Lachlan MacQuarie (1762-1824) was born on the nearby island of Ulva. He had a distinguished army career then was Governor of New South Wales 1809-1821. He returned to London in failing health amidst public criticism of his many harsh measures; nevertheless he had overseen the transition of Australia from penal colony to nascent nation. He died soon afterwards and was buried here at Gruline. The mausoleum is reached on foot by a good track signposted from the B8035, a mile to walk. Free. (updated May 2022)
  • 3 Ulva is an island some 7½ miles east-west by 2½ miles north-south, separated from Mull by a quarter-mile channel; the ferry runs on demand. There are no roads, just walking tracks, a cafe and heritage centre. There's no regular accommodation, but a bothy can be rented. At its west end, a bridge joins Ulva to the tidal island of Gometra. The south coast has spectacular basalt-column cliffs, like those of better-known Staffa. By 2018 Ulva's resident population had dwindled to six, who have bought the island as a development trust.
  • 4 Eas Fors waterfall is a mile northwest of Ulva Ferry on the road to Calgary and Dervaig. "Eas" means waterfall in Gaelic and "Fors" means the same in Norse.
  • 5 Lip na Cloiche Gardens are another mile along that road. It's a charming small garden on a steep hillside, open year-round dawn to dusk. Donation £2.50, no toilets here.
  • 6 MacKinnon's Cave is a large sea cave - 500 ft long, so you need to a torch to explore it. It's only accessible for two hours either side of low tide. Park in the lane towards Balmeaneach off B8035, follow the boggy trail down to the shore, then it's a rough scramble over the boulders.
  • 7 Inch Kenneth is an island with a ruined 13th century chapel and graveyard, an outpost of Iona abbey. Boat trips occasionally visit. The censuses of 2001 and 2011 recorded "no usual residents", which is a tactful description of the unusual former owners, the dingbat Mitfords. Unity (a Nazi, like Diana) spent her last days here, and when it passed to Jessica (the Communist one) she suggested building a Soviet submarine base here, and wasn't entirely joking.
  • 8 Staffa is the islet five miles south of Ulva with the basalt columns of Fingal's Cave.

Do

  • 1 Mull Pony Trekking is at Killiechronan on B8073 near Gruline. They have treks M-F suitable for all ages, max rider weight is 90 kg (14 stone).
  • Boat trips to Ulva, Fingal's Cave on Staffa, Treshnish Islands and elsewhere sail from Ulva Ferry. You can also join their connecting transport at Oban or Tobermory.
  • Climb Ben More, at 966 m (3169 ft) the only Munro on Mull. The simplest ascent is from 2 Dhiseig on the coast road south of Gruline. Seek advice before climbing during the deer-stalking season Aug-Oct M-Sa. It's 5 miles there and back, the well-trodden path is boggy lower down and stony higher up.

Buy

  • Salen Spar is a small supermarket and Post Office with an ATM. It's 100 yards east of the junction, open M-Sa 08:00-19:00, Su 10:00-17:00.
  • MacDonald's filling station at the A848 / B8035 junction is open M-F 08:00-18:00, Sa 09:00-17:00 and Su 10:00-16:00.

Eat

  • In Salen, the two hotels have the best offerings. Taste of Mull is a fast food place half a mile east of the junction, open Tu-Sa 17:00-19:30.
  • Ballygown Restaurant, just beyond Lip na Cloiche Gardens on the road from Ulva Ferry to Calgary and Dervaig, is open Tu-Su 17:30-22:30.

Drink

  • The Glenforsa and Salen Hotel bars are the best bet.
  • Whitetail Gin is distilled at Tiroran, see Sleep.

Sleep

  • 1 Pennygowan Holiday Park is a camping and caravan park two miles east of the village, open March-Oct. Two-person tent £21, hook-up £27.
  • Salen Bay Campsite, Ardmor Rd, Salen PA72 6JL (On shore north of village), ☏ +44 1680 300250. Well-run campsite with great views, open Apr-Oct. Dogs welcome. Tent £20, hook-up £27. (updated May 2022)
  • B&Bs in Salen include Tigh-an-Achadh, Ardmhor, Fascadail and Callachally House, and there's a dozen places for self-catering.
  • 2 Glenforsa Hotel, Salen by Aros PA72 6JW (on main road next to airfield), ☏ +44 1680 300377. Small family-run hotel in Norwegian log building. 14 rooms en suite plus bar and restaurant: the food gets mixed reviews. B&B double £120. (updated May 2022)
  • 3 Salen Hotel, Main St, Salen PA72 6JE (junction of main road and B8035), ☏ +44 1680 300324. Comfy 10 bedroom hotel with 45 seat dining room and two bars. Dogs welcome. B&B double £100. (updated May 2022)
  • 4 Tiroran, PA69 6ES (B8035 on north shore of Loch Scridain), ☏ +44 1681 705232. Victorian villa in tranquil setting, dog-friendly. It's nowadays self-catering and no longer a hotel, but has Whitetail gin distillery. (updated May 2022)

Connect

As of April 2022, Salen has a patchy mobile signal from EE and Three, but nothing from O2 or Vodafone. 5G has not reached Mull.

Go next

  • On west to Tobermory, by either the main road or west coast back road via Ulva Ferry and Calgary.
  • The short ferry hop from Fishnish brings you to Lochaline on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula.
  • Travel to Fionnphort to cross to Iona.
  • From Craignure the ferry returns you to Oban on the mainland.



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