Into The Unknown

Allison Hay © Illustration of landscape.


An adventure to the Inner Hebrides takes a family deep into the rugged Isle of Mull…

The sun was glinting on the Toblerone shaped peak of Ben More, the highest mountain on the Isle of Mull. The sky behind was cornflower blue, with only the faintest puffs of cloud above its summit. Purple heather stretched along the rocky slopes to the shores of Loch Na Keal below. It promised to be a beautiful day, defying the myth of constant summer rain on the islands.

The nine-mile drive from Salen along the dramatic, single-track road to the Ulva ferry had inspired even Anne’s sleepy teenagers to comment on the scenery.

“It’s kind of cool mum,” James admitted in awe as he gazed up at the imposing Munro. “Maybe we could hike up there later in the week?”

Anne nodded, although she personally had no intention of tackling such a climb. It would take her totally out of her comfort zone. Exploring the island of Ulva with James was a more attractive prospect.

Sam, her husband, was still pouring over maps and tide timetables in the back of the car. He had promised to take their daughter, Poppy, on a kayak trip. They hoped to find a waterfall further up an inlet to the north, while James and Anne caught the foot passenger ferry across the Ulva Sound. The plan was to rendezvous at The Boathouse Café on the island later in the afternoon, in time to catch the boat back to the mainland.

Anne and James had only a short wait on the quay before the small craft docked beside them. The boatman reached out a hand to help Anne and four other walkers clamber down, while James jumped straight in. He was determined to bag a good seat for them both on the foredeck.

The crossing was over in a few minutes and Anne alighted with a sense of anticipation. She always found it exciting to discover the secrets of a new island and Ulva was totally unknown to her family. They had a cup of coffee on a bench outside the tearooms and a cheeky, early treat from a delicious looking traybake. Poppy and Sam were still assembling their kayak equipment on the opposite shore, so it was a good excuse to linger and wave them off.

“Where shall we go first, then?” Anne queried as James studied the leaflet of walks which the boatman had offered them.

“How about the Livingstone Walk?” James suggested. “It’s a good name. Wasn’t Livingstone a famous explorer?”

“Yes, but I think it was his grandparents who lived here in a croft.” Anne replied. “There’s a cave too. We could try and find it if you like?”

James nodded in delight, and they set off up the narrow track beside the creek.

The walk was well signposted at first and led them through woods onto open moorland. The views back to the rugged hills of Mull were beautiful in the sunshine. They climbed through a gap in the wall and were soon vaguely lost in a valley filled with dense trees. Anne was relieved to emerge by the ruins of the croft marked on their map.

“At least we can follow the coast now,” James assured his mother.

The white marker posts grew few and far between, but they passed two friendly hikers, who pointed out the short diversion to the cave. They would certainly have missed it. James scrambled into the gloomy cavern to explore but found only rocks and shells.

“I’m hungry, mum!” he protested as they clambered back onto the cliffs. Luckily, Anne had come prepared and found a spot out of the wind for their picnic. She watched in amazement as James devoured a huge pile of sandwiches before tucking cheerfully into most of the remaining crisps and bars from the rucksack.

Anne could never get over the size of her son’s appetite these days. At least their bag would be lighter to carry now, she mused.

The final section of the walk was the most challenging. What little trace of the path that was left had vanished completely. Soon they were parting tall fronds of bracken to make any progress at all. The cliffs were too steep to descend so they had to stick to the undergrowth. Anne glanced at her watch and started to fret. They did not have long until the ferry was due to depart.

“Don’t worry, mum, we can still make it!” Anne was grateful to her son for his optimism, and his height because she could no longer see where they were going. They had not met another soul since the ruined cottages.

The road, when they found it, was a blessing and they practically jogged back to the quay.

“We saved you some cake,” Poppy grinned when they were reunited. “You can eat it on the ferry.”

Anne nodded her thanks. She was still out of breath. Exploring Ulva would certainly be an adventure to remember.

Read more fun short stories:

Read Clear Vision, Techno Mum, Kiss And Tell, plus many more in our archives.

Georgia Grieve