*I am in the process of redesigning this section to include notes and many more high-res shots*
The remote village of Lochbuie is situated at the head of Loch Buie, a sea loch on the Isle of Mull`s south coast. The immediate area is renowned for its scenery, shimmering beaches and abundant wildlife. Lochbuie is also steeped in history being the home of the Clan Maclaine of Lochbuie who resided at Moy Castle and later, Lochbuie House.
The settlement is reached by a 12.5km (7.7 mile) drive along a single-track road that leaves the A849 at Strathcoil just west of Loch Spelve, another of Mull`s southern sea lochs. Peacocks at the farm immediately after the turnoff like to let drivers know who`s boss!
The route initially passes through the Ardura woodlands, the largest remaining example of native upland oak woodland in the Hebrides. Designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), the woods are home to a rich variety of lichens, mosses, flowering plants and ferns. Birds including Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher and Wood Warbler all nest annually.
This monument overlooks the main road at the Lochbuie turnoff. It was erected in the 1920s to honour the Gaelic poet and composer Dugald MacPhail (1818 - 1887) who was born nearby at Derrychulin House and stones from the ruins were used in the monument’s construction. MacPhail worked as a joiner and architect before travelling to Glasgow with his young wife. They then moved across the border to Newcastle where he wrote his most famous work, the song An t-Eilean Muileach (The Isle of Mull), which is now known as 'Mull's National Anthem'. Four verses from the song are inscribed on side panels and another has the following words: ‘Dughall an t-Strath Chaoil - Born 1818 -Died 1887. This cairn is erected with stone from the dwelling of the bard.’
MacPhail was appointed architect and clerk of works to the Duke of Westminster, and the family relocated to Shaftesbury, where several of his family were born. He eventually returned to Scotland, setting up home in Edinburgh, and it was here that he composed the song An t-sobhrach Mhuileach (The Mull Primrose). In 1859, MacPhail was awarded a prize given by the Edinburgh Celtic Society for an essay on the Highland Clearances. He also wrote the autobiographical Callum a' Ghlinne (Callum of the Glen).
The road meets and runs alongside the south-westerly arm of Loch Spelve (above), within a stone's throw of the water's edge. Otters are supposedly fairly common although I`ve never encountered any during numerous drives here. In summer, many birds including Oystercatcher, Common Sandpiper, Ringed Plover, Meadow and Rock Pipits, Wheatear, Pied and Grey Wagtails all breed here. Swallows and Starlings nest in the derelict buildings. In winter, Loch Spelve holds good numbers of waders and waterfowl including all three species of Diver.
Also known as the Loch Buie War Memorial, this monument to the men of Kinlochspelvie Parish stands in a fine position. The memorial lists eight men from local settlements who lost their life in the Great War and two from WW2. The Gaelic inscription on the front is a biblical quotation which translates as "Those who through Faith turned to flight the armies of the foreigners." `Heb.XI.-34. 1939-1945`.
The road continues west along the north side of Loch Uisg. This freshwater loch lies in the picturesque wooded valley that connects Loch Spelve and Loch Buie and in spring and autumn this section must be one of the most colourful stretches of road on the island. In springtime into early summer this section of the route is lined with masses of Rhododendrons which thrive not only on the narrow ground between road and loch but cover the lower slopes of the adjacent hillsides.
Red Deer are widespread throughout the island but Mull has only a small population of Fallow Deer. The latter species tends to remain localised with Lochbuie and the Gruline Estate being two of the best places to see them.
In summer, the animals have chestnut-brown coats with the classic ‘Bambi’ white spots, but in wild herds, including those on Mull, there can be considerable variations in colour.
The small village of Lochbuie is made up of various crofts and houses scattered around the head of the loch, with Ben Buie (717m) towering in the background.
The public road ends just above the shore with a rough grassy area for parking and one of Scotland's smallest post offices only a few metres away. This triangular cairn was erected to commemorate the coronation of King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra in 1902.
Another memorial cairn, commemorating HM Queen Victoria`s Diamond Jubilee on 22 June 1897, stands on the lower slopes close to Craig Ben Lodge...
Loch Buie is considered a prime birdwatching location and with rugged mountainous terrain all around eagles, both Golden and White-tailed, are often seen soaring overhead. A Great Northern Diver was feeding in the bay when I arrived here for the first time, in May, while on land parent birds like Swallows, House Martins, Robins and thrushes were frantically collecting insects and worms to feed their hungry nestlings. Walking through an area of gorse, I disturbed a Sandpiper which broke cover and launched into an impressive broken-wing act, successfully diverting me away from her well-concealed eggs or chicks. Many other species of birds can be found here at any time of year with a bit of luck.
Hen Harriers are often sighted here too. In November 2017, on a very blustery day, this male was hunting over fields close to the road near the parking area but a crow flew in and harried the raptor, forcing it towards the distant treeline. These poor quality shots were all I could manage.
Continuing east from the parking area, Laggan Sands is a long stretch of beach where Otters are frequently sighted. Deer graze on the flat open ground. Even though the beach here is strewn with boulders, a large amount of sand is exposed at low tide allowing visitors to walk over to explore the tidal islet of Eilean Mor which makes a great place for a picnic or a spot of sea-watching. Just be aware of when the tide starts to turn. Remnants of a stone harbour are revealed on Eilean Mor at low tide.
The Lochbuie stone circle, the only one on Mull, can be reached from a small parking area beside the stone bridge over the river, approximately 1km before the road end. Unless there's been a long period of dry weather Wellies will likely be the optimum choice of footwear as the ground is very marshy!
The circle, which is about 12 metres in diameter, originally consisted of nine granite stones with the tallest reaching a height of about 2 metres. It`s mainly composed of granite slabs which have been positioned with their flatter faces pointing inwards. One of the original stones has been removed and replaced in more recent times with a low boulder.
There are also three single stones in the field at differing distances from the circle. The nearest of these is 5 metres away to the south-east, and is only 1m tall. The second outlier (left) stands 3 metres high and is set about 40m away to the south-west. Also south-west of the circle, 107m away, is the third outlier, over 2 metres high.
This small Episcopal Church consecrated to St. Kilda and was built by Murdoch MacLaine of Lochbuie in 1876. It is not known why a second church was built on the Lochbuie estate as Kinlochspelve Church had previously served the needs of the small community.
It has been suggested that Murdoch, War Correspondent for The Times during the Franco-Prussian War, was appalled by the horrors he witnessed and had St Kilda’s built as a celebration of his faith.
Within the St Kilda Church are several beautiful stained glass windows including those dedicated to St. Oran, St Kilda and St. Columba and various other items of historical interest.
Moy Castle, an imposing tower house, stands on a low platform of rock at the head of Loch Buie, a sea loch on the south coast of Mull. The stronghold was built as a dwelling in the 15th century by Hector MacLean, brother of MacLean of Duart who re-named his branch of the clan as the MacLaines of Lochbuie. The Clan Chief, who supported the failed Jacobite rising of 1689, was forced to surrender the castle to the Earl of Argyll in 1690 due to his involvement, but the castle was restored to the MacLaines in 1697.
Moy House, pictured here, was built nearby as a more comfortable residence and the family abandoned the castle in 1752. This in turn was subsequently abandoned when the current Lochbuie House was constructed.
Moy Castle comprises three storeys with a garret. The two main chambers on the ground and first floors have cross barrel-vaulted roofs, a unique feature of the structure. The vaulting on the first floor runs in the opposite direction from that of the ground floor. In the centre of the ground floor there is a well cut into solid rock to a depth of 1.8 m. The main first floor has an impressive barrel-vaulted chamber, which originally served as the main hall.
There is a latrine chute still visible on the south-west wall. Nearby, is a hatch providing the only access to a well-constructed pit-prison or bottle-dungeon, 3.3 m in depth and 1.2 m square at the base, with tapering side walls. Between 2006 and 2015 extensive stabilisation works, mostly financed by the Heritage Lottery Fund, were carried out to preserve the castle and prevent further decay but entry is currently prohibited due to the risk, albeit greatly reduced, of crumbling masonry. Additional repairs to the main door, entrance area and stabilisation of the elevations below the buttresses will be undertaken when sufficient funds are obtained.
This model in the Mull Museum, Tobermory, shows how Moy Castle including its interior would have looked circa 1600.
Each turret is provided with small windows and smaller square openings, possibly firing apertures. A steeply raked loop with double aperture at the base protects the entrance to the castle. A small burn flows past the castle to the shore but a plank footbridge enables visitors to cross and explore the exterior of the castle at close quarters, even when the water is fast flowing.
Please bear in mind that all my images are subject to copyright. They are not free to use and have been embedded with a digital watermark.
And remember, you always need to be prepared for hold-ups on the way back!