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Visiting the Isle of Ulva, Scotland

Updated on May 25, 2017
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Where is the Isle of Ulva?

The isle of Ulva is a small island off the coast of Mull, which is accessible by a short ferry trip. If you are on holiday on Mull you can pop across to explore on a day trip. Sit outside and have a picnic, explore the scenery, and learn a little bit of the island's history by popping into Sheila's Cottage.

Key facts

Size: 7.7 square miles (1990 hectares), 7.5 miles (12 kilometres) long by 2.5 miles (4 kilometres) long

Population: 16

Main settlement: Ulva House

Region: Argyll and Bute

Parish: Kilninian

Map of Ulva

show route and directions
A markerUlva ferry, Mull -
Ulva Ferry (Mull) Ferry Landing, Isle of Mull, Argyll and Bute PA73, UK
get directions

B markerSalen, Mull -
Salen, Argyll and Bute PA72, UK
get directions

C markerCraignure Mull Ferry Terminal, -
Craignure Mull Ferry Terminal, Isle of Mull, Argyll and Bute PA64, UK
get directions

Ulva Ferry Sign

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How to get to Ulva

Ulva's ferry port lies on the west side of Mull. You can't bring your car to Ulva, but the port is is most easily accessible by car.

If you don't have a car: you can get a bus from Craignure, the main ferry terminal of Mull, to the settlement of Salen. Salen is on the east side of Mull and about 10 miles away, but you can book a private taxi to take you across.

The other alternative for the fit and hardy is to cycle across to the ferry terminal. Bicycles are welcome on the island.

The ferry runs on demand Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, and on Sundays during summer months. It is closed on Saturdays. If the weather is bad the ferry may not run, you should contact the ferry operator in advance. You may also be able to arrange trip across at other times by prior arrangement.

There is an old fashioned system in place where you can signal across the water that you are waiting for the ferry by drawing across the marker, so that the red square shows. See the photograph to above for the ferry sign.

Have cash ready to pay for your tickets once on the ferry.

Ulva Ferry

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Attractions on Ulva

The Boathouse Restaurant

The Boathouse is a restaurant specialising in locally caught seafood, although you can also pop in just for a cup of tea.

Restaurant

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Ulva's heritage centre: Sheila's Cottage

Sheila's cottage is a small thatched house that has been restored to show what island life was once like. Sheila MacFadyen lived in the cottage between 1900 and 1950, and worked as a dairy maid. Her cottage has been restored as a heritage centre. It was traditional for there to be two rooms, one for livestock and one for living. The interior of the living area has been recreated to show how Sheila, and other islanders like her would have lived. The other room of cottage has a series of displays which tell you about Ulva's history.

Children on Old Fishing Ship

Children play on an old fishing ship near the harbour at Ulva.
Children play on an old fishing ship near the harbour at Ulva. | Source

The History of Ulva

When exploring Ulva you will find many abandoned buildings, and evidence of previous settlements.

It is hard to believe now, but back in the early nineteenth century Ulva was a thriving island community with sixteen separate townships. The main industry was collecting and selling kelp, a kind of seaweed. According to the 1841 census Ulva, and its adjoining island Gometra were home to 859 people. However by 1848 there were only 150 people left.

Mr Francis William Clark who bought the island in 1835 forcibly removed hundreds of people from the land to make way for more profitable sheep. These clearances happened across other parts of Scotland, but Mr Clark is remembered for being particularly cruel in the way in which he forced the elderly and sick from their homes.

Throughout the nineteenth century population continued to decline, and by the early twentieth century there were only a handful of people left living on Ulva.

Today the island is privately owned by the Howard family, who purchased it from the Clarks in 1945. Less than 20 people live there.

Deserted Hut

A ruined hut from the former settlement of Ormaig.
A ruined hut from the former settlement of Ormaig. | Source

Walks on Ulva

The following walks are signposted on Ulva and it is worth following one of them while you are there.

  • The 'farm circuit' is the shortest of these, at under 2 miles, taking you past some disused farm buildings, and back to the ferry terminal.
  • 'Livingstone's cave walk' is another circuit of 4.5 miles. This takes you past the former home of the family of the famous explorer David Livingstone, and past Livingstone's cave.
  • The 'Southside' walk is 6 miles in total (3 miles there, and 3 miles back). It takes you past the former settlement of Ormaig, and an old mill, and will allow you excellent views over to other nearby islands.

Be prepared for it to be muddy, and wear appropriate footwear.

Signpost on Ulva
Signpost on Ulva | Source

Ulva Church

This was built in 1827-8 and designed by the famous architect Thomas Telford
This was built in 1827-8 and designed by the famous architect Thomas Telford | Source

Wildlife on Ulva

Ulva is full of wildlife, including the extremely rare Scotch Burnet Moth which is only found on Mull and Ulva.

Ulva is also home to many seabirds including buzzards, golden eagles, sea eagles, white-tailed eagles, snipe, grouse, pheasant, woodcock, puffins, black-legged kittiwakes, shag, common and arctic tern, gannets, eider ducks, oystercatchers, curlews, redshanks.

If you are lucky you may be able to see some of this wildlife.

You can also spot porpoises, dolphins, pilot whales and mink whales in the nearby waters.

Basalt cliffs on Ulva. These are similar to the more famous ones on the Isle of Staffa.
Basalt cliffs on Ulva. These are similar to the more famous ones on the Isle of Staffa. | Source

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