Traditional charm meets outdoor adventure on the Isle of Mull’s Benmore estate. Here's what you can expect from a visit.
In a year of unprecedented challenges, the silver lining for many of us has been a renewed appreciation for family and togetherness. Rediscovering small pleasures, embarking on thrilling adventures and, for parents and grandparents, bringing back to life the holidays of the past through the enthusiastic eyes of young children has provided much needed comfort and solace.
There’s a very special place in Scotland where this kind of magic happens every day: the Benmore estate, on the island of Mull.
Arriving there is like stepping back in time to a pristine world of soaring peaks and open skies, wooded glens and golden beaches — but with the added excitement that comes from knowing that every moment will bring a new, special experience.
For many, the most memorable will be a close-up encounter with the island’s wildlife. ‘There is always something to amaze you, whether it’s watching the kingfishers dart up and down the river, the dolphins bow-riding with you on the boat, the whales, basking sharks and orcas at sea, or the falcons and sea eagles soaring high above the cliffs hunting for their food,’ says Benmore’s owner, Tim Radford.
It’s hard to tell which animal is the most fascinating to watch: the stags roaring in the glen are perhaps the most majestic; the otters, scavenging for food along the coast, are the most playful; but the crowdpleaser palm probably goes to the puffins. Every year, breeding pairs reunite on the Treshnish Isles, west of Mull, and people can go and watch their comical antics.
The estate has two boats, the Benmore Lady and the Corra-Bheinn, which take guests on wildlife-spotting trips or to explore a patchwork of remote islands, the history of which is as spell-binding as its beaches.
Two of the best islands are Iona, where St Columba founded Scotland’s first Christian monastery, and Staffa, which is dotted with hidden caves, so striking that they inspired Mendelssohn to compose his Hebrides Overture. ‘The freedom of discovering these islands and the magical Mull coastline onboard our estate boats is an experience of which I never tire,’ says Mr Radford.
For keen anglers, a boat trip unlocks the opportunity to catch a really big one: the sea is brimming with huge skates, as well as tope, mackerel and prawn. A sea-fishing outing only rivals with the thrill of spending a day on a wooden boat, rod in hand, as lochs and rivers around you teem with trout and salmon. But then, with its 32,000 acres of magnificent countryside, Benmore really feels like a vast adventure playground.
Each season brings its own rewards, from playing beach rounders in the summer to stalking red deer in autumn and winter (September and October are stag season, with hinds from November to January). On a sunny spring day, you could be shooting clay pigeon in the afternoon, with a lunchtime pitstop for a picnic by the loch. Those with good legs and energy to spare can try climbing up Ben More, Mull’s only Munro, for some really spectacular views.
However, if that sounds like too much work, a track along the loch and the road that runs the length of Glen Forsa provide equally scenic, but less strenuous alternatives. And for those who would like to venture outside the estate’s confines, Mull has several ancient castles, a Bronze- Age stone circle and three golf courses well-worth visiting.
Albeit not quite a castle itself, Knock House, Benmore’s main residence, is fit for a prince — or rather, a princess. This traditional West-Highland sporting lodge was once home to John, 9th Duke of Argyll, and his wife, Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s fourth daughter.
Painstakingly renovated by Mr Radford, it now combines old charm with a new, luxurious feel and can accommodate up to 20 guests. With such beautiful surroundings, it’s hardly surprising that Mr Radford would want to preserve the estate intact for future generations to enjoy.
Benmore already produces hydro-electricity to be more sustainable, but, from 2021, it will also begin planting more than 2,890 acres of mostly native mixed broadleaf trees in the Glen Forsa valley. ‘This project will restore the glen to its former beauty, rejuvenating the land, encouraging biodiversity and protecting the river that meanders through it—and the migrating salmon that swims in it,’ says Mr Radford.
Benmore is Scotland at its most captivating: a place of sea, hills, tweed and unspoilt Nature. To make the most of it, try visiting before the season starts in earnest, in April or May. You’ll have Mull’s bewitching beauty (almost) all to yourself.
For more info or to book your Scottish-island experience, please telephone 01680 300229 or visit www.benmoreestate.co.uk. If you are looking for a hosted break, ‘Exploring Mull and Iona’ takes place from May 2–8, for one week only.
The Benmore Estate is running six luxury breaks in the spring and summer of 2021 to help people further the