T he Isle of Staffa and a tour to see puffins in Scotland had been on my bucket list for ages, and my recent weekend trip to Mull was the perfect occasion to finally tick off both! We booked an half-day tour with Staffa Tours, the ‘Staffa & Treshnish Isles Wildlife Tour’. This is a guide to the different stops of this extended Staffa tour, some tips about surviving seasickness and of course a little packing list!
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We began our day with an adventurous drive on the single road track from Craignure to Fionnphort. On the scale of driving in Scotland, driving on the Isle of Mull scores pretty high. Single track roads mean slowing down, and so you should allow plenty of time for the drive towards the ferry. We picked up a hitchhiker along the way and arrived at the edge of Mull with plenty of time for our ferry crossing to Iona.
Stop 1: Walking on the Isle of Iona
Staffa Tours include the option to visit the Isle of Iona, except for Sundays, which was of course when we had booked… We spent the morning exploring Iona independently and joined our tour from there around 12pm.
Iona had been the Gaelic spiritual centre for many centuries and even today, many visitors come here to participate in spiritual retreats and experience the unique tranquility of the island. You can visit the medieval church Iona Abbey (£7.50) or explore the ruins of the nunnery for free. We went for a little walk in the meadows behind the main village and managed to almost cross the island before we had to return to catch out next boat. The views were incredible and the walk a good warm-up for what was to come.
Back at the harbour, the sun was out, but the rain clouds were hanging in the north – just where we were heading…
Stop 2: Seeing Puffins in the Treshnish Isles
After a calm ride north, we arrived on Lunga, the first island on our tour to see puffins in Scotland. Lunga is one of the Treshnish Isles which the tour is named after. During the summer months the island is home to a big puffin colony. The puffins can be spotted when they breed between late May and early August. The humorous birds spend the rest of the year at sea.
We had the island all to ourselves, but as soon as we stood at the edge of the cliff, the puffins came flying, knowing that we would keep the seagulls away. They let us come close enough for some awesome shots and when they had posed enough, they simply flew off again to fish in the waves.
We even saw a baby puffin stick its head out of its hole in the ground -unlike other birds, puffins don’t build nests, but rather digs holes into the soft earth on top of cliffs and thus hide their chicks away from predators.
For more bird watching read this post about puffins on the Isle of May, just off the east coast of Scotland.
Stop 3: Exploring the Isle of Staffa
The final stop of our tour was the Isle of Staffa. Here you can find the famous Fingal’s Cave that I’m sure you know from photos. Unfortunately, on Staffa we were not so along anymore, as a lot more boats visit this island continuously throughout the day.
Visitors can even book a day tour from Oban, which includes the ferry to Mull, a bus transfer to Fionnphort and the actual Staffa boat tour. However, if you like a sense of calm and quiet, I’d recommend staying overnight on Mull and choosing the longer tour option like us!
The cave is a short walk away from the landing place across the bizarre basalt rocks on the island’s edge. Once inside, it can get a bit crowded, because the path leading in is actually quite narrow. It pays off however, to hang around and wait for a little break between groups arriving.
Once you’ve seen enough, make your way back and up to the top of the island. You won’t have time to stroll all the way to the other end of the island, but you can climb to the top for some more amazing views across to the mainland and back towards Iona.
And so our tour to see puffins in Scotland had come to an end. We returned to Fionnphort around 5pm and drove back to Craignure for our well-deserved dinner.
Prone to seasickness?
While the sun had finally come out as we explored Staffa – and stayed with us throughout the sail back – the wind had also turned against our odds. The sea was really rough on our way back to Fionnphort, to the point where not even the heavy yellow fishermen’s coats could keep us entirely dry in the spray. Needless to say, chose your spot on the boat wisely – if you absolutely don’t want to get wet, find a seat inside – even though the views are better on the outside…
Unfortunately, on small boats like the ones used by Staffa Tours, rough sea can easily end in seasickness. If you are prone to seasickness, have a few backup plans for how to deal with it on board.
– Eat a green apple.
– Eat something containing ginger – I like to bring ginger hob nobs!
– Try a Sea-Band wrist band. It has a little bead that presses against a pressure point on your wrist.
– Worst case, take seasickness pills, but only if you’re not driving! We never spent more than an hour on the boat between the stops, and from experience most seasickness pills I’ve tried knocked me out for considerably longer than that. So, unless you really can’t avoid it, I’d recommend to hold off the meds – you don’t want to miss out on the puffins because you’re drowsy from the pills!
Good to know about the Staffa & Treshnish Isles Wildlife Tour
The Staffa & Treshnish Isles Wildlife Tour will set you back £60 per person and takes around 5 to 5.5 hours. To book this or another Staffa tour, check out Staffa Tours’ website.
There are no toilet facilities on the islands you visit during the tour (except for Iona)!
It is possible to bring dogs on the Staffa tour – a lady on our boat actually had two big dogs with her – but it’s not the easiest task, as the dogs will have to be lifted on and off the boat, walk over floating jetties and keep their calm in the face of flying wildlife.
What to PACK?
Make sure to bring your own lunch, as pre-tour options on Iona or in Fionnphort are limited (especially if you don’t eat meat or fish) and there are no services on Lunga or Staffa.
Don’t forget your camera, extra batteries and a waterproof bag or case to keep everything safe. As always with wildlife tours I was worried that my standard camera zoom lens would not be enough to get decent shots of the puffins. Luckily though, puffins are not really scared of humans, so I could get close enough to take awesome photographs with my regular photo kit!
What to wear?
Waterproof hiking boots, a warm layer and rain clothes (also to protect yourself from the spray on the boat) are an absolute must – you can find my recommended items in my Scotland packing list! Mind we did this tour in the middle of summer, yet the temperatures were rather baltic… There is no shelter on Lunga or Staffa (expect for FIngal’s Cave) and once you’re off the boat, you are quite literally stranded on the island until they come and pick you up again! There are trails, but they can be muddy, so good footwear is essential.
Have I convinced you to add a tour to see puffins in Scotland to your bucket list? Or did you do a similar trip in another place in Scotland, that you think I should know about? Let me know in the comments!
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All photos by Kathi Kamleitner.