Knockvologan is situated 3 miles south from Fionnphort on the south west tip of the ‘Ross’ of the Isle of Mull, one of the larger Hebridean islands on the west coast of Scotland. Looking westwards, you can see both the Isle of Iona and the tidal island of Erraid. A 15 minutes’ walk south leads you to the Knockvologan white sand beaches. There are no conifer plantations here. Instead, the area is characterized by its untouched, remote and hard to access, native Celtic rainforest, bog, heather and spectacular rocky coast line.
Right beside our house is the start of the path leading into the Tireragan estate. The estate comprises 625 hectares of wild rugged land. It is unusually remote and difficult to access even by Mull standards. Don’t expect well-maintained trails for an easy stroll. Walking here is demanding and requires perseverance. However, the diverse terrain can be most rewarding. A two hour muddy and slippery walk will bring you to Traigh Gheal beach, a most beautiful, sweeping bay of white sand edged with granite cliffs dotted with wild flowers. The combination of restricted grazing (the area is fenced against sheep and cattle) and limited human access with the clean ocean air and high humidity has resulted in a terrain rich in lichen, mosses and ferns. In the sheltered gullies you can find centuries old oak trees and the open moorland provides ideal habitat for eagles and hen harriers.
Few places on Mull are so far away in all directions from a surfaced road. The sense of wilderness is enhanced by the exceptionally rocky coastline, the wooded ravines, the extensive bogs and the lack of obvious signs of humans.
The mosaic of habitats is Tireragan’s most special feature, emphasizing the climatic and geological conditions that produce an upland ecosystem at sea level.
The Ross of Mull granite, a Devonian intrusion some 400 million years old, underlies the entire estate. Elevations range from sea level to a maximum of 104 meters at Beinn Cholarich. Although superficially rather a simple structure, a closer examination reveals a more complex situation. The granite was intruded into the surrounding Moine Schists and throughout Tireragan you can find xenoliths of varying sizes. These remains of Moine Schist, only partially digested by the ascending granite, are more calcareous than the surrounding granite and often give rise to a different flora and fauna.
The vegetation of Tireragan is dominated by bog, heath and woodland. The patches of woodland represent the remnants of the natural ancient woodland with downy birch, sessile oak, willow and rowan the principal species, though hazel and aspen are also present in significant numbers. Many of the gullies in which the woodland has survived are of particular importance for the lower plants growing on and under the trees. Depending on the season you will find sundew, bog asphodel, wild thyme, bog myrtle, roses, brambles and wild orchids as well as an exceptionally rich selection of ferns, mosses, lichens and liverworts.
Mull is one of the best places in Scotland for seeing birds of prey and Tireragan is an excellent example. Golden eagle, buzzard, hen harrier, kestrel, sparrow hawk, merlin and short-eared owl are all seen hunting regularly in Tireragan. Otters are often spotted along the southern shore and while walking the path to Traigh Gheal beach there is a good chance you will encounter hares, rabbits, red deer and adders.
The pre history of Tireragan is little known, but there are some signs remaining that indicate people were living in the area some 6,000 years ago. Dotted along the Ross of Mull are Neolithic standing stones, and burial and clearance cairns and remains of walls of dwellings and forts from the bronze and iron ages. More recent history has been well documented and Tireragan was affected like all of the Highlands and Islands by the 19th Century clearances when half a million people or more were removed from the land. The land at Tireragan incorporated a township with 5 clachans, plus some individual houses. Records show over 100 people living there before depopulation started. You can still see the ruins of most of these dwellings peeping out from the bracken and heather.
The villagers used to hold their land in common and the best land was divided up each year by calling lots, so that each tenant had the chance of some good land. This system was known as ‘runrig’. The better land, known as ‘infields’ were well cared for and farmed in long strips with ditches between them, somewhat ironically called ‘lazy beds’ since they were cleared of stone and ploughed largely by hand. Less fertile ground, known as ‘outfields’, was also cultivated with lazy beds and was used in rotation. In the winter, when the bracken is down, you can see the outline of these lazy beds covering many parts of the landscape. In summer, the cattle were driven onto the hills, with the herders living in seasonal dwellings called ‘shielings’. The people had a rich culture of Gaelic song, story and dance, some of which still flourishes today.