The Mull of Galloway is Scotland’s most southerly point (latitude 54.6351°N) and actually further south than Penrith and Hartlepool. It’s an awesome and inspiring place: indeed, one guidebook writer in the 1950s described it as: ‘grand, high and frightening. A great point of headland thrust down in to the southern seas, a fortress whose stacks of cliffs bristle with knives and spears of rock, buttresses and crenelated and corbelled’. Nothing has changed.
The Mull of Galloway Experience
The Mull of Galloway Experience includes the lighthouse and associated buildings run by the Mull of Galloway Trust, adjoining RSPB reserve, and the superbly positioned Gaille Craig Coffee House , built on the very edge of the cliffs with a grass roof and vertiginous drop from the terrace. At the lighthouse itself is the main tower (small charge) and lighthouse keeper’s cottages, which are now run as holiday lets, plus an exhibition (small charge) in the engine room. Movie buffs will know that the lighthouse was the main setting for the 2018 Gerard Butler film, The Vanishing.
There are 93 steps from the bottom of the lighthouse tower up to the first gallery, followed by two ladders, one to reach the outside viewing platform and another from there up to the light itself. The views are worth it: to Ireland and the Mountains of Mourne in County Down, and to the Isle of Man, just 19 miles away (and yet so far if you want to go there; the nearest ferry from the mainland departs from Heysham, just under 200 miles away). On a clear day you can see to Cumbria, too, and of course eastwards across to the Machars and north back up the Rhins. There’s no disabled access to the tower, but there is an accessible viewing platform at ground level and access to the exhibition.
This is a good place to bring the kids, with lots to see and do. Come on a Sunday if you can to hear the foghorn at 13.00. Brought back into working order almost single-handedly by volunteer Stevie Burns, it is the only one working on mainland Scotland and produces the most extraordinary, evocative sound that reverberates off the cliffs and out to sea, conjuring up images of days past when ships relied on it to navigate safely.
The sound is unique, as it was for all foghorns, so that ships could identify which one they were hearing. Incidentally, if you choose to get married here, not only can you tie the knot at the top of the lighthouse tower, but the foghorn can be sounded to mark the occasion.
The exhibition is fun: huge red tanks that fill with compressed air for the foghorn, an explanation of semaphore and a chance to try out your Morse code, a display on lighthouse keepers past, and the story of James Birnie, the ghost of the lighthouse, who was the only keeper who actually died here.
RSPB Mull of Galloway Reserve
Minke whales, porpoise and dolphins, puffins and guillemots are all visitors to the area, and adjoining the Mull lighthouse is the 30-acre RSPB Mull of Galloway Reserve. The main display is housed in a cottage that was home to the workers who built the lighthouse. The reserve consists mostly of maritime heath and cliffs, but also includes the Scare/Scaur Rocks six miles out to sea, and a wide range of birds can be spotted here.
A seasonal ranger runs the reserve and can point out other wildlife, including voles, mice, roe deer, a quite spectacularly iridescent beetle (the rose chafer beetle), and, controversially, weasels, which pose a threat to ground- and low-nesting birds.