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MacCulloch's Tree

This fossil tree was first brought to notice by John MacCulloch in 1819. It is the cast of a tree over 12m high and a metre and a half in diameter which, standing upright, was engulfed by lava and has now been exposed through erosion. v During the Tertiary period, 50-60 million years ago, lava not only erupted violently from volcanoes, but also flowed more gently out of cracks in the earth's crust known as dykes. The lava flow that engulfed the tree must have been quiet enough to leave it in situ. As it cooled in formed in columns, similar to those seen at Staffa and at right-angles to the cooling surface - in this case the trunk of the tree which, indeed, exerted a sufficient drag on the lava flow to leave the columns slightly bent.

The walk out to the tree is not for the faint-hearted but there is interest every step of the way - the views are magnificent and the assemblage of geological features is unique. Buzzards and golden eagles range the cliffs and wild goats browse the talus slopes whilst a look to seaward will very likely reveal the head of a seal or even an otter.

MacKinnon's Cave

Reckoned to be the deepest in the Hebrides, this famous cave has been visited by almost everyone who has come to the Island.

Boswell and Johnson visited it in 1773 and measured its depth. William Black, the popular Victorian novelist set one of the scenes of his Castle Dare in the cave. Deep inside, there is a large flat slab dubbed "Fingal's Table" and the whole cave has gathered about it an aura of mystery and magic. It was reputed to have been used in very early times as a refuge for hermits - the "Culdees" of the early church were supposed to have used "Fingal's Table" as an altar.

Like many Hebridean caves, it was thought to offer a passage to the underworld of fairies. There is the tale of the piper who tried to outdo the fairies in a piping competition and walked into the cave accompanied by his dog. Only the dog returned, crazed with fear. Some say he went right through the hill and emerged on the other side of the headland at Loch Scridain. Even without myth and mystery, the cave is worth visiting. The walk in will take you down the geological column from the islands tertiary volcanics to the psammite basement rocks at the cave.

Carsaig Arches

Of all the coastal walks this has to be the most magnificent. The Carsaig Arches are not only breathtaking in themselves, but the walk to them, from either direction, passes under some of the highest and most spectacular cliffs in Britain. This is goat country, eagle country and, in spring, nesting country for kittiwakes and fulmars. On the walk in, an interesting side excursion may be made to the Nuns' cave, where the nuns are reputed to have taken refuge after being driven from Iona. Like most of the coastal walking this is rough going - the stunning scenery is the result of eroding sedimentary rocks underlying the Mull volcanics. As the younger rocks crumble, the volcanic cliffs above are dramatically steepened.

The arches themselves are rather different in character - one a massive tunnel floored with rounded boulders the size of footballs. With any swell running, the sound of the sea booms through the cave and the boulders roll restlessly grinding themselves smoother and smother through the centuries. The other arch is a crazy, 36 metre tower - a gothic freak of nature with a keyhole slot through its centre made for a gigantic key 20 metres high.