A couple of weeks ago I finally made the trip to the Isle of Mull. It had been on my to do list and I found myself on the west coast doing a shoot for a company called Gone West (a tree planting charity – but that’s a story for another day). I spent all of Saturday climbing mountains to get the shots and when I finally made it to Mull I was damp, tired and cold. I stuck the tent up and curled up to sleep.
When morning came, I was finally able to appreciate where I was… Mull is an island off the west coast of Scotland. It’s marked by hills and mountains which drop off dramatically into the sea and lochs. The scenery is a patchwork of brown heather and gorse interspersed with lush green fields and dramatic conifers. As I packed up the truck and made myself a quick bacon sandwich I was overwhelmed by the stunning beauty of the place.
I’d had a tip off of an otter on the south coast and I was only a few miles away. Despite that, it took me nearly 40 minutes to get there. Main roads in Mull can quickly change to single track roads which in turn, devolve into essentially gritted paths. This, coupled with the fact that farmers don’t really ‘contain’ their livestock means that it’s rarely a “quick trip” when travelling around. At one point I was faced by an enormous bull who refused to get out of the small road I was on for about 10 minutes. I wasn’t going to mess with him though!
As soon as I got to the location, I spotted my otter. The telltale tail flip gave him away and I ran to the shore in my flip flops to get a good look. I stood watching him for a bit before turning back to the truck to get better prepared. I put my boots on, gathers my photography and filming gear and set up. But oh no! In the five minutes I’d been away, he was gone! I walked up and down the Loch looking. I asked passers by if they’d seen anything. I drove along the road slowly looking out for any sign but I couldn’t see a thing. This is not an exaggeration, it took me six hours before I saw him again. I was sat on the beach and I saw the tail flip!
I set all my gear up and to my amazement, he started coming toward the shore with an enormous flounder. He dragged it onto land about ten meters from me and began to chow down. Ordinarily, otters are crepuscular, preferring to hunt at dawn and dusk because they have a higher success rate with their hunts. In Mull they hunt at low tide. And shore enough (sorry) he came back to the beach time and time again. He must have caught seven or eight fish by the time I was getting ready to go.
The rain had started and I was getting pretty cold and wet by this point. Just as I had told myself to get going for my ferry home, I saw the splashing. He was bringing in something big. I couldn’t quite work out what it was but I lay still, with my body flat to the beach, just at the edge of the water. As he came closer, I could make out a huge dogfish battling with him as he fought against the seaweed to get it to land. The rain made a dramatic backdrop to this incredible fight. The otter struggled and fought into the shallows before finally managing to tear into the dogfish – which was easily 2ft long! The tide was rising by this point and the upper half of my body was now almost completely submerged but I continued to watch and wait.
The dog otter ate his fill of the dogfish at only about 3 meters from where I was hidden. It was truly incredible and as I dried off in the car, I was shaking with either excitement, or the cold! I’ll be back to Mull as soon as I can, thats for sure. A magical place and a magical species to work with