Lighthouses and castles emerge from the mist, the outlines of distant islands dot the horizon, and if you keep your eyes peeled, there is a good chance of an enticing first encounter with some of Mull's fabulous wildlife - just a few weeks ago we were treated to the crescent-shaped silhouettes of a quartet of porpoises swimming near the boat.
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The second largest of the Inner Hebrides, Mull's chief attractions have been as the neighbour to the place of pilgrimage on the island of Iona, and as the set for the pre-school children's television hit Balamory (mostly filmed in the island's colourfully painted capital, Tobermory), a draw that has lost some of its lustre since the show ceased production eight years ago.
Fortunately for the local economy, a bigger star than Miss Hoolie was growing in profile just as she was closing her green door. Sea eagles (around a dozen pairs now nest on the island) with their giant wingspans of up to eight foot, can be spotted hunting around the coastline, or on an organised trip to the hide at Glen Seilisdeir.
The eagle is the show stopper in an impressive species list that includes otters, osprey and orchids - species which have helped Mull to secure its deserved place as one of the United Kingdom's premier nature-watching destinations. And while not everyone wants to celebrate the high profile predators, many businesses have embraced Mull's status as a wildlife haven, and are working with the community to protect the island's precious natural resources.
About four miles from Tobermory on the north coast, with views that can include the islands of Coll, Rum and Canna (and sea eagles of its own that can be seen near Loch Mingary) Glengorm Castle Estate provides both an informative starting point for those planning a wild encounter, and a scenic setting in which to enjoy a cup of tea before venturing out.
Access is by a windy single track, but don't let that put you off - it's in good condition and perfectly drivable by car, and just adds to the feeling of heading somewhere a bit unusual.
The coffee shop is sited a few hundred metres from the 19th century castle (now a luxury bed and breakfast) and though it is a pity that it doesn't share the mansion's stunning sea views, it's a charming fit for the castle's effectively converted former stables and workshop.
Large multi-paned windows have replaced stalls to let light into the stylish interior, and it's appropriate that the venue shares its space with an art gallery (currently showing local landscape photography) as well as a 'nature lab' where a frieze of wildlife pictures helps visitors to identify their sightings.
The menu is infused with a sense of place, with the majority of produce sourced locally, including plenty farmed on the estate itself, and though the main meals are hard to resist (pulled pork sandwich and fish pie were on the special's board when we visited) those popping in for a cup of tea and a quick bite (or not-so-quick, if dawdling over a rich, creamy strawberry cheesecake) are as at home as those dining out to mark a special occasion.
Among the coffee shop's customers were several dog walkers heading out for a coastal hike, and with plenty of outdoor seating, the four-legged friends could be easily accommodated, and even provided with some liquid refreshment.
It's inevitable that many of the visitors to Glengorm have a keen interest in its wildlife, and perhaps (though none of us could report seeing so much as a wing-tip of an eagle) that shared enthusiasm accounted for the open, friendly atmosphere we enjoyed, with pleasant staff and plenty of chat between tables. Then again, maybe the banter was just down to the dogs - there's nothing like a wide-eyed puppy to break the ice.
Info: Glengorm Coffee Shop and Wildlife Project, Glengorm Castle, Tobermory www.glengormcastle.co.uk @glengormcastle.
Getting there: Glengorm (including the castle, nature lab and coffee shop) is well signed from the south of Tobermory.
Mini menu: Pot of tea £1.80, latte £2, strawberry cheesecake £4.50 (ice-cream £1 extra).
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