a snapshot of the buses of yesteryear


  McFadyen ticket

Traditionally the Isle of Mull was served by the daily Macbraynes mail steamer Lochearn from Oban, which called at Craignure, Salen and Tobermory.  It sailed from the island's capital Tobermory to Oban in the morning and returned in the afternoon.  Bus services on the island were largely geared to connecting with the steamer timetable and in the early 1960s comprised:

Craignure - Fionnphort for the ferry to Iona, operated once daily by Bowman of Craignure

        (believed to have been started by Cameron of Duntulm in the early 1920s, passing to Bowman in 1956)

Craignure - Lochbuie, operated by McFadyen of Croggan

        (previous operators included McComisky, Reid, Munro and Gibson)

Salen - Ulva Ferry, operated by McColl of Salen

        (originally MacRae of Torloisk then Black of Ulva Ferry)

Tobermory - Calgary, operated by Carmichael of Tobermory

        (thought to have been started in the 1920s by McDonald,

                      then Farquharson and McGillivray)

  Carmichael ticket

Tobermory - Salen - Gruline, operated by Cowe of Tobermory, including school and shopping journeys.

        (the Cowes owned the MacDonald Arms hotel in Tobermory - their coach tours started in 1928 and the bus route about 1948)

The introduction of a car ferry between Oban and Craignure in 1964 to meet the changing needs of both tourist and resident brought Macbraynes buses to Mull for the first time, with a new route from Craignure and Salen to Tobermory, covering the villages at which the now discontinued mail steamer had called.  The Macbraynes bus operated four times a day to connect with the car ferry at Craignure, and there were additional local journeys between Tobemory, Salen and Gruline at school and shopping times to replace the service previously run by R & A Cowe.  Five of Cowes vehicles passed into the Macbraynes fleet.  Other routes remained much as before at this time, but with increased frequency to Fionnphort for the Iona Ferry on Bowman's service.

Changes came with the passing of the years, with all of Macbraynes bus services passing to other operators.  In the case of Mull the routes transferred to Highland in 1972.  This was short-lived and by 1980 Bowman had taken over the Tobermory - Craignure route as well as continuing their Craignure - Fionnphort route.  The Lochbuie route was a postbus by 1980.  The mid-1990s and the era of bus deregulation saw a couple of years of somewhat unlikely competition on Mull in 1994/95, with Essbee Coaches of  Coatbridge near Glasgow competing head-to-head with Bowman on the Tobermory and Fionnphort routes.  Although sparsely populated, the island receives many summer visitors, especially those heading for Iona, no doubt an influencing factor in the competitive scenario of the time.  From 1984 to 2011 there was also the Isle of Mull narrow gauge railway which ran from from Craignure to Torosay Castle.


  Two of Cowes tickets, the top one from the Tobermory - Salen - Gruline bus route; the lower one for the day excursion the length of the island to Fionphort for the Iona ferry.
  Cowes Tobermory tickets
Cowes timetable from the early 1960s

Cowe's timetable 1960s

A brief history: in the early part of the 20th century Robert (father) and Alexander (son) Cowe were farmers and shopkeepers at Pennyghael in the south of the island. From 1926 a car was advertised to run from Bunessan to connect with the mail steamer at Craignure or Salen. Within months this was expanded to start at the Iona ferry at Fionnphort and operated by a Ford Model T 14-seater. In 1928 Alexander purchased the MacDonald Arms Hotel in Tobermory and started a programme of tours and further vehicles were purchased. Iona was always a popular destination. During the mid 1930s (1935 to 1937) Macbraynes considered purchasing the Cowe's business but nothing came of it at the time.  Post-war a school service started in 1948 from Tobermory via Salen to Gruline, with Saturday operation on a stage licence following in 1950. The business passed to Macbraynes in May 1964 after the introduction of their new car ferry service from Oban to Craignure and the withdrawal of the Sound of Mull mail steamer which had called at Craignure, Salen and Tobermory.
A Macbraynes Bedford on Mull in the mid 1960s
One of R & A Cowe's buses on a tour to Iona in the 1950s

Bowmans timetable to Iona Ferry 1979

A brief history: the Bowmans were farmers at Scallastle near Craignure. The Craignure to Fionnphort bus service went to them in 1956 on a one return journey a day basis, connecting with the Sound of Mull mail steamer, with the driver having to sleep over at the Iona ferry end of the route each weeknight. After 1964 with the arrival of the car ferry and several sailings to and from Oban a day, bus frequencies were increased.  A substantial programme of coach tours was operated from Craignure in connection with the comings and goings of the ferry. By 1980 Highland Omnibuses (as successor to Macbraynes since 1971) had withdrawn from Mull and their Tobermory to Craignure route also passed to Bowmans. The mid-1990s in the era of bus deregulation saw a couple of years of somewhat unlikely competition in 1994/95, with Essbee Coaches of  Coatbridge near Glasgow competing commercially head-to-head with the subsidised Bowman routes, both to Tobermory and Fionnphort. After eventual realisation of lack of passengers to support two operators (especially in winter)solo operation reverted to Bowmans. In June 2013 Bowmans Tours Limited with ten vehicles was purchased by West Coast Motors of Campbeltown and both the tours operation and the Tobermory and Fionnphort bus routes are now operated by them.

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