Isle of Mull
We get up early and from Islay, make our way to Oban, and then by another ferry onto the Isle of Mull, a relatively quick 45 minutes from the mainland.
We stay in Tobermory, the pretty multi coloured village, made famous in the children’s show Balamory. We stay in the faded and now petty tired old Western Isles Hotel, an imposing grey building, perched high overlooking the bay. In its heyday it was probably quite the place to stay, but these days it looks like it’s in fairly urgent need of several million Scottish pounds worth of renovation. It’s up for sale – perhaps one day it’ll return to its former glories.
The town is a mixture of craft shops, pubs, galleries and some good restaurants. It also has a distillery, The Tobermory, one of Scotland’s oldest.
The tour is a relatively brisk 45 minutes, but understandable given its relatively bijou size. They don’t malt their barley here, but like many distilleries, take it from the mainland, or in the case of the more peaty Ledraig (somewhat improbably pronounced as Lay-chick), also distilled here, take it from Islay. The four stills, two of them relatively new, make an impressive sight in the main distillery room, but what makes the tour such an enjoyable experience is the Scottish big hearted charm of the distillery manager, who imparts his knowledge of the distilling process with a double dram of enthusiasm. Of the whisky itself, the 10 year old 1798 Tobermory is a decent enough tipple, but it really comes into its own in the 20 year old cask strength. The Ledaig is a solid example of the more smoky peaty style, but I can’t help thinking that if that style of smokey Whisky is your thing, the whisky from Islay are to my palate, bigger, more complex and satisfying.
Tobermory – Food and Drink Choices
For food in the town, the unpromisingly named Galleon Grill, rather than a cheap and cheerful greasy spoon, turns out to be very modern inside, and serves up excellent local seafood and Scottish steak. The restaurant attached to the brightly coloured Mish Nish at the far end of town, also does good local fare at reasonable prices, and has the added appeal of an open fire, very welcoming when the weather is bad. We didn’t try Cafe Fish, above the Ferry Office, but that too has excellent reviews. For a dram or two, there is of course the Tobermory Distillery, but also MacGochans, right next to it. The newly renovated Tobermory Hotel, half away along Main Street, has a very cosy bar, and also rooms, and though it’s not a cheap accommodation choice, it’s been done up to a very high standard.
Boat trip to Fingal’s Cave
Fingal’s cave, famous for its basalt hexagonal pillars, is about an hour boat ride from the Western side of Mull. It’s well worth the trip, for coming across this island, the only one to have such a distinctive formation, increases the impact. A small concrete jetty just about allows the boats to get up to island and drop their more agile passengers. From there it’s a couple of hundred metre walk across the base of the cliffs to the main entrance, where a narrow but protected ledge enables an up close view of this magnificent natural cathedral of rock. For a full surround sound experience, try doing it while listening to Mendelssohn on your music player (see video above).
Walking and driving – Trekking from Carsaig to Loch Buie
Mull is a ramblers paradise, with breathing views at every turn. Mountains, forests, loch shore, rugged coastal treks, the island has it all. Add to that the chance to see sea otters, which we we lucky enough to experience, sea eagles, stags and abundant bird life, Byrnes, waterfalls and rivers, it is is an enchanted experience.
Time didn’t permit us to do as much walking as would have liked, but we chose the reasonably challenging Carsaig to Loch Buie, which pretty much encompasses a lot of the Mull trekking experience, in a deceptively short sounding 5 miles, but which feels double that, due to the rocky boulders littering the fore shore.
To get to the head of the walk, involves negotiating a long narrow single lane track, through steeply sloped sides of woodland. Passing lanes are few, sometimes resulting in the need for some reverse driving skills.
At Carsaig, several magnificent large houses overlook the sea, while a small jetty area, provides parking, and to our delight, a view of sea otters playing just across a narrow channel of water. From there a wooded path takes you on to the shoreline, and a challenging but rewarding scramble across boulders, woodland paths, across byrnes, and beside high cliffs and plunging waterfalls. We didn’t quite make the full trek to the Loch, the high tide, constant drizzle and tough terrain eventually did for us, but on a good day, this would be even more spectacular and rewarding. (Details of the route here).
Castles of Mull
A the castles here are not as plentiful, or perhaps as spectacular as other parts of Scotland, but there are a few dotted here and there. One is the Duart Castle, it far from the main Oban ferry terminal. The castle has been extensively renovated since it feel into dereliction sometime in the 19th Century. Like many strategically important defensive Castles, it’s strategically located at the end of a promontory, where its inhabitants could once cast a watchful eye over the many clan wars, and Royalist factions over the centuries. Other notable castles around Mull include the Baronial pile at Glengorm, and the smaller Moy castle overlooking Loch Buie.
Retracing the steps of the 1945 film ‘I Know Where I’m Going’
This early Powell and Pressburger film, is largely set on the Isle of Mull. It follows the headstrong adventure of Joan, who, is intent on marrying Britain’s richest man, who has installed himself at a nearby remote Scottish island. Joan makes it to the Isle of Mull, but a gale thwarts her ambitions to get to her would be husband’s island, and she ends up stranded. Here she meets Tarquin, the true but impoverished Laird, played by Robert Livesay, and predictably, falls for his Scottish charms. Perhaps not up there with the best of Powell and Pressberger’s films, it’s an enjoyable, and, at only 90 minutes, a brisk watch, What makes it more interesting though, is watching while staying on Mull, as many of the Island’s landmarks make an appearance in the movie, most notably Duart and Hoy Castles. The phone box near Carsaig appears twice, pictured above, the joke being that it’s location right next to a raging waterfall, makes any kind of coherent telephone call virtually impossible.