I’m taking a couple of days out of my Iona trip to head to the biggest town on Mull and Iona, Tobermory.
Almost 50 miles from Iona, Tobermory is one of the most iconic and most photographed towns anywhere. The multicoloured houses that make up its main street right across from its beautifully picturesque harbour are instantly recognisable and its pubs and restaurants are famed for some of the best seafood and smoothest whisky in Scotland.
However, I have to get there first, so I am off to catch the Calmac ferry back to Fionnphort before jumping on the bus to Craignure, Salen and Tobermory.
As I stand on the boat for the short sailing to Mull, I look back on this astonishing island of Iona and wonder what she must have looked like to countless travellers over the last two millennia.
It is probably not that different to the view I am getting now and I get a sinking feeling that I am leaving Iona and her people behind, even if it is just for a couple of days.
Despite the size of Mull and it is a very considerable island, public transport is pretty good and I find the bus waiting for me as I depart the ferry. The great thing about travelling by public transport is that you let someone else do the driving, which means I can concentrate on the views and wow what views these are!
From Fionnphort we stick to the coast road alongside Loch Scridain, passing the villages of Bunessan, Pennyghael and Ardtun before heading across the island to Lochdon on the east side of the island and following the road alongside the sound of Mull.
I pass the Craignure ferry port on my right I get a glimpse of the local swimming pool, managed by the Isle of Mull Hotel & Spa, a great place to take the kids on a wet day and community owned! The view is quickly followed by one of the loveliest wee golf courses in Scotland, only 9 holes but each one of them with views to Morven and the Sound of Mull.
On my left is one of my favourite places in all of Mull, the Garmony rugby club pitch, where I taught under 12 rugby for ten years. Isle of Mull RFC may be a local club, but the views from its pitch are now famous the world over since it featured in the 2015 Rugby World Cup!
The views across to the remote peninsulas of Morven and Ardnamurchan come into view as we head north on one of the few stretches of double track road, but don’t get complacent, north of the village of Salen (the salty place) the road reverts to single track and once again I appreciate the skill of the bus driver!
As we climb out of Salen and finally crest the hill above Tobermory, the road amazingly turns into a super smooth straight highway, which takes us quickly to Tobermory.
Close to Tobermory we pass the Forestry Commission owned Aros Park, a haven of rhododendrons and azaleas and also featuring a spectacular waterfall which drops over 100 metres through the ancient forest.
As the bus rolls into Tobermory, years of memories come flooding back. The views are clearer and more beautiful than I remember, and the coloured houses seem brighter. The street is busy with locals and visitors going about their business and the smell of the sea and the sound of the sea birds are everywhere.
Tobermory owes its origins to the British Fisheries Society and their search for likely sites for fishing communities in western Scotland in the 1700s. The Society’s agent John Knox, visited Mull in 1786 and proposed making use of the superb natural harbour for such a community. The name comes from the Gaelic tobar-mhoire which translates as “Mary’s Well”, after an ancient holy well dedicated to the Virgin Mary in what is now the upper part of the village.
Today Tobermory, the undisputed island capital of Mull, has a population of some 900 people. The local High School and council offices are all located here. These days it is perhaps best known for its connections with children’s TV. First, it had a Womble named after it, while more recently it was used as the setting for the BBC children’s series Balamory.
Balamory was shown in over 70 countries and turned Tobermory into a place of pilgrimage for many young fans and their parents. Although filming stopped in 2005, the appearance of the series on DVD means the people who live in the recognisable painted houses still get excited 5-year-olds knocking on their doors!
More Recently the work of wildlife cameraman Gordon Buchanan has brought Tobermory and Mull to an entirely different audience. His documentaries about the return of the Giant White Tailed Sea Eagles and Mull’s whales and dolphin population have received worldwide acclaim and brought thousands of nature lovers to these islands.
Tobermory is blessed with a range or eateries serving local seafood..but it wasn’t always this way! When I first came here as a kid, you simply couldn’t get fresh seafood. Such was its reputation and demand, all of it was shipped to the mainland and beyond and it was easier to get Mull scallops in a Paris restaurant than it was in Tobermory! I am delighted to say that things have changed and I am off to the simply named and award winning Café Fish for lunch.
Café Fish sits right on the old pier and the views are fabulous. When I was a youngster, this was the old Calmac building and many of the original art deco style feature have been retained. As the name suggests, this place sells fish..great fish, brilliant fresh local fish.
As the sun starts to set and produces one of Mull’s spectacular sunsets, I sit alfresco, with a plate of Mull Scallops cooked in garlic butter, hot smoked salmon by Tobermory Fish, homemade bread and a bottle of ‘Terror of Tobermory’ Isle of Mull’s very own beer.
Tomorrow I am off to visit some of my old haunts, the Whisky distillery amongst others!
Check back soon.