We’ve just come back from Mull, an island in the Inner Hebrides. It’s a 45 minute crossing from Oban, and you get to Oban by train from Glasgow – it takes about 3 hours through some magnificent scenery. It’s a pretty bleak looking place at this time of year but the beauty is in the views of the mainland and other nearby islands, and the whole interplay of changing light on the water, which can go from grey to bright blue to turquoise and back again within minutes.
Mull itself is about 50 miles long and home to 3,000 people. It’s a very different world from Manchester. The only settlement of any significant size, Tobermory, is up in the north. It’s a very colourful and attractive little place, best known over here as the location for the pre-school TV seires Balamory, which ran to 200 episodes. Though tiny, it boasts the inevitable distillery where they make an intriguing smoky/peaty flavoured malt. And a wonderful bookshop.
Tobermory, however, isn’t where the ferry docks – that’s a place called Craignure which doesn’t have a lot to see, at least in February. We stayed in a place that called itself a luxury hotel - but wasn’t – the room was somewhat cold and dreary but the food was okay, just as well as they were the only place open for dinner within 20 miles! There was a nice swimming pool and a few rather culture-shocked media types dropped in by helicopter to film a commercial – but even they couldn’t get anything to eat after 8.00pm!
Anyway, we didn’t spend a lot of time there. We managed some walking – glorious castles, standing stones, Iron Age hill forts and stags and herons just standing around waiting for photo opportunities, all of which made it worth the fight through bog and briar. For me the highlight was getting across to Iona, a very special place in Christian history, founded by St Columba, and today home to around 120 year-round residents plus a vibrant Christian community. It took us a rough 30 mile drive and then a ferry crossing, and then we could only stay two hours because the weather was deteriorating, but that gave us time to check out the abbey ruins and get a feel for the place. I kind of liked being out of season, even though it was freezing and there was nowhere open other than the Abbey itself. In summer it gets overrun by pilgrims and day trippers.
I feel we got a real insight into Scottish history and the way of life, different from the English one in many small but significant respects. The people are tough and somewhat self-denying, but also warm, charming and welcoming to strangers. A fun trip. I hope to get the photographs sorted out and up on flickr within a day or two. I think that the pictures on the websites linked may have been a little – ahem – seasonally enhanced.
Question of Great National Importance – will DT get married in a kilt?