Archive for the ‘Rabbies Tours’ Category


We’ve been back from this trip for over a month so there’s been time for us to reach a balanced conclusion. So here goes.

The first thing to say is that we enjoyed the tour – just not perhaps as much as last year’s. But on days 2 and 3 we had some really memorable experiences. I’ll remember the visit to Iona on day 2 for a very long time, and also the visit to Calgary on day 3. The stroll around Tobermory in the afternoon of day 3 was also very enjoyable. We were ready for a bit of serious downtime by then and that afternoon gave it to us.

However, we can’t help thinking that a lot of the pleasure was due to the excellent weather. If it had been grey we wouldn’t have enjoyed the time on the white sand beaches on Iona and Calgary anything like as much, or the forest walk at Calgary Art & Nature, or the relaxed stroll around Tobermory; and if it had been raining (not entirely unknown in the west of Scotland…) we might not have done those things at all. If that had been the case, what else would we have done? There weren’t many alternatives.

There was a lot of time in the mini-coach, and in many regards the places we drove through – western Lochaber, south Mull, north Mull, and finally the Kilmartin area – were actually very similar. Very beautiful, but by the fourth day we had seen enough. There wasn’t the range of locations to visit that we found on the Arran trip, on which we went from modern technology (the wind farm!) to a stately home, to the memorial for, and locations related to, Scotland’s national poet, Rabbie Burns – all on just the first day! I suppose the truth is that Arran, being in the Clyde estuary, is much closer to central Scotland and there is simply more stuff, both on the island and when getting to & back from. Mull is further away, and once you get as far as Loch Lomond, you’re entering areas that are sparsely populated and therefore have less in them – apart from the landscape, that is.

So as I said above, we certainly enjoyed it; but we also recognise that we were very lucky with the weather, and that good fortune allowed us to visit and enjoy places in ways that wouldn’t have been possible had the weather been otherwise.

Will we do more Rabbies tours? Well, we’re not sure, but possibly. What is coming into our minds is the idea of basing ourselves in Edinburgh for a period, and perhaps doing a couple of Rabbies’ day tours. They seem to be location-packed. Another alternative is to do Rabbies tours that aren’t in Scotland – Rabbies have expanded into England, and there are a couple of itineraries from Manchester into Wales that look interesting. We’ll see. In any case, I don’t think we’ll be doing anything next year – we already have a full calendar for 2020, what with a trip to the USA and a couple of cruise already booked.

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Calgary Beach

On the third day of the tour we spent the morning journeying around the north end of Mull visiting Dervaig and Calgary, before returning to Tobermory for an afternoon of free time in the village. This was another good day with a couple of stops during the morning, and once again the weather was very kind – not especially warm, but clear skies.

As on the day before, the morning was spent driving along single-track roads around the north of Mull; and as before the scenery was spectacular. Our first stop was to see some standing stones at Kilmore, just above the small settlement of Dervaig where we spent about 15 minutes. Then it was on to Dervaig village where we looked at Kilmore Church. The main points of interest here seem to be the stained glass windows which date from 1910. One of these has apparently caused some controversy. It shows a figure presumed to be Jesus (he has a halo and a cross) hand-in-hand with an obviously pregnant woman (halo-less) who, thanks to the text below the image, is presumed to be Mary Magdalene. Unfortunately I don’t have a picture of this window – either I missed the significance of it, or perhaps it I just couldn’t get a good-enough shot of it. But I have an image (below) of another of the windows.

Then it was on to the highlights of the morning, Calgary. There’s no settlement here except for one or two houses, but there is a magnificent white-sand beach, and, just inland, an arts centre: Calgary Art in Nature. There’s also a cafe associated with it, thankfully….

We spent well over an hour in the area, what with a cup of tea, doing a woodland walk, and wandering along the beach. The tea (and, IIRC, a piece of cake) was excellent, but even better were the next two activities. One of the arts centre’s main features is a woodland walk, along which are placed various carvings, sculptures, playful buildings and other landscape features. It’s all quite extraordinary and very beautiful – or at least it was that day, with the sun shining. We did part of the walk and loved it. Then it was down to the beach, which has to be one of the most beautiful I’ve ever been on. Some of the time we strolled along it and some of the time we just stood there and took in the sand, the sea, the sky and the surrounding landscape. It was very peaceful and relaxing.

And after that it was back into the mini-coach for the drive back to Tobermory for our free afternoon. I’ve written about Tobermory in a previous post.

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Wobbly iPhone panorama of Tobermory harbour

We spent all three nights of this year’s tour in Tobermory, staying at a B&B in the village. We also had a free afternoon there (on day 3) which we spent exploring the village, so overall we got to know the public face of Tobermory pretty well. It’s not a huge place – the population is about 1000 – but it’s the main town on Mull (the only place that could be called anything like a ‘town’, in fact) so it has more service than you would normally expect in a place of that size. There’s a bank, for instance, and there are at least two cash machines, one at the bank and the other at the supermarket. (And both of them are free!)

It’s arranged in a classic horse-shoe harbour which faces out onto the Sound of Mull. In the past there were fishing boats and it was the main port for the island, but since the advent of modern ferries, new docks have been built which reduce the sailing time. The main ferry route, from Oban on the mainland, now terminates at Craignure which is about 15 miles away from Tobermory and therefore 15 miles closer to Oban. In fact, the distance from Oban to Craignure is less than half the distance to Tobermory, so Tobermory no longer has its ferry connections. Nonetheless it’s a popular leisure sailing destination, and some smaller cruise ships anchor off-shore and tender passengers into the village.

Round the harbour are the expected collection of pubs, hotels, gift shops, and sea food restaurants. Lots of the latter, and the hotel restaurants tend to specialise in fish dishes as well. There is a lonely-looking Indian restaurant on the front, and a steak house/grill restaurant tucked away just off the main street. Of course there are a number of gift shops, but also some practical shops serving the local community – there’s a co-op, for example. Off at one end of the harbour is a small distillery.

However, the main thing to know about Tobermory is that it’s practically vertical….. The harbour road and the premises along it seem to sit on a narrow shelf just in front of the sea. Behind that the land shoots up steeply, with a succession of further roads parallel to the harbour front but successively higher up the very steep hill, and connecting them to the harbour from are one or two narrow steep roads, and a couple of very steep footpaths. It’s always a worrying sign when you see a long handrail along the side of a footpath! Of course, our B&B (which was very good, btw) was right at the top of the town. After the first night’s struggle up the path immediately after we finished our meal (frequent stops to catch breath were needed), we decided that for future occasions we needed to work up to tackling the hill, so on the following two nights we walked along the harbour and back before attempting the ascent.

To be truthful, there’s not a lot in Tobermory. It’s certainly very pretty, and (as you can see from the images above and below) we were lucky with the weather during our afternoon free time there, so we were happy to wander along the harbour and back and explore. But by the end of the afternoon we felt that we’d seen everything. In poorer weather we wouldn’t have been able to do even that much of course, and in that case the choices come down to tea shops, bars or restaurants.

So I felt that Tobermory is a great destination for an afternoon – OK, a day if you add things such as a visit to the distillery – but even then you really need good weather. And that’s the one thing that really can’t be guaranteed in west Scotland.

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In Glencoe

Following our successful 2018 trip to Arran with Rabbie’s Tours we repeated the exercise this year, this time to Mull. This time it was three night/four day tour, with the nights spent at a B&B in Tobermory, the main settlement on Mull. As with last year the tour started from Edinburgh, and we travelled there on the Sunday and had a day in Edinburgh first. Then on Tuesday morning we assembled at Edinburgh bus station for the tour. This time the mini-coach was almost full. In addition to Val and myself there were two american couples plus an american woman, two other couples from the UK (one from Yorkshire and one from Edinburgh), and two women from Kuwait.

The first day of the tour was the journey from Edinburgh to Tobermory. This was longer than last year’s journey to Arran, and as a result we spent more time in the mini-coach than was the case last year – this turned out to be a bit of a pattern for the tour, in fact. So on the first day we drove past Stirling, through Crianlarich and Tyndrum, across Rannoch Moor and down Glencoe to our first couple of stops in Glencoe itself and for lunch at the NTS Glencoe Visitor Centre. Then it was on again, across Ballachulish Bridge to the Corran ferry, where we crossed over to western Lochaber. Then it was southwards along the single-track roads until we reached Lochaline on the north side of the sound of Mull from where we took the ferry over to Fishnish on Mull. From there it was just a short drive to Tobermory.

This was a long day with not many stops, and several of them were just photo stops. The weather was not kind, either – it was grey and cold all day, and had turned to rain by late afternoon. We were tired by the time we reached Tobermory, and perhaps a little depressed – this first day had not been as enjoyable as last year’s first day.

Given the weather my photographic results were not great, but I did get some images.

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View from the window, third day

If the weather on our second day of our tour had disappointed then on the third day it was back to the glorious sunshine of the first. There was still a stiff breeze and it was cold, but everything looked wonderful in the sun. And of course the previous day’s rain had washed the air completely clear.

The plan was to leave Arran’s west coast and take the small ferry over to Claonaig on the Kintyre peninsula, and doing so meant that the day started with a drive round the north of the island to Lochranza. We had time here to visit the ruined castle and explore the small harbour and anchorage, but it was so windy and cold that after exploring the castle ruins most people headed for the ferry dock about a quarter of a mile away where we found a sheltered spot to drink a takeaway cup of tea from a local stall. Then it was onto the ferry for the short crossing to Claonaig. I went up on deck to get some images but it was very windy and cold out on the open sea.

After landing in Claonaig we drove north to Tarbert, a very pretty spot with a sheltered harbour and – yes – yet another ruined castle. (I gather that the west of Scotland was a pretty warlike place in the past.) And yes, given that we were on the Kintyre peninsula Pete our tour guide did give us a quick blast of That Song by Wings….

Then it was on again, to Inverary. Once again we had the chance to walk around. We’ve been to Inverary before and had visited the castle (this one being of the stately home variety rather than ruinous). In fact the visit wasn’t very long, but we had time to explore the small town and have some lunch as well.

View from the Rest and Be Thankful car park

Back in the bus we went onto the next stop – the top of the Rest and Be Thankful pass, which is route from the west side of Argyll to the more south-facing area at the top of Loch Long. Apparently it was given this name by soldiers in the 18th century who had climbed the steep military road out of Glen Croe and were on their way over to Inverary. This was the end of the climb, and it became the practice for the soldiers to take a break – to truly ‘rest, and be thankful’ that the climb was over.

View across Loch Lomond from Tarbet pier

Then there was just one more stop to make. The official itinerary called for a stop at Luss in the central part of Loch Lomond, but Pete suggested a change so we called at the small landing stage at Tarbet, in the northern part of the Loch instead. Again, very pretty and more photos were taken.

After that was the drive down the length of Loch Lomond which was over far too quickly. It wasn’t long before we found ourselves on the M8 going past Glasgow airport, and heading into Glasgow to drop Ilona off. Then we headed back to Edinburgh, and we were outside the Rabbies Cafe-bar not long after 6 o’clock. And that was the end of our Rabbies tour to Arran.

But our day hadn’t ended…. we walked round to the Crowne Plaza hotel, checked in, and found that this time we’d hit the jackpot. We’d been upgraded. I need to explain that this hotel is situated in several houses along Royal Terrace, which was laid out in the 1820s as an eastern extension of Edinburgh New Town – here’s a link to a Wikipedia article about it. Obviously most of the rooms in the houses have been subdivided, but a few – just three, I think – have kept their original full width and full height, and we had one of these for the next two nights. Fantastic!

Room 110, Crown Plaza Hotel, Edinburgh

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Goat Fell, morning day 2

The second day of our tour of Arran with Rabbies dawned a bit differently from day 1 – as you can see above. That’s the view from outside our guest house at breakfast time.

However, it was’t actually raining at breakfast time nor when we set off, so the day’s first business was a walk across Machrie Moor to the various standing stones and stone circles. These are reckoned to be at least 3,000 years old, but as usual with these things, no-one has any real idea what their purpose was. One thing is clear, however: given the number and size of the stones (that large standing stone is approaching 4 metres high), this wasn’t the work of one person working on a whim – there must have been an organised effort to create these structures, involving many people and continuing over many years, perhaps generations. So that suggests that there must have been a society, with hierarchies; someone to decide what should be done, how, and with the authority (political? religious?) to get other people to do the work; and many other people to actually do the hauling and digging. Given the thin margin of agricultural surplus that would have been available at that time, I think the society was quite large. Yet we know nothing about them.

As we were leaving the rain was starting. We then drove to the southern end of Arran and escaped the rain, reaching Drumadoon Bay near Blackwaterfoot. This was just a wide, wind-swept beach – quite evocative in the gathering gloom. After that we drove round the southern end of the island and back up the eastern side, going through Whiting Bay and Lamlash before arriving at the Wineport near Brodick Castle for lunch. We had a couple of brief stops for ‘photo ops’ on the way, but by this time it was raining steadily.

After lunch, and in view of the continuing heavy rain we did mainly indoors-y things. We visited some craft shops near the restaurant: a leather good store where Val and I each bought a new belt, and a ‘smellies’ shop – Arran Aromatics. There was also a small craft brewery, Arran Brewery, which other people in the groupl visited. Finally it was off to Lochranza at the northern end of the island for a visit to the Arran distillery. This is a new distillery, just 22 years old. Indeed, when it opened it was the first new distillery in Scotland for a very long time. It’s very small – the wash tun, the brewing vessels and both sets of stills (four in total, two used for each stage of a double-distillation) are all located in one room. Quite a contrast with the Glenfiddich distillery which we visited a year earlier!

We were dropped at our lodgings at around 5:30. After resting for a while, having a cup of tea and cleaning ourselves up, we got very wet on the short walk round to the Douglas hotel. Still, we enjoyed our meal there, we sank a bottle of Chilean Merlot, and enjoyed a dram of Arran malt to finish.

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Rabbies Tours bus

Actually, we’re already back. We went to Edinburgh on Sunday in late April for a first night, then joined the three-day, two-night Rabbies tour to Arran early the following morning. We finished the holiday off with another two nights in Edinburgh, returning home on Friday afternoon. Mostly the weather smiled on us (always a benefit in Scotland), the tour was great, and there’s always things to do in Edinburgh whatever the weather.

The tour was a three-day, two-night affair. Starting in Edinburgh early on Monday we drove over to Glasgow for another pickup then south to the Ayrshire coast. The target at the end of the day would be Brodick, the main ferry port on Arran, but we visited other places along the way.

Whitelee Wind Farm

First was the Whitelee Wind Farm…. an unusual attraction I’ll admit, but apparently it’s the second largest in Europe and has just over 250 turbines; it can generate a lot of electricity. Scotland is aiming to produce 100% of their electricity from renewable sources by 2022, and apparently they’re well on track to achieve that. (One of those small blobs at the bottom of the windmill is a person.)



Then we went to Culzean Castle, which is actually an 18th century stately home, where we spent several hours and had lunch; and finally we visited Alloway, the birthplace of Robert Burns, Scotland’s national poet. We saw the Auld Kirk of Alloway and the Brig o’Doon as well as the memorial gardens. Read Tam o’Shanter for more about the Kirk and the Brig. (Warning! it’s long, and in Scots…. but very evocative.)


After that we did the drive to Ardrossan where, at six o’clock, we boarded the CalMac ferry ‘Caledonian Isles’ for the 55 minute crossing to Brodick. We ate our evening meal on the ferry, as we had been advised that places to eat in Brodick might close pretty early in the evening.

Goat Fell, Arran, from our guest house window – first evening

We were booked into a guest house (Hunter’s) in Brodick which was delightful. We met the proprietor, Caroline, who was very friendly and chatty, and who showed us to our large, comfortable room at the front of the house overlooking Brodick Bay . The weather that first day was delightful – sunny with blue skies – but not that warm as there was a chill wind blowing. Still, the weather gave us excellent views of the Scottish landscape during the day, and the view from our room of the bay and Goat Fell, the highest mountain on Arran, was pretty special.


We went out for a drink later at the Douglas hotel, just over a quarter of a mile away, which we discovered a) served food and b) seemed to be still doing so at 8:30 or so. A quick look at the menu revealed things we would enjoy so we decided that would be our dinner location for the following evening. Then it was back to the guest house to bed, for a fairly early start the next day.

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