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Archive for the ‘Scotland 2019’ Category

Tobermory

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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White sand beach on Iona

On day 2 of the tour (the first of two full days on Mull) we travelled around the south of the island during the morning and at lunchtime crossed over to Iona. The weather had improved, by mid-morning the sun was shining, and it only got better from then on.

Most of the morning was spent on the mini-coach (again). We must have stopped somewhere for mid-morning coffee but I don’t recall where. Certainly the drive was spectacular and beautiful but it was also long. Looking at maps now, I see that from Tobermory in the NE of Mull to Fionnphort Terminal in the SW of the island is 56 miles, and it was mainly along single-track roads. I think it was almost two hours to Fionnphort.

Once there, things picked up. We had a short break while we waited for the small ferry over to Iona. That journey takes maybe 10 minutes or so – certainly very quick – and by not long after midday we were on Iona. The visit there turned out to be one of the highlights of the whole tour.

We decided to look for lunch at a cafe we’d been told about “beyond Iona Nunnery”, so off we went. First we found the nunnery. It’s a ruin, but well-preserved, and you can walk around its grounds. On the day we were there, with the sun shining and just a low wind, it was very peaceful, quiet and pleasant, though I’ll guess that in other conditions it would be different. Just beyond the nunnery we found the cafe, the Heritage Garden Cafe, but before lunch we went a few steps further to the Iona Heritage Centre. This is a small museum – just one room, I think – and quite traditional, with cases containing old press clippings about events on Iona from many years ago, plus artefacts and objects. I think we were the only people there.┬áThen it was back to the cafe next door for lunch. We ate it outside in the garden, enjoying the sun.

The big attraction on Iona is the Abbey, but we’d already decided that we weren’t very interested in it (heresy, I know). We’d heard about some beaches at the northern end of Iona – white sand, we were told – so we set off along the road towards them. We were a little disconcerted when we were nearly run over – the point being that there are practically no cars or other vehicles on Iona and only half-a-mile of road! There’s no vehicle access either – the regular ferry is foot passengers only. So we had got used (along with everyone else on the island) to walking down the middle of the road, when this Range Rover hove into view and we had to move smartly to get out of its way. Then five minutes later it came back and we had to repeat the trick….

We walked all the way to the end of the road where it became first a track and then a footpath leading us across short-cropped turf. Then over a short rise and we were onto the sand. At first the actual beach was hidden by dunes and hillocks, but we walked on and eventually it was revealed. I think it’s one of the best beaches I’ve ever seen – fine, white sand, with dramatic black rock outcrops, and amazing views across to Mull. In the foreground was another small island, Eileen Annraidh (Storm Island), which also seemed to have a dramatic white beach. As far as looks go it could have been the Caribbean, I thought. We spent about an hour on the beach; Val sat and read while I wandered around and took pictures.

Eventually it was time to leave, so we walked back. By this time it was getting cooler and the wind had got up, so it was good to find an indoors cafe by the jetty with picture windows and good views back to Mull and the ferry. Also helpful was the fact that we could watch for the ferry from there! Then it was back onto Mull and the long drive to Tobermory.

That evening we had a meal down by the harbour at the Tobermory Hotel. I’m pretty certain that we had fish, and it was good, albeit there was a bit of comedy. The waiter didn’t seem to be altogether with it; for example, when I asked for the bill he queried “for this table?…” Err, yes, I thought – I’m not paying for everyone in the restaurant! Then it was time for the walk along the harbour before the struggle up the hill to the B&B. We made it eventually.

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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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