Fair isle

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

Bright spot: The colour­ful har­bourfront of Tober­mory, home to most res­i­dents of the In­ner He­bridean isle of Mull; the har­bour fea­tures dol­phins, a Span­ish Ar­mada wreck and its ru­moured sunken gold And, yes, scenes from the 1999 Sean Con­nery and Cather­ine Zeta Jones movie En­trap­ment were shot here.

Climb to the top of the keep for a mag­nif­i­cent view across the Sound of Mull to­wards the Glen­coe Hills and the is­land of Lis­more. On a clear day, Scot­land’s high­est peak, Ben Ne­vis, can be spot­ted ris­ing over the main­land.

The south road ends at Fion­nphort, gate­way to the spir­i­tual is­land of Iona. No vis­i­tor cars are al­lowed on Iona so I park and catch the passenger ferry across to the south­west­ern tip. Iona is the birth­place of Chris­tian­ity in Scot­land, with St Columba said to have landed here in AD563. Iona gained a rep­u­ta­tion as the so-called Cra­dle of the Celtic king­dom and Dublin’s Book of Kells (an or­nately il­lus­trated Mid­dle Ages man­u­script) was cre­ated here. Iona also houses one of the best pre­served ex­am­ples of a small me­dieval nun­nery.

Over the years, the bodies of kings of Scot­land, Nor­way and France, clan chiefs and ab­bots were all sent to Iona for burial. The sea air has worn away much of the in­tri­cate de­sign on the burial stones; Macbeth is said to be buried here. Many vis­i­tors search the grounds and white-shelled beaches for a glint of the fa­mous green Iona stone.

Walk­ing around windswept Iona is easy as the is­land is only 8km from north to south and about 3km wide. To ex­pe­ri­ence its beauty on two wheels, cycling en­thu­si­asts can hire moun­tain bikes from the vil­lage of Baile Mor.

Back on the Isle of Mull, the road to­wards the north­east­ern town of Tober­mory skirts around the wild sea loch of Loch na Keal. I make a small de­tour to visit the blue­stone mau­soleum of ma­jor-gen­eral Lach­lan Mac­quarie, so-called fa­ther of Aus­tralia. Mac­quarie, gov­er­nor-gen­eral of NSW from 1809 to 1820, was born on the is­land of Ulva in Loch na Keal. Af­ter his death in 1824, Mac­quarie’s body was re­turned to Mull for burial. The mau­soleum is at the end of a rhodo­den­dron-lined drive, just be­fore the Salen cross­roads.

It’s at the cross­roads that the high­land wave comes in handy. Af­ter my Corsa takes a curve faster than a rally car, my sheep­ish wave is re­ceived well by a lo­cal coach driver, who has to re­verse his bus in or­der to let me pass. His pas­sen­gers ob­serve me in­tently, tak­ing in the de­lay with a mix­ture of smiles and scowls as I roll past to­wards Tober­mory.

Most of Mull’s 3000 res­i­dents live in Tober­mory, fa­mous for its pic­turesque har­bourfront; a semi-cir­cle of colour­ful build­ings frames Tober­mory Bay, the con­trast­ing deep green wa­ter a per­fect back­drop. The sound of tra­di­tional High­land mu­sic lures me to the Mish­nish Ho­tel, a black build­ing on the seafront that has been run by the Macleod fam­ily for gen­er­a­tions and of­fers B&B.

Just up from the Mish­nish is the old church, which houses the Gallery Gift Shop and Cafe where I browse the racks of woolly tar­tan gifts and bak­ery treats. The cof­fee is good but the sea air has stirred my taste­buds. I’m told the best fish and chips are found along Fish­er­mans Pier, over­look­ing Tober­mory Bay, at a small white van where ev­ery­thing is cooked to or­der; fish is

Is­land sen­try: Duart Cas­tle seen across Duart Bay

Cra­dle of the Celtic king­dom: Iona Abbey

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straight off the boat and seared king scal­lops are a spe­cialty.

The har­bour is pop­u­lar with yacht­ing en­thu­si­asts, divers and sea tour op­er­a­tors. The clear wa­ters pro­vide great op­por­tu­ni­ties for view­ing marine life and wrecks. Dol­phins and por­poises are of­ten spot­ted swim­ming be­side divers looking at the wreck of the Span­ish Ar­mada ship Florenica. Blown up in Tober­mory Bay in 1588, the ship re­put­edly sank with gold bul­lion on board; the booty has never been re­cov­ered.

There is a fan­tas­tic view of Tober­mory Bay from the West­ern Isles Ho­tel. It’s a short climb up the path from Main Street and tak­ing tea, or a dram of whisky, in the Con­ser­va­tory is a per­fect way to soak up the scenery.

Tober­mory’s main street is home to the only chocolate fac­tory in the He­bridean Is­lands and I jos­tle for counter space with other vis­i­tors and lo­cals to try a Tober­mory Malt Whisky af­ter-din­ner choc. The malt comes from the Isle of Mull’s only whisky dis­tillery, com­bin­ing two tasty is­land ex­pe­ri­ences into one. For a straight sam­ple, ven­ture to­ward the south end of Main Street, where the Tober­mory River flows into the har­bour, to the Tober­mory Dis­tillery where there are guided tours and you could con­sol­i­date your new-found knowl­edge with a wee dram or two.

Driv­ing back to Craignure, I again miss a pass­ing place. But this time I rally and re­verse, let­ting the ap­proach­ing bus through. I grin and wave. Every­one on board waves back. Bri­tish Air­ways is of­fer­ing re­turn flights from Aus­tralia to Lon­don from $1999, in­clud­ing fees, taxes and sur­charges, and a re­turn side-trip be­tween Lon­don and a choice of Aberdeen, Ed­in­burgh, Glasgow, Manch­ester, Jer­sey or New­cas­tle. Book by March 2 for travel from April 1 to Novem­ber 25. www.visits­cot­land.com www.visitbri­tain.com.au www.ba.com

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