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
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