scotland's isle of mull
something to mull over
Every Autumn, The Peace and Quite of Scotland's Isle Of Mull Is Shattered By The Sound Of Rallycars. For The Rest Of The Year, As Jonathan Crouch Discovered, It's The Perfect Place For A Family Holiday
The road from Tobermory to Dervaig is not one you'd want to attempt without your wits about you. It twists and turns for about eight miles, rising twice steeply to about 500 feet with many horseshoe bends and blind corners.
The annual October Mull Car Rally uses a number of roads around this remote Scottish Island but this one is by far the toughest. Over 130 competitors each year line up to take it on and the event has had its share of fatalities over the years. More frequently, over-enthusiastic competitors have simply ended up in the Lochs that line the bumpy little single-track road. An added hazard are the steep wandering blithely around the blind bends, one of the reasons why the event has to be held at night when there's less chance of getting a woolly carcass through your windscreen.
The road record stands at seven and a half minutes - which as far as I can see must have taken a very fast car, a lot of luck and a total absence of fear. On a family holiday, anything much under thirty seven and a half minutes is likely to have your passengers heaving their breakfast out of the windows - or in the case of younger ones, all over your lap.
And younger ones are likely to be with you since Mull's greatest tourist attraction is aimed precisely at them. The BBC Cbebbies children's programme 'Balamory' is filmed and based in the Island's colourful capital Tobermory. Indeed, the show would have been called 'Tobermory' had not the producer feared a confusing connection with the character from 'The Wombles'.
Still, that doesn't seen to prevent an increasing hoard of parents from tracking down the home of 'PC Plumb', 'Josie Jump', 'Eadie McCredie', 'Miss Hoolie', and 'Spencer the Painter'. All the characters houses are painted different colours and armed with a little map, you can allow your kids to drag you round the town locating them all. Each is privately owned so the kids will have to be content with a picture at the door.
"If you're going to go on holiday in the UK, you might as well make it somewhere relaxing and different..."
Mull, the third largest of the Hebridean Islands, has long been the social and strategic centre of the southern Hebrides. It flanks the Firth of Lorne, where the trans-Scotland line of communications along the Great Glen opens to the sea in the west. In the days when land communication was difficult and dangerous, this almost continuous waterway was one of the only ways of contact between Scotland's West and the East coasts.
Mainland Oban, which was once called the 'Charing Cross of the Highlands' when the railway came over 100 years ago, lies only ten miles distant across the Firth. The sheltered Sound of Mull, with the mainland of Morvern and Ardnamurchan to the north, leads to Tobermory Bay, said to be the finest harbour in the Hebrides. Here, dozens of ships, many far-travelled, once used to call or shelter; today it is a yachtsman's paradise. Geologically, Mull is one of the most thoroughly researched areas of the world. Basically, it is a portion of the West Highland mainland cut off by ages of erosion, then - except for Iona and the tip of Ross of Mull - covered up and depressed under thousands of feet of successive piled-up lava sheets that flowed from a great central volcano, from lesser vents and from a network of fissures in the land surface.
For motorists, Mull is reached by two regular roll-on, roll-off car ferries, the main one from Oban to Craignure (forty five minutes) and the other from Lochaline in Morvern to Fishnish, near Craignure (fifteen minutes), from the east and north respectively. In the summer there is a ferry, for cars and passengers, that runs between Kilchoan, in Ardnamurchan, and Tobermory.
In Mull, car drivers need extra courtesy and patience. Apart from the mainland road from Salen and Craignure to Iona Ferry, the island's roads are narrow, with passing places, steep gradients, blind corners and narrow bridges. You'll need to watch your mirror, and give way in time, using passing places for over-taking and being overtaken. Beware of cattle and sheep on unfenced roads. They tend to move suddenly and unpredictably, with dire results if a motorist is taken unawares - to say nothing about financial loss to struggling sheep farmers.
As you might expect, there are a number of places which, even though they are on a public road, are best approached on foot. Very narrow roads with bad surfaces, total lack of off-the-road parking, shortage of turning spaces and other problems mean that taking a car in such instances can prove to be more hassle than its worth. Better to leave your vehicle at some convenient and safe place, and walk to where you want to go - the walk will be scenic and invigorating anyway.
Whether you're visiting as a car enthusiast or a child-pleaser, Mull has plenty to offer.
Much more, in my estimation than mainland Scotland - which justifies the time, expense and hassle involved in getting there. If you're going to go on holiday in the UK, you might as well make it somewhere relaxing and different. These are two words that sum this Island up. Here are some others:
"The Isle of Mull is of Isles the fairest,
Of ocean's gems 'tis the first and rarest,
Green grassy island of sparkling fountains,
Of waving woods and high tow'ring mountains" Dugald MacPhail
MULL - USEFUL FACTS
Tobermory (01688 302182
Craignure (01680 812377)
Caledonian MacBrayne (08705 650000)