Friday, May 29, 2009

Notes from the Isle of Mull

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It was a long drive up to Oban, a town on the coast of Scotland which serves as a ferry hub for the Hebrides, from Carlisle. We wanted to catch a 6pm ferry, and needed to arrive half an hour early since we were taking the car with us. Thankfully, we reserved a spot that morning by calling in - the website didn't say anything about whether one was needed, but when we arrived in Oban, there were only six spots left! Because time was short, we didn't get to make any spontaneous stops on the way to Oban, with the exception of a lunch stop at a restaurant on the shore of Loch Lomond, north of Glasgow. (Note: starters are cheaper and are all the food you need for lunch - this seemed to be the rule everywhere we went! In the photos you can see Damon's lunch, which was on the menu has a haggis starter.) It would have been nice to stop more often, because the roads are tiny, bumpy, winding, and busy and all of us felt really carsick. Getting on the ferry was such a relief after all the time in the car - the ferry is huge and the ride was smooth as glass. It has tons of amenities, including a large bar, a cafeteria with full meals, and a gift shop.

The ferry docks in Craignure on the Isle of Mull, so we had more driving to do when we arrived, to the town of Tobermory where we had reserved rooms at a B&B. Nearly all the roads on Mull, even the major ones, are single-lane. When meeting another car or passing, one must get into a little bulbous tumor-looking lump on the road marked as a passing place. So, it requires constant vigilance to make sure you take advantage of the passing place if necessary before ending up in a stand-off and having to back up into one.

My notes from the drive between Craignure and Tobermory just say, "BEAUTIFUL!"

Upon arrival in Tobermory, we easily found our B&B, Copeland House, in the upper part of town, which lies on a cliff above the bay and the main part of town. The rooms were huge and beautiful, the bathrooms recently renovated, and there were delicious homemade cookies waiting!! It was so wonderful to see after the previous night's experience, which had actually cost more! (Note: the cookies are refilled every day!!) We had dinner at the Mull Pottery shop/restaurant, where we had a Latvian waitress who was really nice. I got scallops and bacon with salad and it probably was one of the best things I've ever eaten. The meals were served on pottery made in the shop, which had a lot of interesting things for sale.

The Isle of Mull (+ some extras) May 2009

The following day, we'd hoped to drive all the way around the island on a road mostly following the coast, stopping here and there to hike around or grab some food or coffee, and checking out the view of Iona from Mull, starting from a road leading west from Tobermory. This is not possible! Do not plan to do this! The road west from Tobermory down the west coast is very small and winding and has only one lane. There simply isn't enough time in a day to drive down all of it plus the rest of the island (which has somewhat better roads) unless you never want to leave the car. But, we did see quite a lot despite not making it all the way around:

Glengorm Castle - this is very near to Tobermory and you can rent rooms there. It's not that exciting as an attraction, but the views of it from the down the road are beautiful, and there are nice views up the coast from there.
Calgary - this little tiny town, just a few houses, gave the city of Calgary in Canada its name! It has a small beach with bright blue water. We stopped there for lunch at a small gallery/cafe which had good treats! In the area of Calgary we also stopped to see some ancient standing stones, which were in a forest clearing just off the road. It was windy and the forest was really creepy and cool. (And mossy! I love moss.) Somewhere along the way we witnessed a massive single-lane-road-driving fail, with two drivers refusing to budge from their positions on a curve up a hill and having a little standoff!

When we met up with the bigger road we gave up continuing on around the coast and seeing Iona and crossed the island back to the eastern side, where we paid a visit to Duart Castle, the clan center of the Macleans. Admission was 5.30 GBP. The castle was more interesting from the outside than the inside. Inside there were some dungeons and wax models on the lower floors, followed by a massive collection of the treasures of Clan Maclean, in addition to lots of family pictures of the Macleans of today, and a special highlight, a Boy Scout uniform worn by a Maclean! Oh boy! But, in a really lucky moment, we got to see a rainbow or two from a giant window overlooking the sea! (You can see it too if you look at the photos.)

After the castle, we explored the grounds a bit then stopped for a drink at a crowded little pub in Craignure, then had dinner at Sagar Indian restaurant in Tobermory. Indian food in the UK is much better than in Germany! I had the vindaloo (which the waiter informed me was "too spicy" and wondered if I still wanted it) and got to enjoy the spicy-food-high for the rest of the evening. We spent it in the Mishnish pub on Tobermory's main street, where the TVs were all showing....EUROVISION!!!! (My friends seemed to think I was the only one who watched this crap, but not so, hehe!!) We got there around the time of Estonia's performance, about halfway through, so we missed quite a few acts. It was fun to watch in English - the commentator didn't take it seriously, commenting for example after Germany's horrid song that "the low point of the show is finally over."

On Sunday, we drove down the east coast of Mull in the direction of Iona, to see if we could make it there on the faster road before having to catch our ferry back to the mainland. We didn't make it, but got to see some cool new landscapes on the way! We took the ferry back to Oban, where we stopped for lunch at the Kitchen Garden. At this point I learned about all the different mayonnaise-based sandwich concoctions available in the UK, all with fancy names like "Coronation Chicken" (chicken salad) or "Prawn Marie Rose" (shrimp salad). I had the tuna and sweet corn, which didn't have a frilly name, but did have an awful lot of mayo.

Our friends were flying back to London from the Glasgow airport, so we headed back the way we came, past Loch Lomond. At some point, as the car was warning us that we had less than 100 miles of fuel left in our tank, we passed up a gas station because it was slightly more expensive than gas we'd seen elsewhere. But, the next down had no gas station, and neither did the next, and pretty soon the car started to panic. Where it normally said [Range: X Miles] it now said [!!!Range!!! Refuel!]. Nothing like seven exclamation points to drive home the fact that passing up gas earlier was, in 20/20 hindsight, a poor decision. Luckily, our friends had brought a TomTom and it took us right to a gas station after many, many miles of panicky car, and we didn't run out of gas. Our friends were successfully dropped off at the airport, and we still had over two hours of driving back the way we came from to get to our next destination, Kilmartin.

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