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Grand Tour of Scotland hits Mull, Iona and Staffa

I learnt something new after watching Paul Murton’s Grand Tours of Scotland on the BBC’s iPlayer. Seems that the whole Thomas Cook travel empire started life thanks to the said Mr Cook, a baptist and worker for the temperance movement, sending the working classes to bonnie Scotland. He apparently thought that taking people on tours of Scotland would keep them sober and away from the gin palaces.

Paul Murton visits Mull, Iona and Staffa in Scotland's Inner Hebrides in the TV programme 'Grand Tours of Scotland'Another little gem was that Cook was so shocked at the poverty which he found Iona locals living under that he set up a fund to which his tourists could contribute. This raised enough funds to buy 24 fishing boats for islanders. So Thomas Cook must rank as one of the very first eco-tourists, wanting to help the community he was visiting.

Anyway, these interesting historical snippets were recounted as Paul spoke to transport historian Nikki Macleod from the University of Greenwich, whilst they sat on the last ocean-going paddle steamer the Waverley, on its way to Tobermory on the Isle of Mull after leaving from Oban. This all starts about 15 minutes into the half hour programme, so it’s a good place to start if your main interest in this episode is his travels to the inner hebrides of Mull, Iona and Staffa.

A few other interesting pieces of information on the presenter include Paul’s connections with Mull. Seems he also has family on the island which he mentions as the Waverley steams into Tobermory harbour … in his opinion the most beautiful in Scotland. And, much like myself, he also chose to get married on Mull. Good call. Worked for us!

I should mention that, unless the programme gets re-broadcast at a later date, you’ll only be able to view this online if you’re somewhere in the UK up until the 17th of November.

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Mull… the Otter’s paradise

At this time of year the BBC trots out its usual gaggle of over-enthusiastic wildlife presenters to coo over all sorts of soft and cuddly creatures in Autumnwatch. It’s just started a new run, “for an eight week celebration of UK wildlife”.

But I am not meaning to belittle overly-keen TV wildlife presenters. It’s great that our national broadcaster makes a big deal out of the country’s wildlife and tries to educate a predominantly urban population about the nature that’s all around us.

In his own small way, that’s also what landscape painter, and more recently, film-maker Angus Stewart is trying to do. I recently discovered his film, made over two years, of a local otter living in amongst the people of Mull and specifically the town of Tobermory. Aptly called ‘Tobermory and the Otter’, it recounts the tale of wild otters which become bold enough to live and interact with Tobermory’s local characters going about their daily lives.

As Angus explains, “This film is a rare insight into the usually secretive life of wild otters. You will see how an otter makes use of a community, its ingenuity and strategies, how it went about stealing… from fishing boats and the range of fish it caught as well as showing the remarkable interactions it chose to have with the town’s residents.”

The film reflects the changing nature of Mull weather throughout the year, with the ever-familiar backdrop of Tobermory’s painted facade completing the background of footage showing the extrovert otter in action.

It’s certainly a far cry from our all too camera-shy otters at our self-catering holiday home, Beach House. We have otters that live in and around the mouth of the local river, also called Beach. The Beach river flows into a crescent-shaped pebble-strewn beach which has large beds of seaweed towards the eastern tip of the bay. This is a perfect playground where the otters like to potter, most likely looking for tasty morsels of shellfish and unfortunate crab.

By contrast, the otters in Angus’s film seem far more relaxed in the hustle and bustle of life in and around Tobermory. So, if you rather like otters you might want to check out the movie clips of the full 50 minute presentation on his website and YouTube page. Though not currently available on DVD, it may be in the future.

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Blogging: How Mull leaves its mark on Nigel

Nigel Cooke, aka monkeyleader, is an Irishman currently living in Cambridge who happens to be on holiday on Mull right now. He may just be one of the best real-time bloggers I’ve come across of late. He’s written an engaging entry in his blog about a quick return trip to Mull after a visit earlier in the year, which made him and partner Nicola fall in love with the place.

Copyright Nigel Cooke aka monkeyleaderAs he’s only just recounted on his blog (he’s writing this as it happens whilst on Mull… not like days of yore when you’d be lucky to get a picture on the telly!) “Highlights for us included a pair of Golden Eagles, a pair of White Tailed Sea Eagles, Buzzards, Hen Harriers, Osprey, Otters, Kestrel, Northern Gannet, Shags, Great Cormorant, Common Seals, Grey Heron, Curlew, Rock Dove, Rock Pipit, Hooded Crows, Ravens, Red Deer and a Little Grebe.”

Seems Nigel’s a bit of a polymath, not only having a rather good writing style but also some excellent photography skills to boot.

I am jealous 🙂

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British Sea Power reports on recent Mull Trip

According to Last.fm, “British Sea Power are a four-man indie rock band based in Brighton, England, although three of the band hail originally from Kendal in Cumbria. Their style encompasses sweeping and often epic guitar pop with more visceral, angular and esoteric noises and instruments. Critics have likened their sound to a variety of groups, from The Cure to Pixies. They have released four albums and a number of EPs (most on Rough Trade) since they formed in 2000.”

Post Gig at An Tobar Arts Centre, British Sea Power and pals gathered at The Mishnish as illustrated by Tony HusbandThe band were up on Mull (and then Eigg) to perform at An Tobar, Tobermory’s 60-seater Arts Centre, last September. For any followers of the band, there is now an entertaining two-parter about the trip up to the Isle of Mull on the music website Drowned In Sound… presumably that’s not a literal reference to a tragedy in the Sound of Mull! 🙂

It’s an entertaining tale of drivers getting lost on the wrong side of Scotland, comic scenes, such as losing recording equipment over the side of a CalMac boat and a gig where the band premiered their new eight track CD ZEUS after having consumed one too many whiskies beforehand. It was then rounded off by a trip to the Mishnish to carry on the important work of whisky sampling into the small hours.

The jaunt has now been recounted, not just in words and pictures, but also through the eyes of the cartoonist Tony Husband. Well worth the few minutes of your time that it will take to read the two-parter.

If you’re unfamiliar with the band and you’d like to know what they sound like, you can visit their MySpace page to hear a few of the new tracks which they performed at An Tobar.

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Derek Fogg’s images of Mull

Derek Fogg, a landscape photographer based in North West England, runs the website British Landscapes. He’s recently added a new set of pictures called the “Isles of Mull and Iona” which contains some beautiful landscape images captured during his recent visit.

As Derek explains in his blog, he started out with about 600 images from all over Mull and Iona, but he’s now cut this down to 40, some of which are now live for others to appreciate.

These latest photos are part of his wider project to journey around the British Isles capturing landscapes. But, whilst he had some pretty challenging conditions during his stint on Mull, he’s managed to capture some really evocative and beatifully composed images.

Salen is on the east coast of the island, on the Sound of Mull, approximately halfway between Craignure and Tobermory. Copyright Derek Fogg @ britishlandscapes.comYou often see photographs from Mull which, perhaps inevitably, represent familiar subjects that crop up again and again. The three rotting fishing boats on the Salen coast road to Tobermory are pretty iconic with everyone who passes by with a camera. But Derek has managed to take those old hulls and place them in the context of their surroundings beautifully, with a backdrop that follows the line of the Sound of Mull northwards and thus gives a great sense of overall place.

Check out his other photos. It’s well worth the visit.

Twitter: mullescape

Mull’s Torosay Castle featured in Guardian’s ‘Snooping Around’

Just 40 minutes from Beach House, we’ve had some fun times with the kids at Torosay Castle over the years. The kids always love the railway and the Shetland Ponies. That’s why the Guardian’s mini-feature on the house in it’s Snooping Around section caught my eye. It’s a beautiful building but you can imagine it would take some effort to maintain the sprawling house and gardens which are just a short mini-steam engine ride from Craignure ferry terminal.

Torosay Castle is up for sale after being in the same family since 1865. Image copyright Savills.Then there’s the 880 acres that go with it. That’s possibly why anyone who has been on holiday on Mull and has a hankering to lay down some roots, might think twice about forking out the seemingly modest £2.8 million asking price the current owners are seeking. That probably doesn’t tell the bigger story of trying to maintain a property like this, built to the needs of a very different era.

It was completed in 1858 with some 60 odd rooms in a building built in the Scottish Barionial Style. The current owner’s family has lived there since 1865. Now in the 21st century, Torosay needs to pay for its upkeep and that’s been through providing tourist  access to the Castle, grounds and steam railway for many years.

Still, if you relish a challenge, rather like the many unique things that Mull has to offer and you happen to be loaded, then check out the sales particulars.

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Waters off Mull may be first 1GW offshore windfarm

According to a BBC report, of the two strongest contenders for the UK’s first 1GW offshore windfarm, the Argyll Array just west of the Isle of Mull is one. The other could be Triton Knoll off the Lincolnshire coast.

When not on Mull we live on the other side of Scotland in East Lothian and Edinburgh. There we can see Cockenzie Power Station on the Forth coastline, powered by coal, whilst just a few miles down the A1 on the east coast you have Torness Nuclear Power Station, beyond Dunbar. Ironically however, the local issue causing most debate appears to be resistance from factions concerned about any more wind turbines being added on top of the Lammermuir hills.

It’s one of those challenging conundrums. Is it nimbyism? Perhaps. But at least the use of windfarms off shore not only gets to better and more consistent winds but, for people who think turbines are ugly or harm wildlife, it may be an option that only meets wind resistance and avoids the people kind!

The bigger logistical issue is how you then get this power to shore and transported to places that need it.

Still, it looks like Mull may come to be known for more than being a popular tourist and holiday destination and become a leader in the field of renewable energy.

That’s a good thing… isn’t it?

Twitter: mullescape

CalMac’s Oban to Craignure ferry now a political football

It seems that one of the UK’s more colourful Union leaders, Bob Crow of the RMT, has waded in to the debate on potentially privatising or outsourcing some of Scotland’s ferry routes.

There’s been recent debate of the options open to the Scottish government when it comes to how critical links, such as the Oban to Mull run, can be maintained and even improved. But there is equal concern that any new approach, such as putting specific routes out to tender, doesn’t simply result in poorer service and higher prices.

It’s this outcome that would be the worst case scenario, causing harm to Island life and the economy on Mull and Iona, much of which benefits from its popularity as a tourist destination.

You can see a previous post on this issue and some comments here.

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St Columba’s Hospice group leaves kind comment

Many thanks to Chaplain Michael Paterson who took a group of his staff from St Columba’s Hospice up to Beach House for a bit of respite and a visit to Iona. He left some kind words on our reviews page on Google’s Maps service saying, “A group of staff from St Columba’s Hospice, Edinburgh came here to rest and recover from our labours and boy did we enjoy ourselves. The house is everything we could have hoped for: warm, well furnished, comfortable, well equipped and with breathtaking views across the loch. We really could not have asked for a better location for our needs. Highly recommended for anyone wanting away from it all!

Thanks Michael and I hope you’ll come stay again sometime.


Twitter: mullescape

Some recent comments from past guests…

We’re always delighted when people who have enjoyed their stay at our home on Mull take the time and trouble to write a few words on Google’s reviews section. You can read the reviews page here, but below I’ve listed three recent entries.

“A truly stunning location. We came for peace and tranquility and found all that we could have wanted. We particularly enjoyed sitting at the table in the porch looking out over the loch. We wanted wildlife and walking and couldn’t fit it all in 2 weeks. The house was spacious, warm and comfortable and the log burner great for drying out our walking gear (weather not good but didn’t stop us doing anything). We would recommend this to anyone who wants to avoid the crowds and the trappings of tourism and we really hope to be back soon.‎”

Thanks Vicky.

“Words cannot describe how idyllic this house is. Mull itself is a wonderful island and what better a place in which to base yourself than Be’ach House. The kids loved building dens in the woods which adjoins the house. Can we come back…..please!‎”

You’re coming back aren’t you? Cheers 🙂

“Fantastic secluded location, but breathtaking views. Spent a 3 generation family holiday to celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary, and the cottage lacked nothing to make it memorable for us all. We’ve been visting Mull since 1982, and Beach must be the best self catering accommodation we have enjoyed. Great for wildlife.‎”

Much appreciated Roger. I hope we’ll see you again at Beach House.

Twitter: mullescape