Over my 30+ years of travelling to over 70 countries, I have been an epic failure at exploring destinations closer to home. But that’s often the way, isn’t it? In an understandable quest to visit exciting worldwide destinations, we are often guilty of ignoring places on our home shores.
2019 was the year that I started to right that wrong with a visit to the Western Highlands of Scotland, and one of this trip’s highlights was a day trip to Mull. The second-largest island in the Inner Hebrides, Mull is the stuff of romantic fantasies. Its mountainous core, dominated by the 3,196-foot peak of Ben More, is encircled by 300 miles of coastline, with blinding white sandy coves lapped by emerald waves. It is a wildly beautiful place.
Even if you don’t have a car, Mull is an easy day trip from Oban on Scotland’s western coast. To help you plan your day, here’s how to get there and the five best things to do in Tobermory, Mull’s biggest settlement.
How to get to Mull from Oban
Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac) operates a ferry service from Oban to Craignure on Mull’s west coast. The return fare is £7.40 for a foot passenger (August 2019). There’s no need to book in advance; just show up at the ticket office before the ferry leaves Oban. I travelled on a busy weekend in August, peak season, and this was easy to do. However, if you prefer, you can book on-line.
This is a day trip where the journey is almost as good as the destination. Leaving Oban’s solidly Victorian waterfront behind you, the ferry passes the tip of Kerrera island giving you a close-up view of Lismore lighthouse. Entering the Sound of Mull, the island’s mist-capped peaks come closer into view as you approach Craignure.
The journey takes 40 minutes. From March to October, the service runs 8 – 10 times a day (reduced service in winter).
How to get from Craignure to Tobermory
There’s nothing much to detain you in Craignure, so hop on a local bus to Tobermory, Mull’s main town. As the #495 / 95 bus is timed to coincide with the ferry timetable, this is super easy to do. The cost of a return ticket is £12.80 and the bus drops you off in Tobermory’s main car park.
The 50-minute journey from Craignure to Tobermory takes you along Mull’s single-track roads, past many curious sheep. This was one occasion when I was glad that I was a passenger and not a driver! Of the few people we passed, many raised their hand in greeting to the driver.
The best things to do in Tobermory
Tobermory is a place to switch off, tune out, to think, to dream. But if you want a more active and structured itinerary for the day, here’s my pick of things to do in Tobermory.
1. Wander around Tobermory
Tobermory is small but perfectly formed. With its houses coloured like a box of children’s crayons, reflected in the harbour’s still water, it is one of the most attractive harbour towns that I have visited. Yet, despite its popularity, it manages to retain an air of calm and friendliness.
Start your day in Tobermory by wandering its main street, browsing in its shops and perhaps stopping for a coffee.
2. Walk to the lighthouse at Rubha nan Gall
The easy 2 km walk through woodland to the lighthouse is sensational. A sheer drop to the ocean on one side; a heather-clad bluff rising on your other side. The initial short steep climb levels off to a path that winds its way gently to the lighthouse. Across the Sound of Mull, there are great views to Ardnamurchan and the peak of Ben Hiant receding into the horizon. Rowan trees in full bloom provide occasional splashes of scarlet.
To reach the lighthouse, walk along Tobermory’s main street until you reach Tobermory Lifeboat Station. From here, take the signposted path that goes diagonally into the woods.
3. Visit Tobermory Distillery
In the mood for a spot of whisky tasting? Then why not visit Tobermory’s distillery?
Established in 1798, this tiny distillery has had a chequered history, shutting down three times. But it is now back in business and is open to visitors.
Bonus tip: If you are in Oban, make sure that you make time to take a tour of the Oban Distillery.
[Update September 2019: Due to refurbishment, Tobermory Distillery is not currently operating tours. However, their Visitor Centre is open from 10 am to 5 pm daily]
4. Visit Mull Aquarium
Tobermory has an aquarium with a difference. This community-owned venture is a catch and release aquarium, the first of its kind in Europe.
All marine life that you see here is released back into the sea within four weeks. Visiting here is a good wet weather activity.
You’ll find Mull Aquarium in the Harbour Building in Tobermory’s main car park. It is open from 9.30 am to 5 pm daily, March to October. The cost of an adult ticket is £5.50.
5. Go on a wildlife watching tour
Tobermory is an excellent place to pick up sea safari, with a range of boat trips to let you go spotting for Minke Whales, Harbour Porpoise, eagles, seals and dolphins. Boats leave from next to the main car.
Sea Life Surveys run a two-hour Eco Cruise or a longer four-hour Whalewatch Explorer. These run from May to September and an adult ticket costs from £25 (two-hour cruise) / £60 (four-hour cruise).
Where to eat in Tobermory
I feasted on a pile of fresh-off-the-boat scallops at the Pier Café at the ferry terminal. Its patio is perfect for dining al fresco on a sunny day, the food is fantastic and not expensive. A large main course and drink cost £11 (cash only accepted).
Tobermory – The verdict
Hand on heart, I was blown away by Mull and Tobermory. For me, it was somewhere that I felt the stresses of life just melt away.
Although there’s not a huge amount to do in & around Tobermory itself, there’s certainly enough to occupy you for a day. And sometimes it’s just enough to sit and be in a place without having to dart between attractions, isn’t it?