On the isle of Mull, the village of Tobermory guards a secret. Deep in the waters of its bay, a galleon lies sleeping. Back in the 15th century, the ship became separated from the main fleet of the Spanish Armada during a huge storm. After stopping to restock, the captain foolishly failed to pay the local villagers for the goods. As the enemy ship set sail, a local Maclean man boarded and set fire to its powder magazine. Now ‘The Florencia’ is home to myriad sea creatures but hidden beneath her weed-encrusted beams lies a grand hoard of gold bullion. Many have searched for it. None have found it or if they did, lips are tightly sealed. It’s an adventure story which has inspired many: even Robert Louis Stevenson penned a tale about it.
Of course back then, the village of Tobermory as it is today didn’t exist. A few centuries ago, it was constructed by the British Fisheries Society. Now it’s a pretty village of painted houses, one of my favourites in Scotland. Children might recognize it from the TV series, Ballamory.
Situated off the western coast of Scotland, Mull is the second largest island in the Hebrides. Despite its many peninsulas, jagged coastline, cliffs and mountainous core, there are some lovely beaches and rolling heathered hills. All in all it makes for an intriguing landscape and an interesting drive along the narrow, winding roads. Take your time and try not to rush!
On our recent trip, we came across Calgary Bay, thought to be the inspiration for Calgary in Canada. Nearby there’s a great cafe with delicious home cooking, complete with whale bone art in its sheltered courtyard. Wander up the hill behind the cafe and you’ll find a surprising sculpture walk with woven willow figures and shapes melded into the landscape. Great views as well!
I was hoping to catch sight of an otter, but the best we could do was a sign down on the beach for the Mull Otter Group which aims to protect injured animals. There are lots to see with white tailed eagles, pale dolphins and basking sharks. Maybe next time!
From the Mesolithic period onward, Mull has been continuously inhabited so there are many historical treasures to discover from standing stones and circles, ancient duns and medieval castles. On the ferry over from Oban on the mainland, you pass the wonderful Duart Castle, ancestral home of the MacLean clan. The Isle of Iona is well-known too for its role in the development of the Celtic Christian church in Scotland when St Columba and some of his converts popped over from nearby Ireland in a coracle. Over time, the church accumulated wealth which brought Viking raiders: some later settled with the mingling of cultures.
It was not until the Battle of Largs in the 13th century – when the Scots defeated the Norse king, Haakon – that direct Scandinavian influence ended on Mull. But the Lords of the Isles continued to rule the western isles, generally resisting Scottish royal authority.
At one time, Mull had a population of 10,000 but poor harvests and famine, followed by The Clearances, caused an exodus. Many of the crofters were cleared from the land – sheep, seen as a more profitable farming option – to seek new lives in the large cities on the mainland, or in far away countries like Canada or Australia. Now the population is somewhere in the vicinity of 3000 though this number swells at certain times of the year with tourism.
I would love to be in Tobermory for its music festival around April each year but, to be honest, any time would be wonderful.
Where to stay? There are atmospheric old pubs and hotels. We chose a little fisherman’s cottage which looked out over the bay. Dinner at the restaurant, Cafe Fish, was a major treat, and don’t forget to visit the Tobermory distillery around the bay.
The Isle of Mull… one of Scotland’s great treasures!