Friday, 19 August 2011

Scottish holiday part 2: Mull and Ardnamurchan

Tobermory harbour
Originally uploaded by westy48
On Thursday morning we drove down the coast from Invercoe to Oban, and went straight to the ferry terminal. There we were guided into a lane for the Mull ferry and having parked the van we went inside to collect our tickets. The journey we'd booked was made up of three crossings, Oban to Craignure on Mull, Tobermory to Kilchoan back on the mainland and Mallaig to Armadale on Skye. We'd be leaving Skye via the new road bridge. For each crossing there were five tickets, one for each of us and one for the van, so it was quite a long strip of card that was printed off for us. As we had about forty minutes to kill before the crossing we hoped to find a coffee shop in the terminal, but there was just a huddle of vending machines in an alcove dispensing hot and cold drinks and a few snacks. Still, we got a drink to take back to the van and went to wait for the ferry.

When it arrived the MV Isle of Mull was quickly unloaded and we were guided on and into place on the car deck. We were on the 14:00 crossing, and although we'd had a late breakfast it was definitely lunch time, so as the ferry slipped out of the harbour we went to the onboard restaurant. The food was surprisingly good. Jack and Ed's chicken nuggets were cooked to order and the caesar salads that me and Lucy had were fresh. It all came in generous portions and wasn't too expensive, all together a better value and better quality meal than I'd expected.

Once we'd eaten there was time to venture out on deck and take in the views of Mull as we approached the land-fall. Duart Castle loomed out of the mist at us, looking like a location for an episode of Scooby Doo. Edward loves ships and was very excited, and very bossy. He was quite disappointed that the stairs leading up the bridge were behind a keypad-locked gate and he wasn't going to get to meet the captain.

Soon the tannoy blew the news that we should return to our vehicles, so we went back down to the car deck and settled back into the van. From Craigbure it was only seven miles to Fishnish where we'd booked into Balmeanach Park for the night. This was a much smaller campsite than we'd come across before, but the welcome was just as warm as any we'd received before. The facilities were a little more basic, but everything was clean and tidy. This was the first place where we saw lots of midges. There had been a few at Tyndrum, especially near the stream, but we'd not got many bites. By the time I'd hooked up the power my legs were covered in little black specks so I changed my shorts for jeans and we made sure everyone had lots of insect repellent on.

I got the bikes down off the rack and went with Jack to explore the area, while Lucy and Ed had a bit of a rest. We pedalled down the quiet road to Fishnish. There was a ferry due and we were passed by several commuters dashing to meet the ferry and leave the island for the day. By the slipway was a little hut, which was home to the Secret Kitchen Cafe, which has seating inside and out. We got a small tub of Orkney ice cream each and loafed around as a few more cars arrived. When we spotted the ferry half way across the sound we rod around the bay to get a view of it landing and Jack was fascinated at how the ramp unfolded from the bow (or maybe stern) of the MV Loch Fyne. Once the ferry had unloaded and the waiting vehicles had driven on we rode back up the hill to the campsite and Jack was ready to join the others vegging out for a while. We needed to restock the cupboard so I got back on my bike and went back down to Craignure in search of a shop. It was a great ride, bombing downhill on the quiet road which followed the coast back to the little ferry port. The Spar at Craignure was open, and I picked up most of the things on my list and improvised most of the rest. I even managed to cram it all into my panniers. I wasn't really looking forward to returning to the campsite as it was mostly uphill, the mist was turning to drizzle and I haven't ridden much recently so I'm not as fit as I perhaps should be. Having said all that I was back in the van sooner than I expected and was rewarded with a cold beer and being let off cooking.

Midge bites
Originally uploaded by westy48
The next morning was brighter and we drove up to Tobermory. Our hosts at the campsite warned us that most of the roads on Mull were single track, and told us the best place to park the campervan once we'd arrived in town. Jack and Edward were excited to be arriving in Balamory and we all thought the brightly coloured houses along the harbour front looked amazing.

We mooched around the various shops, buying postcards and Balamory goodies in the Tobermory Corner Shop and enjoying the variety of goods from power tools to telescopes and toys to whisky in Brown's.

By now we'd worked up an appetite (theme of the holiday?) and browsed the various options available on the main street, opting in the end for the MacDonald Arms Hotel, which wasn't the most salubrious prospect. But we were welcomed in and although the menu wasn't spectacular the food was good. Me and Ed had eggs and chips, each getting three runny eggs on a mountain of chips. An owd feller at the bar was having a pile of macaroni cheese and chips, and everyone's plates went back to the kitchen empty.

My legs were getting really itchy now, and I'd been bitten quite badly by the midges. It's not painful, just uncomfortable. When I was up and about I was distracted enough not to be bothered, but when I was trying to sleep it was most bother. Also it was quite annoying that I was the only one in the family to get bitten...

We spent two nights at the Tobermory Campsite (use the top gate to avoid the narrow bridge in your long campervan...) where Edward made friends with Jenning, who was camping in a tent with his family on holiday from the Netherlands. They didn't have a word of language in common but seemed happy in each other's company.

Tobermory playground
Originally uploaded by westy48
On Saturday we walked the mile or so in to Tobermory with a basket of washing which we left in the machines at the marina before exploring the top of the town where we found a playgound. The slides weren't very slidey and the boys weren't going fast enough down them until Edward improvised a helter-skelter style mat out of his coat and acieved escape velocity at the bottom of the smaller slide. There was also a playing field where I kicked a footy around with Jack. On the way back down to the main drag we spotted the hotel that had been Josie Jump's yellow house, now a more earthy orange but clearly recognisable with its tower.

The next morning, Sunday, we were due to leave Mull and planned to get the one o'clock ferry from the slipway at Tobermory. But we'd been told by a couple of people that we should go to Calgary Bay, so we turned left as we pulled out of the campsite and followed the narrow, windy road through Dervaig towards the west coast. It was a spectacular drive, and I'd later be glad of the warm-up, and took the best part of an hour to cover the twelve miles to Calgary. We parked at the art gallery and tea room, where it seemed rude not to have a cappuccino and hot chocolates. Behind the gallery was a workshop where a wood-cutter made sculptures and other pieces of art, many of which were displayed along the walk through the woods to the beach.

Calgary Bay
Originally uploaded by westy48
It was definitely worth the drive, the walk through the woods and inevitably getting the later ferry because the beach at Calgary is amazing. Fine white sand, shallow clear water with a hint of blue, green fields sloping down to form the cove and a couple of beautiful white houses which must have the most sunning views. We all took off our shoes, rolled up our trousers and had a good paddle. I was a lovely morning and Edward enjoyed running in the waves while Jack collected shells. Me and Lucy walked the length of the beach, which Ed thought must've been "very romantic."

There was a little green two-masted sailing boat called "Ruddled" moored in the bay. Edward was fascinated and desperate to wade out and climb aboard. Once he'd been talked out of that he tried to persuade us that we should buy a boat just like it. Reluctantly we went back to the campervan and wound our way back to Tobermory and the ferry. Once we'd parked at the top of the slipway I just had time to nip out to the harbour and get us fish and chips from the van on the pie, which bore a Les Routiers badge and had also been recommended to us. I just managed to run back in time to drive onto the ferry before they raised the ramp. The ticket collector let us take our lunch into the lounge and so we ate our late lunch as we crossed to Kilchoan back on the mainland.

This crossing brings you to Ardnamurchan, one of the most remote parts of mainland Britain. And we took a diversion to Ardnamurchan Point, where it's even more remote and six miles west of Lands End. The drive out to the point was interesting, along miles of single-track road with some tight bends. The last couple of hundred yards is a twisty section rocky outcrops on one side and a low stone wall to keep you out of the sea on the other. I was worried at one point that I might get the van stuck, but we got through and found space to turn around and park at the end.

Apart from the breathtaking views - keep a close eye on your children by the cliff tops - there is a surprising amount to do at Ardnamurchan Point. There's a gift shop where Jack bought a small tub of fart putty, not that he needs help making noises like that, and we got coffees and tickets for the museum and tour of the lighthouse. Or maybe that should be tour up the lighthouse?

The museum was interesting, informative and had plenty of interest for grown-ups and children. It told us some of the history of the local area, and the story of the lighthouse. The tour allowed us to spiral right to the top of the lighthouse (36 metres above ground and 52 metres above sea-level). Our guide was the former lighthouse keeper who used to climb the steps at least four times a day. He knew everything there was to know about the lighthouse, and explained how it's now all controlled and monitored remotely from Edinburgh. He was happy to answer questions and gave us plenty of time to take pictures and soak in the view.

We'd been on the 4:30 tour, the last of the day, and had quite a way to go to get to our campsite at Arisaig. We retraced our steps to Kilchoan and then pottered on to Salen where we found the A road where we thought we'd be able to get a move on was still a single-track road. The only hairy moment was when we met an articulated lorry coming the other way and had to reverse to let it thought. Most of the time people got out of our way, but this time we had to give way.

We were obviously going to be late arrivals at the campsite, but neither of us had any signal on our phones to ring ahead and warn them. Never mind, it was the most spectacular drive along the shore of lochs and twisting over passes between the hills. Eventually Lucy got through and then we hit the main road between Fort William and Mallaig which runs along the Atlantic coast, sharing space with the railway so you twist under arched bridges several times. Eventually we arrived at Sunnyside Croft, bought potato cakes from the shop for breakfast and relaxed with a well earned drink. We'd spent longer on the road than we'd planned 24 hours before, but getting to Calgary Bay and Ardnamurchan Point had more than made up for it, as had the views we'd seen during the drive.

The next day was Monday, which promised a 7 mile hop up the coast to Mallaig and a trip over the sea to Skye.

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