With its rainbow coloured houses, friendly locals and stunning scenery, not to mention the otters, Scottish island Mull is pretty much as charming as it comes…
2019 has been the year of the staycation for me. Never in my life have I had so many short breaks in Scotland. I usually can’t wait to jump on a plan to the nearest and cheapest European city, but this year I’ve merrily used up my annual leave to stay in the same country. (To be clear, I say many, but what I actually mean is two short holidays with an upcoming Airbnb break in November.)
So why the change? Well, it could just be middle age drawing closer and because we’ve now got a little golden Labrador puppy, Casper, who makes jumping on a Ryanair flight to Europe that little bit more complicated.
Aside from that, I think it’s due to more of a general desire of mine to see more of Scotland, because you never do the tourist stuff where you live, right? As someone who doesn’t currently drive, I feel like I’ve not seen half of much of my home country as I should do, and I’m certainly guilty of not having visited a lot the museums and tourist attractions in the city I live in, Dundee. So for mine and my sister’s birthday this year, we decided against the usually city break and opted for an island off the west coast of Scotland, Mull.
Why Mull? Well, aside from the small detail of it being an island that you have to catch a ferry to get to, it’s actually fairly easy journey – a six hour drive into the depths of the Highlands it is not. In fact, coming from Dundee, it didn’t even involve ‘going up north’ which felt a little odd – it was actually a straight line west.
Two, I fancied seeing the town of Tobermory, which is known for 1) Balamory and 2) its cute rainbow-hued houses. I seem to have a thing for coloured houses at the moment; seeing the island of Burano on a trip to Venice last year was one of my favourite things.
And lastly, I just fancied being off the grid for a bit. There’s nothing like being on an island to feel properly away from it all, and after a busy few weeks at work this was exactly what I needed. Here’s what we got up to…
Where to stay in Mull:
I mulled over (sorry, getting that one out of the way early) staying in a hotel, as there are some rather lovely looking ones on the island and really, who doesn’t love a hotel breakfast and clean sheets every day? But then there was the whole question of Airbnb and having a little bit more space to hang out in. If I’m being honest, it boiled down to the question of a wood burning stove. Nothing says warm, cosy and off the grid like a cup of tea, a good book and a crackling wood burner, so that was the thing we ended up prioritising.
We stayed in the Teacher’s Apartment in Salen, which was gorgeous. It had the wood burner and cosy cottage vibe we were after and not only that, the host actually baked us a birthday cake on arrival! (I’d included that in the ‘why you’re visiting’ part on Airbnb.) So that was a really lovely touch. In terms of location, the apartment was conveniently right next to a Spar and the Salen Hotel, so great for picking up supplies (emergency firewood) and for a tasty, low-key dinner on the first night. In terms of convenience, Salen is a pretty central spot on the island for driving around.
What to bring to Mull:
So for the townie princesses like myself, what should you bring with you? The first thing would be warm clothes and waterproofs. There’s every chance that you’re going to get four seasons in a day – we had a mix of sunshine, hailstones, stone, rain – you name it, we had it. So be prepared. What I didn’t bring was hiking boots… on the recommendation that there is a great outdoor shop in Tobermory that does surprisingly affordable boots. And it was true – it was called Trek and I got a pair of good quality boots for £35, which was great value.
You also probably need to have a car. That’s not strictly true, and I just read a really good post by a travel blogger who did it all by public transport which I’m totally in awe of, but it does make everything a lot more convenient. It was great just to drive around and stop off at anywhere that looked interesting. The wildlife is incredible – we saw eagles, a stag and the friendliest collie ever on our travels – you’ll also see lots of signs about where to spot the otters which inhabit the island.
Things to do in Mull:
So what did we do? To be really honest, not very much beyond driving around. There are lots of things to do but if you’re travelling out of season a lot of the attractions are closed – this didn’t really bother us but it’s something to bear in mind. I’d looked at kayaking and pony trekking, but coupled with the abysmal weather and off season opening hours, we didn’t get around to it. Same goes for hiring bikes – there was a place right next door to our apartment but with the weather being what it was, it just wasn’t an option.
For the most part, we just drove around the island, stopping at various spots to take in the view or explore further. There are some beautiful spaces to explore in Mull; gorgeous beaches, amazing views around every corner, and even a shell of a cottage that was being used in a film set. (If you look really closely you can see that the back of the cottage actually isn’t there).
Where to eat in Mull:
Mishnish in Tobermory. We went there on a Friday night, and it was the perfect place for soaking up the atmosphere of the town. Open fire, great pub food, a few rounds of drinks… oh, and a cute dog at the next table. It was very much the perfect Friday night. I absolutely loved my mac and cheese that I got and my sister enjoyed the steak pie she ordered so much that she actually went back two nights later and had it again. We also made friends with the locals, and one of them even put Happy Birthday on the juke box for us, which was one part hilarious and two parts mortifying. This was the only place we ate apart from the Salen Hotel but it was great. Go there.