‘I hear it’s a bit grim,’ my Glaswegian friend told me when I said that we were planning a trip to Tobermory (better known as Balamory, setting for the eponymous children’s TV series) on the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. I tried to forget the comment, but as our holiday began to get nearer, I did begin to worry.
We began our trip in Oban, a gorgeous town full of shops and restaurants, before taking the ferry to Mull. The trip takes around 45 minutes, but Tobermory – the largest town on the island – is another scenic 45-minute drive. When you get there, it’s quite a thrill to see all those famous colourful buildings along the main street. Having said that, apparently locals are quite happy that Balamory has gone slightly off the radar since the series stopped being made in 2004 – they weren’t thrilled to have quite so many toddler tourists!
Other than Josie Jump’s Guest House, otherwise known as Park Lodge, where we stayed, most of the homes are privately owned, and we didn’t dare knock on doors. We did, however, ask Rebecca, our hostess, to give us a map marking the ‘Balamory’ locations and then quietly sought them out. As many of the houses have since been re-painted, Rebecca told our four-year-old son that the character Spencer had given them different colours. He seemed quite happy with that explanation, albeit disappointed to discover that Archie’s castle isn’t on the island at all.
This two-star hotel was an excellent place to stay with children – clean, centrally located and with friendly, helpful staff. It also offered good family accommodation in the form of two separate rooms at the end of a closed-off corridor (£165), which meant the children could walk from one room to another safely but that we didn’t have to sleep with our snoring son!
Tobermory was built as a fishing port in the 18th century and its pier now boasts the excellent and very reasonably priced Fish & Chip Van, with food so good it has its own specially created category in Les Routiers guide. The town has a great ambiance – laidback but not too quiet – and offers lots of accommodation options and plenty of place to eat and drink, many with children’s menus. We were impressed by the organic Island Bakery and the upmarket, expensive but luscious Tobermory Chocolate, which kids will be interested to know was once Edie McCreadie’s Garage.
There’s a lot to do on Mull, and I would recommend hiring a car to fully appreciate the beaches and activities on offer, which include whalewatching. ‘Balamory’ fans might also like to travel on the Mull Narrow Gauge Railway near the ferry at Craignure, which made a number of appearances in the TV programme. For something quite different, catch a ferry to historic Iona, although be aware that the drive to its main village, Fionnphort, takes almost 2hrs.
One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to Tobermory Farm (now closed to visitors), where the kids fed sheep and rabbits and played on the bouncy castle. We also drove to unspoilt, beautiful Calgary beach along a single-track road that was a little hairy at times but absolutely worth it.
I only wish we had longer on Mull. And when I rang my Scottish friend to tell her how wrong she’d been, she decided to plan a trip to Tobermory too.
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