Our guest judge Deborah Stone described mum-of-two Nicola Harrison’s piece as “a very practical feature with lots of information about Mull and the nearby islands, not only of what to see and do but how to achieve that. It's an experience that many parents would identify with.”
Nicola wins a place on one of prize-winning journalist Dea Birkett’s intensive Travel Writing Workshops, with the chance to pitch to the editor of a national travel publication.
We wanted to instil in our children that holidays are away from the norm. Little adventures, designed by individuals who make the most of the environment they find themselves in. We didn’t want organised, prescriptive, packaged entertainment as we felt it was important to make sure our children are capable of making their own enjoyment and are given the freedom to do so.
Taking a three year old and a six year old on an adventure has its restrictions. You have to decide how adventurous you really want to be. On a budget of £1000 and restricted to school holidays, we booked a cottage on the Isle of Mull in the Scottish Highlands for the last week in May.
I would recommend driving. Some people leave their car at Oban and take the ferry as foot passengers. This helps a great deal if you are on a tight budget but if, like us, you take everything to cater for the four seasons in one day, you will need a car.
The cottage was perfect. I believe we were located at the better, more remote end of the island, near Bunnessan. The scenery is breathtaking, as is the abundance of wildlife. For a six year old to be able to sit and watch otters playing in a loch is priceless. Being able to point out Golden Eagles to them in the trees is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And the visit to the main town of Tobermory, the setting for the children’s television program ‘Balamory’, meant that the three year old also has stories to tell.
We had a 2-bedroomed cottage. It was on the side of the main road to the south of the island – not that you would know, as sheep used the road more than cars. Apart from a very dodgy old sofa, it was ideal: all on one level, with a bedroom at one end, the kitchen, bathroom and lounge in the middle, and the other bedroom at the other end. It did have a television and a telephone but no mobile-phone reception, which added, frankly, to its appeal. The large garden was enclosed; it’s a treat to have a holiday home where you can stay inside and watch the children roaming safely outside in their own independent world.
The short ferry across to Iona is a must if you have any interest in our religious history. Even if not, it is a very picturesque island with some lovely art galleries. Our other success was the boat-trip around the island. We took ours from Tobermory but various companies run outings. I would recommend no more than a two-hour trip if your children are as restless as mine. The downside to the shorter boat-trips is that you are unlikely to get out far enough to see whales and dolphins, but you may still spot seals, jellyfish, salmon farms and the elusive fish eagle. Sightings of dolphins are recorded locally so it is possible to plan your trip based on where they have been spotted.
When self catering, as we were, it is worth taking the essentials. The supermarkets are basic and few and far between, as are restaurants. On returning from Tobermory one evening, we were unable to get into any restaurant and were not allowed into the pub with the children. We were confronted with a sign saying there was nothing for 27 miles. Luckily we had enough provisions in the car to keep the children happy until we got home. Twenty-seven miles does not seem very far, but all the roads are single tracks with passing points so a top speed of 30mph was the norm.
We had been warned about midges but were not plagued by them. I think this tends to happen later on in the summer. Again, it is always worth being prepared. Our cottage was well stocked but I still carried the first aid kit. Luckily we didn’t need it too much.
The island caters for most outdoor activities, such as horse-riding, walking, cycling and golf. If you are a birdwatcher then this is heavenly; even we amateurs spotted oystercatchers, sandpipers, curlews, shags and eiders, plus that golden eagle. We found the Usborne books for spotting birds, animals and flowers invaluable for the children. For keen photographers like myself, every day the island presented landscapes and wildlife enough for any photo-album.
Through following local advice we found the best beaches. We shared our local beach with sheep and sea-birds only. We had a beautiful day and the wetsuits made the cold sea more bearable for the children. The weather was unreliable and changed daily. Do not let the morning’s weather stop your plans as it rapidly changed. But if you are the sort of person that needs assurance that you will have a week of glorious sunshine then Scotland is not for you.
I have been lucky in my travels. As a young child, my parents regularly took my brothers and me to Spain by train, a great adventure in itself. As an adult I have travelled to Australia, China, Thailand, Tanzania and the USA. My aim in life is to ensure that my children build up their memories of the great landscapes and wildlife we have in our world, not just the games they have played and the swimming pools and holiday clubs they have been in. The Isle of Mull is a great start and if you are looking to start your little adventurers off in a gentle but greatly rewarding manner I don’t think there are many places to beat it.