Planning a holiday to the Inner Hebrides? Enjoy the local delights of Oban and Mull in one trip
One of the great joys of setting off on an adventure is the anticipation of the journey. The experiences that you gather along the way all add to the happy memories of the trip, especially if it's a holiday. Oban certainly offers plenty of scope for the variety of visitors that it receives, who are arriving by bike, car, bus or boat. You might be surprised to find an operating distillery bang in the centre of the town but the distillery was built in 1794, before the town, which has steadily grown up around it. Carol Bennett, Brand Home Manager, enthused:
'Oban is one of Scotland's oldest distilleries. Unlike most distilleries we are located right in the heart of the town which makes it really easy for people to get to us, whether it's by foot, road or indeed ferry. We offer a range of guided tours and whisky tastings all year round and for anyone visiting Oban, the distillery is a must visit destination.'
As Carol guides you around she is keen to explain where the aromatic aromas and distinctive flavours in the spirit come from. Smoke, sea salt, orange and honey are all visually represented in The Dramming Room where you can enjoy a wee nip at the end of the tour. The visitor centre has a mouthwatering selection of whisky cake and fudge and for a real treat you can have a hand engraved message on a special bottling.
If the sun is shining there is no better excuse to cross the road to The Pokey Hat which specialises in making traditional ice cream in heavenly flavours. The only problem you'll have is trying to decide between the array that includes Turkish Delight, toffee swirl or delicate coconut. Then you can take your cone and perch on the harbour wall watching the ebb and flow of boats in the harbour.
Helen and David MacKechnie were inspired to set up their own business in their hometown after a visiting a chocolate factory in Perth, Australia, and now their passion has now turned into a full time business. Helen set the scene:
'Oban Chocolate Company make delicious, fresh handmade chocolates, all locally. We are situated on the seafront with panoramic views of the bay, this bustling cafe, shop and factory offers innovative chocolate treats and gifts in a wonderfully relaxing environment. Indulgence is compulsory!'
The 45 minute crossing from Oban to Craignure on Mull gives you enough time to enjoy a cup of freshly brewed coffee on board, with a selection of organic biscuits from the Island Bakery. The biscuits are neatly packaged into packets of two: Apple Crumbles, Lemon Melts and Chocolate Gingers make a perfect dipper! Dawn and Joe Reade make the biscuits in their custom build bakery outside Tobermory using only organic ingredients. They started the business fourteen years ago making freshly baked bread and cakes for the island community.
Dawn described: 'The business was quite seasonal so we looked into biscuits, baked with really good ingredients, but not packed with preservatives. The mixers fire on clean hydro-electricity from the river outside the bakery and then the biscuits are cooked slowly in ovens fueled with renewable timber.'
From the bakery you look over to fields full of grazing cattle on the Sgriob-ruadh Farm where Joe's mother, Chris and her late husband, Jeff, established a dairy making Isle of Mull cheese. You can take your own tour around the dairy, passing through the garden with pigs and piglets, before reaching the milking parlour. As you enter the Victorian dairy it feels like stepping back in time, before climbing down to the cheese cellars where the huge cloth wrapped truckles slowly mature. After the tour you can browse the selection of produce, all from the farm: venison, pork, eggs, herbs, pottery and lovely baskets. Needless to say, you must try the matured Isle of Mull cheese, or the softer, lighter Mornish, both are excellent with the chilli jam that Chris also makes.
The charming and colourful seafront at Tobermory is a haven for visitors, especially popular with the sailing fraternity. The Pier Cafe offers a tempting selection of local seafood, baked potatoes stuffed with hearty fillings and fresh baking. Everything is cooked to order for extra 'fabulousness' and the tables outside overlook the harbour. The Mishnish Hotel is a great escape from the weather if it's raining and a bowl of Inverlussa mussels with chilli and coriander will warm you up. The Mishnish prawn cocktail with avocado and pink grapefruit makes a fresh take on the traditional classic dish.
Local herring gulls swoop over The Fisherman's Pier which is perched on the harbour and while essentially offering fish and chips, it boasts a Les Routiers badge. Daily specials include calamari, sea bream and seabass while 'boaties' also tuck into chunky cod and local scampi.
For dessert, you can wander along to Tobermory Chocolate and agonise over salted caramel, rum truffles or chocolate dipped orange slices. The aroma of melted chocolate wafts throughout the whole shop which is run by Keith Drake, a retired mariner who has now adapted to life on shore.
The Tobermory distillery bookends the other end of the High Street and is a popular choice so they recommend booking your tour in advance. The distillery produces unpeated Tobermory whisky but if you like a puff of smoke, the Ledaig single malt will float your boat.
The Tobermory Fish Company is a good place to stock up with local smoked salmon with an Italian crust, Kintyre kippers, crab claws, and chunky tartare sauce creating ready made meals.
Rustic shortbread, local honey, Highland rapeseed oil, Isle of Mull haggis and beef from Glengorm Farm will all make welcome gifts for the family. The selection of cheeses can be complemented with The Red Puffer Plum Chutney. Finally you can pick up a jar of The Red Puffer Red Onion marmalade which is served with the Argyll Beef Burger on board the ferry in the Mariners Cafeteria as you sail home.