We were up at 6.30 this morning, and we looked out of our window to see that Ambition was at anchor off the pretty little town of Tobermory, on the Isle of Mull. We had never been here before and were so looked forward to exploring.
What I found quite interesting and amusing was people’s perceptions of the name ‘Tobermory’ according to their age group. For me, the first thing that springs to mind is Tobermory Womble, as I was a kid in the 1970s when all the Wombles TV programmes and novelty songs were out. However, those who were born in the mid-1990s or later would no doubt think of the kids’ programme Balamory, which first aired in 2002 and features characters whose clothing is the same colour as the houses they live in. 🙂
So here we were, up early because we were booked on a walking tour of the town from eight o’clock, but as the ship was at anchor we had to meet as a group in the Palladium theatre at 7.25am so we could be sure of being one of the first off the ship and on the liberty boat for the short ride across. The weather was a bit cloudy today, but quite warm, and we hoped the sun would come out to highlight this picturesque and colourful little town by the sea.
We enjoyed a light breakfast in the Borough Market, washed down with orange juice and coffee, before returning to 9187 to collect our money, credit card, cruise cards and cagoule and making our way to the theatre to await the call for the tender. It didn’t take too long, and we proceeded to the exit where the landing pontoon was in place, the tender bobbing gently up and down as plenty of crew members helped us to board safely. I hoped to be able to get some great photos of the Ambition from this level, but we were on the wrong side of the boat and the plastic ‘windows’ were spotted with drops of rain and sea spray in any case, so I’d have to try to take a photo on the way back.
Once we’d all disembarked and stood on the dock side, we were met by local guide, Reay Whyte, who would be taking us around the town and showing us some of the sights as well as the best vantage points for a photo. The drizzle seemed to have eased off a bit by now (good!) so I shrugged off my cagoule; I hoped it would stay dry. While we waited for the rest of the group to catch up, I took the opportunity to get some photos of the sea front and the famously brightly-coloured buildings, as well as the Ambition at anchor, for which the zoom on my Galaxy S21 phone came in very handy. 🙂
We set off a a leisurely pace just as the church clock was chiming eight o’clock. The walk should take a couple of hours and finish at the Western Isles Hotel, for a cuppa and biscuit. We could see the hotel perched on the hills above, with a superb view of the harbour. At this time of the morning there were not too many people (or vehicles) about, and we walked past the Tobermory Distillery and up the road, at the side of which was a large torrent of water pouring loudly down a ditch. Apparently, the distillation cooling process uses an awful lot of water, and we could see steam coming out of one of the pipes at the top of the distillery. We had the distillery marked as the first place we’d visit once the walking tour was finished. 🙂
As we were walking up the hill, I was pleased that it was at a slow and steady pace as I am not the fittest person. Looking back, however, I could see several people quite a bit behind me, so obviously I wasn’t the slowest walker. 🙂
The higher we climbed, the more the view over the Sound of Mull opened out below us. We could see many smaller yachts, motor boats and pleasure craft, as well as a good view of the Ambition at anchor.
The sun had tentatively come out by now, and I was feeling quite warm in my denim jacket and wishing I hadn’t brought my cagoule so I didn’t have to carry it around. If I hadn’t have brought it you could have guaranteed that it would have rained though. 🙂
The name Tobermory is derived from the Gaelic Tobar Mhoire, meaning “The Well of Mary”. Mary’s Well, a holy well dedicated to the Virgin Mary, and Mary’s Chapel nearby, dated back to the Mediaeval period. The water from the well was said to possess therapeutic qualities. and our guide Reay took us to show us the well after which the town is named. We could see a couple of drinking vessels and Reay said that they were the same vessels that were there when he was a kid, so he said it was unimaginable how many mouths had drank from those cups, and therefore how many germs. He advised against us drinking, and indeed there was a wrought iron kissing gate in front of the well discouraging any visitors from getting close enough to do so. 🙂
As we stood looking at the lovely views, taking photos and catching our breath before continuing our walk, we noticed lots of pretty flowers in the hedges around the many small dwellings and cottages, several of which were holiday lets or bed-and-breakfasts with lopsided “NO VACANCIES” signs hanging in their windows. There were some unusual flowers which no-one in our group could recall having seen before; they were long red flowers with a yellow edge, set in bushes of dark green spiny leaves a bit like holly. I took a photo and ran it through Google Lens to see if I could identify it; the nearest I came was a plant called Desfontainia spinosa which is apparently native to South America! If that’s the case, what it is doing in Tobermory we’ll never know!
There were also lots of bright yellow flowers in the hedges, attractive a large number of bumble bees and other insects.
Continuing on our way, we admired the lovely views and wondered what it must be like to live here; I should imagine it would be a community in which everyone knows everyone else. What a fabulous place; I would like to come for a longer visit. As we were strolling unhurriedly along, Reay explained to us why some of the buildings were painted in the famous bright colours.
Half a century ago, the buildings were painted white or left in their original stone, until the owner of the Mishnish Hotel thought he could attract more customers to his establishment by painting it bright yellow! When his neighbours saw that this did indeed appear to be the case, they followed suit by painting theirs in bright colours as well, magically increasing the town’s attractive appearance. 🙂
Soon we came to Tobermory Parish church, which had been built in 1897. While the architect was John Robertson of Inverness, the building contractor was local builder Donald Fletcher who also built many of the larger houses and villas in Tobermory.
Near to the church the coloured houses theme continued with the photogenic Harbour View hotel, its bright pink façade standing out from the other buildings in the street.
This really was a lovely place; every time we turned a corner there was something to photograph. We really will have to visit here for a longer stay.
Before we arrived at the Western Isles Hotel for our cuppa and biscuit, a visit to the local war memorial was a must.
Then we concluded our walking tour and went into the hotel for a much needed comfort break as well as a coffee and home made biscuit, sitting in the conservatory with fabulous views right over the harbour. Several residents of the hotel were eating their breakfast, as it was still only 10.00am.
After our coffee break, some people asked Reay, the guide, for his recommendations if they wanted to continue the walking theme, and he took us and showed us the start of a coastal footpath. Trevor and I had already decided we wanted to visit the distillery; when we were last in this part of Scotland in 2021 many of the distilleries were still closed to the public due to Covid-19 still being very much among us. But this time there was nothing stopping us. 🙂
We thanked and tipped our guide, then Trevor and I set off back down the hill to get some postcards and maybe find a bar to write them out in. But at this time of the morning no bars were open. We decided we’d wait until after our distillery visit. When we arrived and went into the main entrance, which led to the shop and gave off a faint, but evocative, aroma, we asked if they were doing distillery tours and they said they were fully booked today. As our faces fell and we turned to leave, the man behind the counter said “Oh, it does happen that we have two places left, at 11.15am.” Looking at our watches, we saw that that was in 20 minutes’ time, so we happily paid for our tickets (£37.00 for two tickets, which included tasting at the end and a voucher for £5.00 off if we decided to buy a full-size bottle of whisky after the tour).
Back outside again, we found some handy large barrels which I could use as ‘tables’ a write out the cards. I only had two so it didn’t take long, then we posted them and spent some time looking in a shop selling outdoor wear; thick fishermen’s jumpers, cagoules, overtrousers, socks and walking boots.
Then it was time to start our distillery tour. We were part of a party of 10, led around by our guide Andre, who hailed from Switzerland but had lived in Tobermory for quite a few years. Several members of our party were German and there were some Norwegians and well as Scottish and English people; single malt whisky has fans all over the world. 🙂
We were taken around the building and shown where and how the six stages of whisky making takes place; the malting, mashing, fermentation, distillation, maturation and bottling. But I won’t go into great detail here; if you’re interested, you can read about it on the Tobermory Distillery web site. 🙂
We saw the huge vats where the fermenting liquid was bubbling and foaming, along with the huge stills where distillation took place. It was very hot in that room; I was pleased we weren’t in there very long. We were also told that the whisky spirit, which is a clear distillate to start with, gains its colour (and some extra flavour) from barrels which once held sherry, port or madeira. During the maturation process, some of the whisky evaporates; this is known as the ‘angels’ share’. 🙂
The photos below show the distillery sign, the fermentation vats, the massive stills and, finally, the shop where you could purchase whisky and even Tobermory gin.
The tour lasted about an hour, then it was the moment everyone had been waiting for – the tasting. We took a seat in the small room off the shop, and Andre dispensed a tot (or a ‘wee dram’ to give it the correct terminology) of some 12-year old whisky. He taught us how to swirl it around, sniff it, appreciate the top notes and then taste it, rolling it around our tongue before swallowing. He said that it was frowned upon to mix anything with whisky unless you added another whisky (!!) or a splash of water.
The next sample we tried was a 10-year old peaty whisky called Ledaig (pronouned ‘letch-ick’). You could smell the peaty topnotes even before tasting it. When I did so, I noticed the smokiness and even a spicy heat – did they have chilli powder in it?! It was definitely a drink to savour in small sips, not something you could take big swig of.
Once we’d finished, we went to the shop and purchased a bottle of the Ledaig to take home. At £42.50 (including our five quid discount) it will only be drank on special occasions, or with special guests. 🙂
As it was now lunchtime we decided to take the liberty boat back to the Ambition. This time, I was able to get some a good photo of her at anchor.
Back on board we did the usual – enjoyed lunch in the Borough Market washed down with a cold beer, then returned to 9187 for an afternoon power nap to make up for the 6.30am start. Then we just relaxed, read, wandered around the ship and whiled away the time in the most pleasant way before it was time to get ready for dinner. Once again, I decided not to go to dinner until it was the coffee-and-liqueur stage, preferring instead to sit with my laptop in the Pendennis Bar, and enjoy a couple of glasses of fizz while catching up with this blog.
Afterwards, we attempted the Nice ‘n’ Easy trivia with Paul and Carol, but we didn’t win. We each had our ‘wonderful’ Ambassador Cruise Line key ring bottle openers already, so it looked as if that was all we were going to get. 🙂
The entertainment in the Palladium tonight was called “Cirque de Luminaire” and was based on circus acts, such as acrobats, the strongman, the ringmaster etc. and consisted of elaborate costumes and well as lots of singing and dancing. As ever, an original and enjoyable show.
Afterward, the cruise director came onto the stage and said this was our chance to show our appreciation of the fantastic crew members that had helped make our cruise a memorble one, and some of them came on stage carrying the flag of their country. I say ‘some’ because there were 26 different nationalities in the 503-strong crew, and they wouldn’t be able to fit on the stage. Everyone clapped and cheered as they held up their flags, as well as an Ambassador Cruise Line banner.
Then we finished off the evening as we always do; went to the Cavern to watch tonight’s game show, which was based on The Chase at home and was very entertaining, followed by a visit to the Pendennis bar for the late-night shown, which featured Scottish singer/comedian Clark Stewart performing a number of popular songs for us. A rumble in my stomach reminded me I hadn’t eaten since lunchtime, but this was soon rectified by the appearance of the man with the tray of hot and cold canapés, so I enjoyed several of the tasty little snacks, that included samosas, tempura prawns and prosciutto with melon.
It was around 1.00am when we returned to cabin 9187 after a great day, and once again we slept very well.