The Isle of Mull is the second largest island of the Inner Hebrides, off the west coast of Scotland .
SOMETHING TO MULL OVER
Peter Murphy pays a visit to Mull to enjoy the Sound of Mull music festival and all the other attractions of this delightful island.
What's the fastest way you can think of arriving at any given destination? Plane? Train? Jetpack? Well, short of being teleported Star Trek style, it's probably by rally car.
And, just to add a bit of extra edge to the occasion, try making it after midnight on a rural island with two guys practicing for the Philips Tour of Mull Car Rally, held on the island every October and who "haven't tested this route yet but it should take about seven minutes".
So began a weekend on the Isle of Mull. Nestling a few miles west of Oban in Argyll, Mull is one of the largest of the inner Hebrides almost wholly unspoilt with a coastline of over 300 miles and a permanent population of only (surprisingly) about 2,500.
I was there to take in the Sound Of Mull festival (more of which later) but couldn't let the visit pass without comment on some of the incredible range of activities and attractions to be found on the island.
Arriving from Oban on the 11pm Caledonian MacBrayne ferry (this legendary jaunt is something of a tourist attraction in it's own right if you're a people watcher), the 45-minute trip brings you to the hamlet of Craignure passing en-route the stunning Duart Castle, parts of which date from the thirteenth century and is open to the public from May to October.
From Craignure you can also visit the baronial style castle of Torosay, built in 1858 and classically gothic with gardens straight out of "Sense And Sensibility".
And even getting there is an adventure because Torosay is linked to the ferry terminal by the only railway in the Hebrides, the fantastic Mull Rail service which operates along a two mile track using miniature Trumpton-esque steam and diesel engines.
But I didn't have time for that arriving too late to loiter. The target was the stunning town of Tobermory, Mull's "capital" some 20-odd miles away.
As picture postcard a place as you'll find anywhere, it sits literally on the edge of one big cliff around one of the best natural harbours in the country and boasts a hillside walk with views to die for.
As mentioned earlier, we got there in treble-quick time, thanks to a lift from the budding Colin McRaes and we managed to make it just in time for a pint at the legendary Mishnish (probably how it's pronounced after a few scoops. Goodness knows its original name!). Run by Robert McLeod, it's one of the best pubs in the country and has honours to prove it.
That was it for the night sadly and we retired to the Copeland Guest House run by Sound Of Mull festival organiser Emily King, who not only worked tirelessly to ensure that the festival was a raging success but who provided first class hospitality for her guests whether they were visiting media or "honest" tourists!
The Sound Of Mull festival was scheduled for the following day at the local Aros Park, a mile or so away from Tobermory through a wonderful woodland walking route.
An impressive line-up of bands headlined by local boys, the Mull Historical Society were on show from 11am to 12pm and the whole event went like a dream with all proceeds going the Kenny MacIntyre Trust, a charity named after the late, great BBC broadcaster who came from the island.
Despite a late September date, the sun choose to shine and the few hundred party-goers milling around the marquee, beer tent, BBQ and activity stalls were treated to a typically festival-like summer's day of entertainment. Local band Limbo kicked it the whole thing off.
Taking their style from rock greats such as Hendrix and the Beatles, lead singer Louise Barlow enjoyed the experience and had a "today Mull, tomorrow the world" attitude after a successful set.
"We'll see what happens now but we weren't particularly nervous," she told me. "The stage was quite high so it felt like a bit surreal and we'd really like to get more experience playing some smaller cosier, venues somewhere like Glasgow."
Other more established bands followed. Pop groovester Emma B, local grunge merchants Amadeus 4, the Afro-Celtic Zuba, the eclectic Trudge Euphoria, the rootsy Lush Rollers, folky crossover outfit Mystery Juice, pop tarts Astrid, rockers Rising Son and the Celtic dance specialists Peatbog Faeries all did their thing before the Mull Historical Society brought the curtain down at midnight in front of a packed (and slightly inebriated) crowd.
That is not to mention all the other activities and the constant "street theatre" entertainment of the fire juggling Te Pooka throughout the event.
We rounded off the night at McGochan's Tavern, Tobermory's "other" big pub and were lucky enough to be staying at the fantastic Ulva House Hotel perched on a ridge above the main street and splendidly maintained by Joy and David Woodhouse.
The Sunday, I have to admit, was spent recovering and retracing our "tyremarks" back to Craignure and Oban so sadly we failed to see any more of the island's undoubted charms.
For example, the village of Dervaig situated about nine miles north west of Tobermory, which is the home of the Mull Little Theatre - reputed to be the smallest in the world. During the summer months professional actors put on a varied repertoire, while at other times it is used by local amateurs.
Mull and particularly its west coast, is noted for its wildlife including eagles, seals, deer and otters and is a pure delight for nature fans. A few miles to the west are the Treshnish Isles, home to thousands of sea birds nest that on the cliffs around the Harp Rock on Lunga.
Staffa, too, should not be missed with its famous Fingal's Cave that boasts such past visitors as Queen Victoria and the composer Mendelssohn.
Climbers and ramblers can take in Ben More, Mull's only Munro. The ascent is a fairly easy walk of perhaps two hours or so from Dhiseig, on the southern shore of Loch na Keal. The views from the summit are, of course, incredible on a clear day.
And if you have the time and inclination, to the south west of Mull is the legendary and mystical Iona, reached only by a small ferry. Tourists come from all over the world to visit Iona's abbey but the island also boasts beautiful secluded beaches, with haunting views of the distant islands.
Mull is a real surprise package and a weekend simply isn't long enough. Breathtaking in summer and stunning in the winter a visit here really should be part of any Scottish holiday. Make it soon.
To travel to Tobermory, Mull and Iona you have to make a ferry journey. This service is provided by Caledonian MacBrayne, www.calmac.co.uk and the routes are from Oban to Craignure, Lochaline to Fishnish, Kilchoan to Tobermory and Fionnphort to Iona.
Emily King's Copeland House
Isle of Mull
Ulva House Hotel
Isle of Mull
The Mishnish Pub and Hotel
Isle of Mull