Friday, 30 April 2010

A Day in Tobermory

The nearest town to Kilchoan is Tobermory, a 35-minute ferry ride away across the Sound of Mull. In winter there are three ferries a day each way, which is more than enough for the traffic, but this doubles in summer. Even so, passengers have been left behind at exceptionally busy times, and there is always the chance that the weather will change and the ferry cancelled.

For a visitor to Kilchoan, Tobermory is a great day out as, by any standards, it's an exceptionally pretty seaside town. The main part of the town is set round a bay, with steep slopes hemming it in and a small river cutting it in half. Part of its charm is the tradition of painting its seaside houses in a variety of colours; that this makes it so photogenic partly explains the success of the BBC series, Balamory, for which a phenomenal 254 episodes were made - so, for our young visitors, Tobermory is an essential destination.

For people relying on it for their day-to-day needs, it has limitations. There's an excellent dentist, a bank, a good hotel and some promising restaurants, and a pub that is worth a visit. The Co-op is the only supermarket but it's far too small, and its rival, a Spar store, has closed down this week. There is a bookshop, which also sells fishing tackle, a chandlers, and a good hairdresser, but the town's single greatest shopping asset is Browns, one of those almost-extinct, old-style hardware stores which sells everything, including, bizarrely, whisky.

My affection for Tobermory arises from its greatest product, Tobermory 10-year old whisky. This is such a lightly peated, friendly single malt it can be taken with your breakfast, but if you prefer something a little heavier, there are several other bottlings which go under the original name for the settlement, Ledaig, including one which retails at over £100.

The distillery, housed in gaunt and crowded stone buildings, is located beside the river, sharing its water with a hydro-electric plant. The business dates back to 1798 but it has a history of closures - its most recent re-opening was in 1990. Thank goodness it did survive, for the world would be a much sadder place without this little gem of a drink.

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