Head to the brightly coloured island capital of Mull at this exciting, expectant time of year, and you’ll find comfy pubs with hidden snugs and roaring fires.
Tobermory is a firm favourite with summer holidaymakers, but it is in the winter months, when snow covers the surrounding hills, that the true magic of the town is revealed.
If, like me, you shudder at the prospect of Christmas shopping in overheated, fraught shopping centres, you’ll delight in ambling along Tobermory’s charming harbour front, browsing for gifts beneath the town’s Christmas lights. Here, it’s the craft shops and local produce markets that take pride of place, with their friendly owners and festive window displays.
Sweets and soap
On the Main Street, follow your nose to the dark-brown Tobermory Chocolate shop, where artisan chocolatiers create special Christmas treats, ideal for loved ones. Or experience something “tinseltastic”, as the good people at the local Isle of Mull Soap Company would say. Handmade right by the sea, their cinnamon and citrus bar is designed to make every day “smell just a little bit like Christmas” with its warming, spicy cinnamon leaf oils.
The relaxed pace of this gorgeous little town of 1,000 residents is contagious, and you’ll soon feel quite at home. Children especially love the town’s Santa Dash on the last Sunday before Christmas – dressed head to toe in white and red, entrants race through the streets before unwinding with mince pies and wine in the pub.
Explore a little further with a short drive or bus ride across the island to Calgary. Here, on the invigorating west coast, one can enjoy a two-mile walk along a thought-provoking woodland sculpture trail, strolling out to an old harbour overlooking beautiful Calgary Bay. Among the sculptures is a rather spooky elm-carved raven mobile, dens for the kids, a working trebuchet on a hilltop, and a large willow-woven stag, appropriately dressed with a red Rudolph nose when my family and I visited last year.
Pick up a map at the Calgary Art in Nature gallery. Set out past the mill pond and follow the stream through the forest from one sculpture to the next – first ‘Mosaic’, then ‘Deer’, ‘Maze’ and ‘Boat’.
Beside the bay
Join the road, soon leaving to the right at a car park. Follow a track along the rocky northern shores of Calgary Bay, reach a stone pier after 1km.
The way beyond the pier is particulalry rough. Turn around and head back to the car park.
Rejoin the road and step into the forest, but instead of taking the route you began on, return to the Calgary Art in Nature gallery on the lower forest path.
Snug in a pub
Back in Tobermory, as night descends, make sure you pay a visit to the old, creaky and intimately charming Mishnish Inn. Squirrel yourself away into one of the timeless snugs – complete with your own fire – and you’ll feel the Christmas sparkle ripple through your rested limbs.