The Town of Tobermory seems to be built upside down. The High Street runs along the waterfront and the other streets sit above it on a hill. In since the turn of the century High Street has been inundated during spring tides when the wind was wrong, this has not happened as much in the past. Tobermory, on the Isle of Mull in the Inner Hebrides, is a little south of Skye. It’s not connected to the mainland by a bridge. From the ship it’s a beautiful town with brightly colored houses, painted, so locals tell me, so fishermen can spot their own home from out on the water. The exceptions to the colors are a bank and three churches, which are of solid gray stone. One church sits high on top of the hill, the other two are on the waterfront. High church, low church. One of the low churches, it turns out, has been converted into tea and gift shop, complete with stained glass rose window.
While Holland America ran tours from Tobermory to castles and the island of Iona, the base from which the Irish saint Columba converted the Scots and where the Book of Kells was probably created, we opted for an easy day strolling up and down the high street popping in and out of buildings.
One thing we noticed is the way stores are organized. One shop was an Iron Monger (Hardware) and Wine and Spirits shop. Another sold Book and Fishing Tackle. Another enterprise had pay showers, a laundromat and aquarium. The aquarium is a small one which has only local sea creatures. They stay only 4 weeks and are released back into the sea to be replaced by other sea creatures brought in by fishermen or “citizen scientists.” Some of the interpretive signs are on chalk boards and change with the month’s “catch.”
There are sea stars, sun stars, crabs, scallops, sea urchins and others in the touch tank. Grace, has a degree in Marine Biology. She picks up a sea star and drops it on a scallop. The scallop moves very quickly. Grace assures us that the sea star she dropped on the scallop was not big enough to eat it — yet. She picks up a scallop and it squirts water. Sha says that kids on Mull go to the beach, dig up scallops and use them as water pistols.
The town also has a small marine mammal center with a research boat that they got after it was impounded running drugs. It was given to the center to do research on porpoises and whales. They also have a program of citizen scientists who report marine mammal sightings and do photo identification of humpback whales.
And, of course being in Scotland, the town has its own distillery, Tomermory Distillery, founded in 1798, where we had a whisky tasting. First, we tried the unpeated single malt straight. Then the counterman tells us to apply water from a dropper to see how it brings out the flavor. After that we try the peated whiskey, with out and then with water. With peated whisky the grain was malted over a peat fire, and we taste the difference. Peated whisky has a smoky flavor. We learned that one important factor in making scotch was American Bourbon. The Scotch whisky is aged in oak barrels brought over from Kentucky after they have been used to age Bourbon. After that it was time to get back on the ship.
At some point in the Hebrides Suzi said “I think we are on a vacation, so this is what it’s like.” She’s right. Normally our trips are “voyages of discovery” where we push to see everything we can. This time we have taken things at a relaxed pace, like in Tomermory, not pushing for Iona, which I normally would have done, but enjoying the town.