Photo: Martyn Bennett
The Island of Mull has an enviable location off the west coast of Scotland. Its proximity to the mainland means that ferry connections are frequent but the island still retains a rugged wild charm. The obvious attractions of the dramatic scenery, beaches, hiking and wildlife mean that, often, some of the cultural highlights are often overlooked. The island has a vibrant arts scene with traditional and modern live music, festivals and sculptures to visit. Here are a few suggestions for appreciating some of the less well known reasons for visiting.
Mull has always been a kind of haven for artists and musicians, Lesley Duncan for example escaped here to get away from the pressures of fame, Martyn Bennett lived on the island until his untimely death in 2005 and Roddy Woomble from Idlewild is currently one of the most famous residents. Colin Macintyre grew up here and stole his stage name from the real Mull Historical Society. After a number of chart hits and a critically acclaimed debut album, which also featured the Calmac ferry and the sea at Calgary Bay and was based on his childhood upbringing, he has turned his attention to writing. His debut novel, The Letters of Ivor Punch is also set on Mull and has been published to rave reviews. Cuan Choluim Chille would be a great place to relax and read it. The house has amazing views over Loch Tuath and Ulva and has a wood-burning stove for atmospheric evenings in.
Calgary Art in Nature is one of the premier sculpture venues in Scotland. For a small donation you can receive a map detailing the locations of over 20 pieces situated in the woodlands. The focus here is on art that blends into the environment from both local and international sculptors. The woodland walk conveniently finishes at a gallery and the best café on the west coast where you can purchase some of the artists’ work. What better souvenir of your holiday than a piece of authentic art. Kellan Mill is a short journey down the coast, a traditional 19th century mill conversion and right on the shoreline with views over to Ben More.
Mull Music Festival takes place from the 21st to the 24th of April and is a free celebration of traditional music. This is usually one of the busiest times of year in the pubs of Tobermory with Scotland’s foremost folk-rock bands, fiddle, accordion, dance and ceilidh bands playing packed venues as well as impromptu late night sessions. If ever there was a time to put on your dancing shoes and party till dawn in Tobermory then this is it. Burn Cottage is an ideal spot to retreat to when the night life gets too much and you need some peace and quiet to recover.
In stark contrast, the Mendelssohn on Mull festival offers traditional music of a very different kind. For 26 years now visitors and locals have been treated to a huge variety of chamber music from musicians from all around the world. The venues here tend to be scattered around the island and include churches, castles and village halls and many of the performances are free. Carsaig House is located on the south of the island, handy for getting to many of the venues and also close to the ferry to Iona where you can catch performances in the atmospheric surroundings of the Iona Abbey. No mention of Iona would be complete without mentioning The Monastery of Sound club night held at the village hall every Friday during the summer. The perfect blend of old and new.
Comar is the name of the organisation that spearheads arts development on the island. In conjunction with An Tobar and the Mull Theatre it brings internationally regarded touring companies to Mull as well as providing a focus for youth projects. Its ambitious programme features contemporary dance, film, photography exhibitions and stand up comedy. Glenforsa House is secluded and private and offers panoramic views across the Sound of Mull to the Green Isles and Morvern peninsula. Rrelaxing in the summer house it is easy to be inspired and to see why so many creatives have over the years have flocked to make this landscape their home.