We’ve been in Scotland for 3 and half years but for one reason or another we haven’t been able to get out and really explore this fabulous country until now. We hatched a vague plan that involved loading the car with camping equipment, the child and the dogs and setting off towards Oban with a view to starting from Mull and traveling up via the Ardnamurchan Peninsula to Skye, then the Outer Hebrides before returning to the mainland via Ullapool and driving round the North Coast and back down through Speyside and the Cairngorms. As you’ll see, far too much time was spent eating and marvelling at our surroundings so with only a week left we decided to forgo the second half of the trip and head home rather than rushing it. We’ll save it for 2 weeks next year.
We arrived in Oban on one of those peculiarly glorious sunny Scottish days. After securing a spot on a later ferry (booking is recommended), I headed into Oban looking for something to bring back to the car (now sat in the ferry queue) for lunch. The Seafood Hut by the ferry terminal looked tempting and it is #1 in TripAdvisor but the queue put me off. Just a little way further into town but still on the pier was a takeaway van called MacGillivray’s Seafood. Pots of cockles, scallops cooked in butter, fish and chips all looked and smelled good but mindful of needing to keep the car vaguely cleanish on the first day of a 3 week trip, I opted for sandwiches. 1 salmon for E, 1 crayfish tail for the husband and crab for me. Generously filled and very fresh, all were absolutely delicious. Meaty crayfish lightly seasoned, smoked salmon mixed with grated cheddar cheese, of all things, was surprisingly good and my crab was again lightly seasoned and shell free, which is something that not everyone manages.
Our first night on Mull took us to Fidden Farm just past Fionnphort. With a 3 year old, eating out for supper is pretty restricted so for the most part, suppers were made on the BBQ or gas burners.
Fidden Farm is a justly deserved entry in the "Cool Camping Scotland" book. Plenty of room to avoid any close neighbours, stunning waterside views, clean beaches and quality facilities with plenty of hot water and space make this one of the best spots on the island to pitch a tent or park up for the night. It's a working farm so there's lots of sheep poo in the field but with a strict boots off policy before going inside the, tent this isn't a problem. E loved watching the sheep each morning as they were herded towards and driven down each side of the tent in a woolly blur followed by the dogs and the farmer whizzing passed on his quad.
In Fionnphort, just by the ferry terminal, is an unassuming shed which contained The Creel.
E initially plumped for mussels, which were unavailable, then langoustine, which were also unavailable, then finally a crab claw (not something she’d had before but at £1.50 a claw I wasn’t going to get excited if she didn’t like them).
J and I decided to share a seafood platter. At £12.50 it was never going to be a big platter but we should really have ordered one each.
The platter had 2 crab claws, a slice of smoked salmon, a portion of poached salmon, 3 langoustines, a small pile of prawns, 3 or 4 bits of lobster, lemon, Marie Rose sauce and some salad. Not a lot for two hungry adults but luckily it was pretty good. The poached salmon had just the right amount of lemon, the prawns were sweet, the langoustine juicy and lobster perfectly cooked. The marie rose sauce was just that. Given the divine smell of the scallops cooked in garlic butter wafting across and the oohs and aahs from our neighbouring table, in future I would go for the scallops.
Tobermory is the main town on the island which E recognised immediately from the children’s programme Balamory with much excitement and having been dragged up and down the town looking for Josie Jump and Edie Mcreadie, it was finally time for lunch. Café Fish was one resturant on Mull that I really wanted to go to but it being a Sunday at the end of the season it was closed for lunch so we headed to the Fisherman’s Pier. The Fisherman’s Pier is a takeaway van located on the pier where the local fisherman unload and Routiers describes it as serving “stupendously good fish and chips” so expectations were high. Mackerel, scallops and scampi all with chips came to about £22 which was on the expensive side but with a Les Routiers 2015 sticker up, we were happy to pay a little more for what we hoped would be a good lunch. Alarm bells started to ring when I spotted frozen scampi being dropped into a fryer, everything is meant to be locally sourced, I quote from their webpage “the ladies use only the best fish which is supplied on a daily basis”. The mackerel was fresh but the batter so greasy that oil ran out when it was lifted up, the scallops were good and the scampi fine – perfectly fine for frozen scampi. The biggest problem was the chips, they were horrible. The oil they’d been cooked in had left an “old fish” after taste that rendered them inedible even for E who had covered them in ketchup. Ordinarily, I would’ve complained but in this case I couldn’t see the point, the two ladies in the van clearly weren’t interested, if they were then at the very least the oil in the fryers would be changed more often. End of season laziness perhaps.
The Isle of Mull Ice-Cream made up for our disappointment, located in the centre of the town, the ice-cream is made on the spot which is always a good sign. J disappeared off to investigate the Tobermory Distillery so E and I went in to order. 2 scoops of vanilla for E and 1 scoop of cherry and 1 scoop of chocolate, a sort of black forest ice-cream if you will. It was sublime, real cream, real vanilla, good chocolate and cherries that actually tasted of cherry.
Monday saw us heading for the Ardnamurchan Peninsula via Tobermory so having parked up near the ferry we headed for Café Fish. My old boss had eaten here recently and rated it so we were looking forward to this meal. Opening for lunch at 1200 – it was heaving by the time we got there but as luck would have it a table came free and we were sat quickly by a very busy man. Drink order taken but not delivered – luckily, tall young woman with her hair tied back in a bun was great; she picked up the slack. The menu is extensive and so is the specials board, Café Fish have their own fishing boat which lands daily their langoustines, lobster and spinies (squat lobster) and they get the rest of their fish from other local fishing boats so the quality is guaranteed. It proved impossible for J and I to choose what to have so in the end we went for a roast shellfish platter and a cold shellfish platter to share for £35 each.
E went for a wee bowl of moules marinaire with homemade bread, E’s mussels were fantastic, sweet, plump, sand free and the cooking liquor divine. Must mention their homemade bread, it’s like crack, once you start on it, it’s impossible to stop eating it. Our platters were also very good. I discovered I am not a fan of roasted mussels or queen scallops, for me it was not unlike eating bits of rubber. Seemed like a waste of succulent ingredients but J loved them so maybe I was just unlucky with the ones I ate. What really stood out was of all things the rolled mop herring on the cold shellfish platter, I had a bad memory of being made to eat a mouthful of fishy vinegar slime by my father as a child so it was with some trepidation that I approached the herring but nope Café Fish converted me. The herring had the sort of acidity that zings up your cheek bones and puckers your lips as you shiver with delight, the soft flesh was perfectly complemented by the pickled cabbage the herring was wrapped around adding a crunch that balanced the dish beautifully. Our bill came to £88 including soft drinks and a tip which I felt was good value for money considering the standard of the meal we’d just enjoyed.
The Isle of Skye beckoned…….
As an aside, I need to mention Calmac Ferries. We were very impressed by the level of service they manage to achieve consistently, every ferry we caught was on-time and clean. The rail franchises could learn a thing or two from Calmac!