My mother’s favorite country on the planet is Scotland. She loves the dreamy quality of damp. She loves the mist and the shaggy cows and the reflections of purple heather in the lochs. She likes the folklore and the mystery, the ancient battlegrounds and gruff adorableness of the accents … and the kilts.
I absolutely understand this fervent love of place. For me, it’s Bangkok (if you read this blog, that comes as no surprise). In conversations with my travel-writer friend Annie, I often bring up this question:
Can you move to your favorite place on Earth? In moving there, would you ruin the magic? Would you come to see all the real, less romantic, parts of a country? Would you know the IRS instead of the imagined perfection? Or, would you find the flaws and love her all the more?
I am unable to answer this, no matter how often I discuss it. I usually follow with another thought.
Are these places we love part of a past life?
Is there some remembered existence that floats, like deja vu, to the surface of our souls when we set foot on foreign soil and feel so completely home?
My mother and I took off in early September for a tour of her past-life-place, renting an Audi from Hertz in Glasgow and touring the Isle of Mull.
I never expected to be so smitten. My favorite places will all drown you in heat, laying a wet blanket of humidity across your bare shoulders as you swat away vines and relish the feeling of gritty sand beneath your feet. In my past life, I was a pirate. In my mothers, she was a Scottish lass.
I cannot count the times we discussed our next trip back to the Isle of Mull. I know my ancestors came from Scotland and, perhaps, in a past life, I came from there too.
Five Things Recommended for a Scottish Road Trip:
- The lochs are striking, but you can’t really get down to the shore of them without ruining your shoes. The mud is forever fed with rainwater. Take (or buy) a pair of waterproof footwear. I wish I’d done this.
- You can visit Mull by bus, but you’d lose the most incredible moments of scenery. This Isle is all about the driving down tiny side roads and hopping out for undiscovered beaches or impromptu photo sessions with shaggy cows and sheep.
An Umbrella & a Pair of Sunglasses
- There’s a wonderful saying in Scotland. “If you don’t like the weather, give it five miles or five minutes.” It’s true. You can be soaked one second and squinting the next. It’s a wise move to pack for every condition.
- Also, I’d suggest bringing a Dry Sack. These are handy anywhere you might encounter sudden rain. They come in all sizes and are a perfect option for tossing your cell phone or camera inside and carrying on with your adventure in the rain. Plus, they make perfect dirty laundry bags or leak proof options for liquids like face lotion or eye-makeup remover. Basically, these are my go-to travel essential anywhere. Sea to Summit is my favorite brand.
The Right Month
- We were floored in Mull at how deserted the roads were in our first days. I tested the Audi on curves, going 15 minutes or more without a passing another vehicle. The last day, driving from Glencoe back down to Glasgow, we shared the road with giant trucks, screeching around blind curves towards us. We waited patiently in long lines as single tracks forced motorists to the shoulder to let oncoming vehicles pass. Mull in the high season (June – early August) would not be as soothing. I’d strongly suggest getting there in April or May, before U.K. school vacation begins, or going sometime after the first week of September, when it has started back. Book your hotels and car in advance. You’ll also want to book the Oban to Mull ferry in advance, if you are taking a car on. All of the smaller ferries may be paid for upon arrival with ease.
Once you’re there, everything’s pretty obvious. The isle has three main towns – Fionnphort, Salen and Tobermory, plus the pseudo-town of Craignure, which is really just the ferry stop with a single hotel and a smokey bar that’s forever open.
If you’re headed to Mull, don’t miss:
- Cafe Fish for dinner in Tobermory (voted the U.K.’s Best Seafood in 2012)
- The crazy, rotting boats on the beach at Salen Bay
- Pony trekking on the beach with Killiechronan Tours
- A day boat trip to Iona and Staffa with Staffa Tours. Note: If you are scared of heights, parts of Staffa are going to potentially make you slightly anxious. Wear hiking boots, regardless.
- Touring the gorgeous gardens at Torosay Castle, down the long dirt road just past Craignure on the way to Fionnphort. You can’t miss it. It’s the one with the sign that reads, “No Trespassing.” My mother and I felt delightfully Thelma & Louise in this discovery.
- And finally, wake up before sunrise at least once, just to sit by a perfectly still loch and contemplate life.
My mom … being adorable and awesome