The idea behind the Mull and Iona Food Trail, launched in 2015, is gloriously simple; a map and trail that helps you ‘eat your way round the islands with us’. As well as Mull and Iona those islands include Ulva, Gometra and Erraid, with the mainland Morvern Peninsula making a cameo too.
I’ve arrived on Mull many times – the island never fails to be dramatic by ferry from Oban, Morvern or Ardnamurchan. My most dramatic landing of all was wading ashore from an old brig on to the tiny tidal island of Erraid in the footsteps of David Balfour in Stevenson’s Kidnapped. Then I forged across the wilder parts of Mull on the Stevenson Way with only soggy sandwiches for sustenance. To be honest I’d much rather have been settling in to enjoy the brilliant new Mull & Iona Food Trail, which weaves together a rich treasure trove of eating places, shops, farm shops and producers’ markets.
Eat your way around the islands
The idea behind the new initiative is gloriously simple, with a map and trail that helps you ‘eat your way round the islands with us’. As well as Mull and Iona those islands include Ulva, Gometra and Erraid, with the mainland Morvern Peninsula making a cameo too. The ethos behind it is very Argyll: ‘to promote locally sourced food, produced with respect for animal welfare and the environment, which tastes great and contributes to a sense of place’. It delivers on all those aims, whether you’re tucking into Mull and Iona's sensational local meat, fish, cheese or vegetables.
Let’s start down where I waded ashore there in that scenic wonderland, a land where the mighty Ross of Mull descends to meet the white sands and pilgrimage sites of Iona. On Iona itself we have the Argyll Hotel, renowned both for its sea views and the quality of its fresh, local and seasonal produce. I love that they grow their own vegetables here in the Gulf Stream. Whatever you enjoy on the savoury side (how about smoked Tobermory trout or Iona pulled lamb hogget?) don’t miss the legendary ‘Argyll Scone’, best enjoyed with a cuppa on the lawn on a sunny day.
Also on Iona is the equally welcoming and local produce committed Columba Hotel. They’ve got great views too across the Sound of Iona. Some of their spot on produce hails from Maol Farm on Iona and the seafood hails from the clear waters surrounding the island. Then there is their St Columba Garden gin, expertly crafted using botanicals from their organic garden. Look out too for the glorious fruits of the sea from Iona Seafood, who specialise in sustainably sourced fish and shellfish including more sustainable pollock and mackerel. If you’re self-catering on Mull or Iona they offer the ideal way to dine like an Argyll king every meal!
Moving on to Mull the world-class seafood continues at the Creel Seafood Bar on Fionnphort Pier. Their catchy slogan “From the creel to the pan as fast as we can” couldn’t be more apt as you’ll appreciate when you savour boat-fresh scallops, langoustines and mussels. They’ve magicked up one of the best fish suppers I’ve ever had in Scotland.
Nearby the mercurial Ninth Wave tempts. How about fresh Mull octopus with their own garden tomatoes, marjoram, chorizo crumb, golden ketchup and a sherry dressing? This multi award-winning restaurant gets seriously creative in the romantic surrounds of an old croft. Owners John and Carla Lamont work miracles with the wonders from their own fishing boat, the ‘Sonsie’. Ardalanish Farm and Weavers meanwhile sell the Highland beef and Hebridean hogget and mutton they raise in the local lushness. Pick it up and check out the Weaving Mill too.
Bursting east along the Ross of Mull we cover the roughest ground I tackled on the Stevenson Way, my efforts rewarded by sea eagles soaring above and bottlenose dolphins galloping along the shore. Here we come to Pennyghael Stores – take a seat on the coffin rest and gaze out over the loch towards Ben More. They do a proper cup of coffee and lovely cakes too.
Look out for the Producers’ Market in Tobermory, Craignure and Dervaig. And don’t miss The Old Post Office & Lochbuie Larder, which re-opened after a revamp in 2020. They stock an impressive range of local beef, venison, pork and lamb, plus locally grown fruit and veg. You can pick up a delicious proper ready meal to take away at enjoy at home or in a self-catering escape. Elsewhere on Mull you’ll find well-stocked foodie stores such as The Ferry Shop in Fionnphort and The Salen Shop & Spar.
Heading north up the west coast now the big Atlantic skies beckon along with views out across the shimmering of small isles that lead on towards distant Coll and Tiree. The independent, family-owned Tioran House is the home of Whitetail Gin, where it is distilled. Pick up your bottle at the onsite Gin Shop.
The food journey continues
Ulva is a gorgeous slice of the Hebrides that sparkles just off Mull’s west coast. I love the renewed positivity here since the community bought the island back in 2018. In 2021 Mark Elliot and Brendan Tyreman took over the running of The Ulva Boathouse after falling in love with the island when they visited in 2019 after a pilgrimage to Iona. How about langoustines or potted crab served with an epic Hebridean view?
Café@Calgary is a great stop if you’re passing by, or planning a trip to the famous beach. They try to keep things as local as possible with lots of organic produce too and I can testify the quality of their superb homebaking. Charmingly the space also opens to local artists as a wee gallery, so you can often pick up a unique piece of art to remind you of your trip when you get home. Robin’s Boat is also handy for Calgary. Who can resist a beach and an ice cream, one of life’s great combinations? The big attraction here is the Isle of Mull Ice Cream. You cannot miss this wee gem with an upturned wooden boat atop its roof.
Sweeping further up the west coast of Mull on the road from the epic Calgary sands towards Dervaig is Am Birlinn, a glorious purpose-built restaurant that is an edifice in wood: all very Grand Designs, with sweeping floor to vaulting high roof windows opening up the surrounding landscape. Their eclectic menu swirls from seafood stews to Aberdeen Angus sirloin, through to confit leg of Barbarie Duck and baked hake fillet in cannelloni beans and chorizo. Look out for their fresh shellfish.
Now we come to the Bellachroy Hotel. A hearty Scottish welcome awaits from Tom and Hannah in the oldest inn on Mull and the Scottish theme continues on the plate with the likes of Tobermory Fish Company smoked trout with textures of beetroot to start, followed by Isle of Mull steak and ale pie. There is fresh locally-caught seafood and a daily specials board too; afterwards a Mull single malt awaits. You can pick up food and drink too at Dervaig PO & Stores. The new store offers new store boasts 1,200sq ft of floor space.
On the northern fringes of Mull lies Glengorm Estate, with its landmark castle a striking sight. Glengorm Coffee Shop has brought alive the old steading and workshops. On my last visit I remember thinking that it couldn’t get much more local with beef, lamb and venison culled from the surrounding estate; plus fish from Tobermory and Mull cheese. Glengorm Farm meanwhile continues the ultra-local theme with the likes of wild venison and Blackface lamb. Glengorm Garden completes the delicious foodie trio, with a Victorian walled garden that offers up fresh fruit, herbs and vegetables. Look out for vegetables in season.
Heading down to the island capital of Tobermory we arrive at a foodie institution that needs little introduction. I remember wandering into Isle of Mull Cheese years back and being stunned to find the home of the world-famous cheddar was a low-fi farm, where I had to seek out someone who just said, “take what you like, there’s an honesty box.” Things have, of course, changed over the years as their fame has grown and they’ve added the gorgeous Hebridean Blue. They now also have the Glass Barn Café and Shop. The ‘secret’ remains having their own dairy herd and their artisan attention to detail. Note the shop also sells their own pork chutney and homebaking.
Also on the way into town is the Tobermory Fish Company. They smoke their own seafood here and it’s just glorious. The core ranges of smoked salmon and trout never disappoint, but I’m a big fan of their new maple-glazed hot smoked salmon. Their more unusual smoked mussels and smoked scallops are also superb. There is a shop selling more superb Argyll produce too. Tobermory Stores down on Tobermory’s main street is a deli dream with local meats, cheese and biscuits. There are organic, vegan and Fair Trade goods too. I like that they do takeaway filled rolls and sandwiches, handy for a picnic on the waterfront looking out for porpoises.
There is nothing quite like an ice cream on holiday so why not indulge yourself at the new Isle of Mull Ice Cream on the main street? The milk comes from those ‘cheesy’ cows up at Sgriob-Ruadh. The ice cream makers try to use as much local flavouring as possible and also do sorbets, frozen yoghurts, plus vegan and gluten free options. Don’t forget to take a seat on the ‘best bench in town’. What you are waiting for?
Fresh produce and special treats
For something more substantial up the hill ascend to the mezzanine level at Hebridean Lodge with its glass wall. It’s all as local as possible with a litany of producers already mentioned here bringing their cheese, smoked seafood and meats to the bountiful table. They also stock a great range of picnic foods on the ground floor. Back down by the water at Macgochans there is great food to go with the views and prime location. A restaurant, bar and beer garden has grown out of the original fisherman’s cottage. When I’m in town I always pop in if there is live music. I recommend you do too; tuck into Glengorm beef and Mull scallops too if you can.
For baked goods Tobermory Bakery is a must. This bijou café and bakery on the main street sells a great range of homemade breaks, pastry items and cakes. Again, ideal for a picnic. You can source goodies for those too at the Tobermory Producer’s Market at Aros Hall, held every Monday April-September with local meat, fish, veg, cheese, honey, preserves and baking, joined by local arts and crafts. There are further Producers’ Markets at Craignure Village Hall, Dervaig Village Hall and Pennyghael Hall.
Just outside of Tobermory it’s Aberdeen Angus beef, Cheviot lamb and venison you’re after head to Ardnacross Farm. You just take the meat from their honesty box, while there are free range eggs at the end of the drive on the same honesty basis.
Heading down the Sound of Mull The Coffee Pot is on hand in the hub of Salen with a warm welcome and a proper brew. The homebaking and heart-warming soups are backed up by a daily specials board, with local produce worked into the menu; takeaway too. I can firmly recommend the delicious homemade pork sausage rolls. The Little Bespoke Bakery meanwhile is a coffee shop and takeaway offering “wholesome, simple yet honest food from breakfast to yummy lunch”. It’s at the heart of the local community too and you’ll be more than welcome. Look out too for the Taste of Mull takeaway van. As well as old favourites like fish and chips and local meat burgers, they often have seafood and other specials too.
Backing up many a Mull business, Mull Abattoir & Butchery is around here too – drop in for Mull beef, lamb, venison and pork. Nearby I rate the Fishnish Food Bar. This family-tune outfit conjure up tasty wonders down at the Fishnish ferry terminal, where you can hop over to Lochaline on the Morvern Peninsula. They pride themselves on local sourcing and preparing things fresh with loads of sandwich options and cakes; ice cream too. Across the Sound of Mull on Morvern is the NC’NEAN Distillery, which distils its own organic single malt whisky. They are experimental with other spirits too so watch this innovative space! Their mantra is “made by nature, not by rules”. They do tours and have a license bar and they can do light lunches.
Pushing into Craignure on the Sound of Mull, where the ferries connect Mull to Oban, we have quite the introduction. The Isle of Mull Hotel and Spa has just undergone a massive and massively impressive refurbishment. The ‘retreat suites’ with outdoor hot tubs have to be seen to be believed! I’ve fond memories of the hotel as it was the first my eldest ever stayed at on Mull. The views are great and I spent a lot of time just gazing out the window at the water and hills. That is the experience you can enjoy at the Òran na Mara bistro, fittingly Gaelic for 'Song of the Sea', along with lip smackingly good seafood.
Also in Craignure is Arlene’s Coffee Shop, another family-run business. They have a secret extra bow to their fiddles, though, as they are also qualified chocolatiers! So as well as breakfast, light lunches and cakes, you can savour delicious handmade chocolates and snare some to take away too. Just up the road Duart Castle Tearoom sits by one of Scotland’s most celebrated and most scenic castles. They try to get as much Mull produce as possible into their lunches and afternoon teas. Some of their cakes are still made according to Lady Maclean’s own recipes.
Last but certainly not least we are back on the southern shores of Mull now almost coming full circle as we head in the direction of the Ross of Mull. Here Inverlussa Mussels is a serious foodie joy if you are self-catering. For just £5 you can pick up a large bag of these delicious bivalves – small bags are a snip too at £2. You couldn’t wish them any fresher. That is the Mull & Iona Food Trail for you in a delicious nutshell – world-class local produce sourced with love and passion, available as fresh as can be and beautifully simple too. Slainte!