Review: Houghs of Lincolnshire
Travel Service - Tour Operator/Travel Provider
Middlethorpe Road DN35 9PR , Cleethorpes, North East Lincolnshire, DN35 9PR , United Kingdom
Otters and eagles on Mull - didn't live up to the hype
129 people found this review helpful
I have been wanting to visit Mull and Iona for years, so when I discovered a local coach company was running a five day break there, it seemed to good an opportunity to miss and I signed up. It is one of their more popular tours and the coach was nearly full, with many repeat passengers. According to the itinerary, we had a day visiting Iona, a day in Tobermory and a day looking for eagles and otters.
After a less than good experience with Hough’s earlier this year, I was a bit apprehensive about what I was letting myself in for. Mull and Iona were wonderful and the hotel was good too. These were definitely the highlights. But again I felt that I was being short changed by Houghs as the driver was a great one for getting back to the hotel early, and he was a stickler for time keeping.
We had just under four hours on Iona and were told to be back at the coach for 2.30. We only just caught the morning ferry. I did ask if we missed that ferry if we could be later back to the coach to make up or it. That idea went down like a lead balloon. We had a morning in Tobermory having to be back to the coach for 1.30. I decided I didn’t want to get back to the hotel that early so said I would catch the bus back later. The eagle and otter day was two hours with a return to the coach for 12 o’clock. That possibly explains why half of the coach made alternate arrangements for the day and had booked wild life trips with tour companies on Mull.
I didn’t warm to the driver who had an over inflated opinion of himself and his knowledge. Did you know the ruins of Aros Castle are the only castle in Scotland to be attacked by William the Conqueror? I didn’t and I don’t think Williamwould have known either… He was also scathing about other road users. Most of the people on the coach were regulars and known by Christian name. There was a fair bit of banter with the front few rows on the coach, who thought he was wonderful. The rest of us were ignored. I was a new comer and felt he made little effort as far as I was concerned and he would talk over my head to his fan club behind me.
I knew it would be a long journey there and back. It took nearly 12 hours and considerably longer for those picked up before me. I would have appreciated longer on both Iona and in Tobermory and I felt the morning chasing eagles and otters was a wasted opportunity. Would I go again? Maybe. It was certainly cheap and what I paid wouldn’t have covered the cost of accommodation if I’d booked it myself. If I did repeat the trip, I would look to booking a full day wild life excursion with a local tour guide. The grading is based on these views rather than Mull, Iona and the hotel.
So, now for the details….
Pick up was 6.30am from Scunthorpe bus station. I didn’t get off to a good start as my taxi was 15 minutes late. I made two irate phone calls to the taxi company and one to Hough’s explaining I might be a few minutes late. I made it with a minute to spare and the coach was waiting for me at the bus station.
We had a short stop at Ferrybridge Service to swap drivers, use the toilets and buy some breakfast. We had been given the gipsy’s warning by the driver that the on board toilet was for emergency use only and only for wees…. After that no-one dared use it.
It was then up the A1, over Stainmore and M6 and A74 to Moffat where we had a 45 minute stop at the Mill Shop. Two people had got the time wrong for being back at the bus and were five minutes late. We nearly went without them.
We had another toilet stop and short break at the Green Welly at Tyndrum before heading for Oban and the ferry to the Isle of Mull. We had made good time and were early. Despite a lot of very negative comments about Calmac from the driver, they came up trumps and put us on an earlier ferry.
The Isle of Mull Hotel is just a few minutes drive from the ferry terminal and is a lovely setting among trees with views to the ferry terminal and across to Lismore with its lighthouse and the mainland. I had a very comfortable room and food was excellent. There was plenty of choice on our set course evening menu. It was modern cuisine with an emphasis on presentation. Portion sizes were a bit small but ample with three courses. Breakfast was self service and ample – I didn’t need any lunch.
It was an early start on the next morning to catch the 9.55am ferry to Iona. It is a lovely run from Craignure to Fionnphort. It is only 37 miles but along a single track road, so took us nearly 90minutes, especially as the driver was watching out for wildlife and talking at the same time. We saw red deer, but the eagle turned out to be a buzzard… There were bare mountains, lochs and rocky shore with seaweed.
The ferry is a ten minute crossing, I stopped off a few minutes at the ruined Nunnery to take pictures and also to have a quick look at the Parish Church. The rest of the time I spent at the Abbey which is a 5-10 minute walk from the ferry. It is a lovely place with views across to Mull. I think I enjoyed the setting more than the inside of the church. After the Reformation in the mid C16th, the abbey was left to fall into ruins and was only restored and rebuilt in the early C20th. It is a big church with plain stone walls and a bit stark inside, although it has some lovely medieval carved capitals. Sea spleenwort, a rare fern, grows on the walls inside the church. These established themselves when the church was in ruins and have survived the restoration and still flourish.
The Museum has one of the best collections of carved crosses and grave slabs in Britain, dating from the C7th to C16th. The three high crosses dominate the space and are magnificent. The grave markers vary from simple carved crosses to elaborate effigies of West Highland Warrior Knights, the mercenaries of their time. There are more grave slabs around the walls of the cloisters and in the abbey and St Oran’s Chapel.
I’d achieved all I set out to do, but would have appreciated a bit longer just to sit and absorb the atmosphere of Iona. It is completely different and feels like a small isolated island community.
Rather than returning straight back to the hotel, I asked to be dropped off near the ferry terminal as I wanted to visit the tiny Toronsay Church. There was a lovely walk back along the shore past the ferry terminal with seats. I dropped out in the sunshine and watched the sea lap against the rocks and the ferry arrive.
Next morning we left for Tobermory at 9am after a leisurely breakfast. It is a nice run to Tobermory along the narrow coastal strip with mountains towering over us to the west. Although it is a better road and a shorter distance, it still took us 90minutes. We had just under three hours and were told we had to be back at the coach for 1.30 or it would go without us. I said I would make my own way back on the service bus.
Most people probably associate Tobermory with Ballamory of Childrens TV fame. The houses along the bay really are that brightly coloured. It is a lovely setting around a sheltered bay with views across Calve Island to the Ardnamurchan Peninsula.
My first stop was the Whisky Distillery for a guided tour. This is one of the oldest distilleries in Scotland and after a chequered history is still making two very different malt whiskies. Output is a fraction of places like Glenfiddich and it is still a very traditional distillery. There were just two of us on the tour and the guide was informative and entertaining.
It was a beautiful sunny day so I then decided to go for a walk along the coastal path south towards Aros Point. This is a lovely walk through the trees with a waterfall and views across to Calve Island and the mainland.
Back in Tobermory, I finished up by walking along the front, past all the brightly coloured houses and shops to the Calmac ferry pier and a cake in the Pier Cafe. By then it was time to head back for the bus which was full and standing with passengers heading for the Oban ferry.
The final day was to be spent chasing eagles and otters. Again it was a leisurely start at 9am and we drove back along the Iona road to Pennygael. We did manage to see one eagle soaring above the coach. This was a genuine sighting after several mis-sightings of Buzzards… People were dropped off at different points along the road to meet back at the coach at Pennygael (or if they didn’t get that far to be picked up along the road on the way back.) The first group were dropped off just turned 10am and we were told the coach would start back to the hotel at 12 o’clock sharp. I got off at Pennygael stores which was about a mile to walk back to the coach. It was another lovely day with bright blue skies and sunshine. It was a lovely walk back along the coast with its rocky beach and seaweed and views of the mountains. It was high tide, so there wasn’t much bird life along the shore, although I did glimpse the silver of two otters swimming in the bay.
I asked to be dropped off by the ferry terminal again on the way back to the hotel and just dropped out in the sunshine there, watching the ferries, the sea and reading a book.
It was an early start the following morning on our way home as we had to catch the 8.30 ferry. We had short breaks at the Trossachs Woollen Mill at Kilmahog, Gretna which has some quite upmarket shops as well as the old Blacksmith’s shop. We swapped drivers again here and made a final stop at Ferrybridge Services before being dropped off at Scunthorpe. Fortunately there were plenty of taxis in the cab rank by the bus station.
Grading is difficult. Mull and Iona deserve 5*. Houghs considerably less… 3* if I am feeling generous.
129 people found this review helpful
This review is solely based on the opinion of a Silver Travel Advisor member and not of Silver Travel Advisor Ltd.