I was back in Mull last week, as seems to be my habit now, and it’s so good to be able to take the car and myself on the CalMac for just £34: the road equivalent tariff makes it affordable, and is one of the reasons I have been able to cover stories there.
It’s also brought a boost to tourism, and some of it is good and some bad… I suspect there will be many more day trippers who take the car over and don’t stay, so providing less of a boost to the economy than might be hoped, and there has been talk of the island being overrun and roads clogged, but where tourism is essential to the economy it’s likely to be generally beneficial, and for locals travelling it has to be a good thing.
Of course, how the tourists are treated is another matter: this magnificently churlish sign on the island made me wonder …
The smiley only makes it worse, I think.
Anyway, to get to the point, I think I might tend towards the churlish if I had to put up all the time with one particular seven-mile stretch of the main route from Craignure to Tobermory, starting at Salen.
South of it the A849 is a good fast road; for the last three miles into Tober the main road is good too. In between it’s single-track with passing places that gets a bit wider from time to time and then gets a bit narrower. If you know your single-track etiquette and you’re a bit brass-necked you can get along it fine, but lots of those new tourists will be encountering single-track for the first time.
I know Tobermory is not the biggest of places – Wiki tells me the population is about 1,000 – but it is the capital of Mull, and the handiest town too for Ardnamurchan. It’s one of only a handful of places on our vast West Highland seaboard with anything like the concentration of services that people need; in short, it’s a big deal in the region.
The council has recently said £1m will be spent on upgrading Mull’s roads, but that won’t change the single-track bit, and that of course raises another question about the island: why is Mull part of a local authority area, Argyll and Bute, that includes Campbeltown, Bute, and Helensburgh, and whose HQ is in Lochgilphead?
One can only assume that the remote powers that be have no real idea what it’s like to have a major town with the only access by single-track road, and the extra time and trouble that gives to everyone on the island .
I know road-building is not usually an environmentally-friendly solution to problems, and avoiding it where there are alternatives is fine, but there are no alternatives here.
Mull folk will know all about this and probably roll their eyes at my presumption in mentioning the matter, but sometimes an outsider’s view is helpful. I think single-track roads are fine in many places, and are maybe even a good way at times of slowing us down and making us see what’s around us. But in this case it feels like a throwback to the 1960s, when I first came to the Highlands and two lanes seemed like luxury. Surely someone can sort this out?