Great Places to Stay
- Western Isles Hotel, Tobermory, Mull

Western Isles Hotel

The Location
The Western Isles Hotel enjoys pride of place overlooking Tobermory, the principal town of the island of Mull in the Inner Hebrides. It has the solidity of the Scottish Baronial style which was popular in the latter half of the 19th Century, when the hotel was built.

History of the Hotel
The hotel was built in 1883 by Mr. Theophilus Caldwell Sandeman who was 21 years of age at that time. Between 1889 and 1901 it was operated by David MacBrayne Ltd which later became Caledonian MacBrayne.

During World War Two the hotel was turned over to the Navy under the command of Sir Gilbert Stephenson KBE, CB, CMG, - 'The Terror of Tobermory.' The plaque in reception is dedicated to the 200,000 men who were trained on Mull whose task was to protect convoys from Hitler's U-Boats in the North Atlantic and Arctic.

The hotel was purchased by Richard Nealon and Esplin Chapman in September 2008 and is under their personal management.

Sadly many of these hotels gradually succumbed to the passage of time and it is rather wonderful that the Western Isles Hotel's current owners, a pair of talented hoteliers, have taken up the gauntlet and started the restoration of this imposing 26 bedroom hotel. This work is still in hand, and the owners freely admit that it will take some time before all the rooms are brought up to the standard of the best.

A Warm Welcome
From the moment you enter this three star hotel you get a good feeling. The log fire in the hall reassured us as we took shelter from the brisk Mull rain. Our room with its commanding views of the bay lifted the spirits immediately. The room was spacious, warm and comfortable and soon we were taking advantage of the elevated seating area and being captivated by the outlook onto the bay with its flotilla of boats.

It is always reassuring when the details are right. Our coffee on arrival was excellent and it was accompanied with shortbread that was probably the best that we have ever had. In our room the soap was of good quality as were the tea and coffee from a top Edinburgh producer. The booklet with information for guests had been produced with great care and told the reader a lot about the hotel and the multitude of things to see on the island.

We visited in early October and I suppose I was a bit worried that Mull in the off season might be a bit of a solitary experience. In fact the Western Isles Hotel had a good mixture of guests who all looked as if they were enjoying the various aspects of this rather unusual and charming hotel.

Dining at Western Isles Hotel
We chose the table d'hôte menu served in the dining room. We could have elected to eat in the Conservatory which has a slightly less formal atmosphere and its own distinct menu.

The food was uniformly excellent. For dinner I chose a starter of Loch Fyne smoked mackerel with horseradish cream and small pieces of roast beetroot. I relished the combination of flavours. This was followed by roast duck with duchesse potatoes. My wife's starter of spinach roulade was delectable, as was the main course of roast lamb accompanied by sundried tomato couscous and balsamic roast vegetables.

The couple at the next table were similarly impressed with their meal. Once again, the hotel came up trumps with the small touches. A jug of iced water was already on the table - it always surprises me how a request for water seems to stump some otherwise competent waiting staff.

The water was fine but the bread was to die for. We were informed that the chef baked a fresh batch each day. It was truly delicious, as were our desserts. My pear tart with hot fudge sauce was full of taste but so light as to prove to be a worthy end to a delicious meal. My wife elected for the raspberry mousse and that too was spot-on.

A Feeling of Well-being

We had our coffee in the lounge which was a delightful cosy room complete with a blazing log fire. The other diners were contently chatting, dozing or leafing through the collection of magazines and books which are available for guests. There was a great feeling of well-being which is quite rare in modern hotels, with their minimalist décor and nouvelle cuisine food which might look good but leaves diners fantasising about a sustaining plate of fish and chips.


The hotel does not have any passing trade at all. You have to make a conscious decision to get onto the island and make your way up a brae to the hotel which is almost perched above the lifeboat station.

This means that the guests are a relatively sophisticated group who have researched a number of options and have gone off the beaten track. They are well rewarded. This hotel is special. It is not like the normal contemporary hotel you would get in a city centre. There are a lot of references to a bygone age but the standards of comfort and quality are what you would expect from such clearly competent hoteliers. This hotel offers its guests a unique experience and I hope that we can return sooner rather than later.

More Information
For more information on the Western Isles Hotel or to make a reservation, see their well illustrated Web Site.

October 2011

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