Britain

An A-Z Journey Around Britain

31 Mull

 Tobermory, Isle of Mull

Mull has live music, bands and a swimming pool. The population is 2700. The pool provides a refreshing swim and exists as a monument to the fundraising skills of the locals. Every April the island has a music festival and bands perform at its pubs and hotels. There is a police station on the island. Its one telephone number is often on divert to Oban on the mainland, so managing a music festival in Mull must take as much effort as building a swimming pool. Telephone maintenance provokes bitterness in Mull. It took money hungry BT Telecommunications nineteen days to repair the line that was used by the local GP.

If life continues, the population changes. Although there are more expensive properties, pleasant detached houses can be bought on Mull for less than £200,000. The financial logic for commercial properties is odd, so at the moment a 28 bedroom hotel in the island capital, Tobermory, is available for £700,000. Those in the UK or on the European mainland who have nest eggs or run independent on-line businesses are attracted to Mull. Some of the immigrants have been affluent and half-hearted hippies. The more bitter locals have mentioned ethnic cleansing. This is an exaggeration but Mull is now both traditional and, compared to previous social and economic rigour, multi-cultural.

The tourist industry describes Mull as a walkers’ paradise. Dedicated walkers with any sense, though, will choose other Scottish locations. Glorious landscape can be seen on Mull but tramping it is another matter. The mountain Ben More is the exception. It can be climbed from Dhiseig without hindrance or trouble. Other islands can be seen from the peak, and the rocky narrow ridges provide pleasure for the confident and ambitious.

The 40 minute ferry from Oban visits Mull every two hours. The Lochaline ferry is cheaper and avoids busy Oban. Driving around Mull on mainly single track roads is a pleasure, and the beaches are empty and glorious albeit often damp, windy and chilly. Birds of prey, including white eagles, can be seen flying around the cliffs. Because it has a coastline and lochs, Mull has seawater and freshwater fishing. Tired fishermen can visit the pubs of Tobermory. The beer is great. Food ranges from the decent to the pretentious.

header-beaches-31

Ferries also connect Mull to the islands of Iona and Ulva. Iona has been described as the cradle of Scottish Christianity. In 563 AD, Columba travelled the short distance between Ireland and Scotland. Much later Frankenstein did the reverse journey. With twelve companions Columba established an influential monastery. Iona is three miles across and the island can be investigated on foot in a day without much effort. Samuel Johnson said, ‘The man is little to be envied … whose piety would not grow warmer amid the ruins of Iona.’ No one should argue with the ambition of the Iona Community, ‘peace, social justice, rebuilding of community and religious worship’. Their website is slick and impressive.

The island Ulva is owned by the Howard family. The population was once 600 but is now sixteen. An island owned by just one family may deter some but at least access is not denied, and calm and balance are maintained. Visitors soon forget modernity and the trivia of civilisation.

Next week, Cheshire affluence and dreams, Nantwich

Howard Jackson has had four books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His latest book and compilation of horror stories is called Nightmares Ahead. Published by Red Rattle Books and praised by critics, it is available here.

If you want to read more about his travels click here.

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An A-Z Journey Around Britain

27 Leeds

 retina_Leeds-14

I was once invited into the dressing room of Leeds United Football Club. Howard Wilkinson was the manager. He was not present. I stared at a diagram behind the head of the man who was talking and saw two long arcs of blue ink meet a cross near the top of a whiteboard.   Howard Wilkinson left Leeds United and became the technical director of English football.   Moments, such as when I stood in front of that whiteboard, can make a man bitter.

Leeds, though, should not be judged on the basis of crude long ball football tactics. The high status West Yorkshire Playhouse has managed to combine success and an uncompromising repertory. It also does fine work for the community. The University is successful and prosperous. It has a good central location and its architecture has helped the City retain a gothic style that has been lost in other English cities. The splendour is not consistent because of the investment in office blocks for the 25% of the population that work in finance. Trendy shops have followed. So parts of Leeds are dreary but these can be avoided. All it takes is a short walk.

65% of Leeds District is green belt, and the City is twenty miles from the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The Leeds Country Way is a circular 62 mile walk, and no point on the walk is further than seven miles from the City.

Kirkstall Abbey, Yorkshire 1797 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/TW0076

Kirkstall Abbey, Yorkshire 1797 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 The Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/TW0076

Also near is Kirkstall Abbey, which was built at the end of the 12th Century and housed Cistercian monks. The Abbey was painted by Turner. The Abbey cannot be criticised for failing to redeem a dull Harry Potter film. The ruins of the Abbey are close to the River Aire and near Headingley, so Rugby League and cricket fans might be tempted to visit. Leeds Rhinos, the Rugby League Club, is as successful as the football team is a failure.   Leeds is the third biggest city in the UK but, because of mistakes by football entrepreneurs rather than the dim wits of Howard Wilkinson, Rugby League remains popular in the City.

50% of the UK manufacturing industry is within a two hour drive of the City. While Liverpool suffered under Thatcher, Leeds made economic progress. It may or may not be an irony that the Headquarters of what used to be the Benefits Agency was located in Leeds. The building has a brutal matchbox style and has been nicknamed The Kremlin by locals. Elsewhere there is economic relief denied those on benefits. The Victoria Centre is the finest shopping arcade in the North of England. The Victoria Hotel is a pub that was saved from demolition by local activists and it has been acknowledged by the Leeds Civic Trust which said that it had ‘splendid Victorian features’ and that it made ‘a valuable contribution to City life.’ It serves a decent pint, too.

The good news continues. Despite the close presence of the Pennines, Leeds is one of the driest cities in Britain. For rare wet days it has the largest indoor covered market in Britain. There were two cholera outbreaks in the 19th Century but that was a long time ago.

Next week, ‘Scouse not British’, Liverpool

Howard Jackson has had four books published by Red Rattle Books. His 11,000 mile journey around Brazil is described in Innocent Mosquitoes. His latest book and compilation of horror stories is called Nightmares Ahead. Published by Red Rattle Books and praised by critics, it is available here.

If you want to read more about his travels click here.