A Festival Over the Water

  07 Nov '22   |  Posted by: Birlinn

In the last days of October, we enjoyed the Tobermory Book Festival, ‘West over Sea’. The third outing for this superb small festival put the Scottish island of Mull firmly on the literary map as an ‘island book capital’. It takes some determination to get there mind you. The ferry operators seem to do their best to put visitors off. But get there we did. As did Birlinn authors Les Wilson, Ghillie Bhasan, Patrick Laurie and Andrew Painting, Sally MacColl, Ian Bradley, Diana Ambache and Nigel Leask (to be fair, I should point out that our own Hugh Andrew is one of the founders of the festival). And the audiences attending were engaged, interested, joyful – with the venues full-to-bursting.

In addition to Birlinn authors, Sally Magnusson, Dr Timothy Ashby, Ailidh Forlan, Martin Jones, Kirsty Scobie and Fenella Renwick of the Ullapool Seafood Shack and Liz Gibson of Mull Matcha tea, all took part. We ate particularly well over a weekend in which we heard of the extraordinary power of a seafood shack which sells only the freshest of local seafood to more than 600 people a day. The indefatigable Sally MacColl spoke about the work that she and her mother put in daily to make the Tobermory Fish Company the powerful business that it is today (simply – don’t look further for smoked Trout) before treating us to a lunch of their produce. We tasted tea grown on Mull as Les Wilson told the story of the Scots who made our national drink (and then, as the event drew to a close, sampled a much sought-after gin laced with just a touch of Mull tea from the Tobermory Distillery). Sally Magnusson delighted those attending a literary dinner as she told of her connections to the island and read from her novels.

Learn more about the award-winning Ullapool Seafood Shack here. And read about the Tobermory Gin, infused with Mull Tea.

Explore the Tobermory Fish Company right here.


Ghillie Basan spoke with passion at the Tobermory West over Sea festival, highlighting the importance of local foods and the best suppliers in the Highlands. Her A Taste of The Highlands is THE book to get your hands on if you are looking to source the finest Scottish food and drink for your table. At the risk of sounding like a lush in this post, try the Pixel Spirits ‘Devil’s Staircase’ Gin.

Patrick Laurie, author of Native: Life in a Vanishing Landscape, and Andrew Painting, author of Regeneration: The Rescue of a Wild Land, found that they were exploring similar problems from different view points and had more in common in their fight against the loss of native wildlife and abuse of the land than might first have been apparent. Both knowledgable and experienced and fuelled by a love for Scotland and her wild places: Patrick Laurie is setting down an important marker in the fight against the loss of traditional farming, and the local wildlife in Galloway in Southern Scotland; Andrew works at Marr Lodge in the Cairngorms where staff and volunteers have spent 25 years rescuing the pinewoods, bogs, moors and mountains are returning to their former glory. Set up for an argument the two supported each other’s approach to an issue that impacts on every one of us.

Diana Ambache stirred her morning audience with music from Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn. Listening to Diana’s impassioned outline of the battle that Fanny would have had to get her music published or played, the audience could look out on the bay as the rain lashed the windows of the wonderful Western Isles Hotel, where the staff looked after the writers, the readers, the organisers exceptionally well.

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