Neal and Hilary Goldsmith are the General Managers of the Isle of Mull Hotel and Spa. Hugely popular with 5pm customers, it sits on the crescent shaped Craignure Bay. We went to visit them on Mull and chatted to Neal about island life; otters, the local produce and, rather more unexpectedly, Michael Caine.
5pm: What do you enjoy most about your job?
NG: First, it is the satisfaction of the guests; being able to talk to them; understand them and have a laugh with them.
Secondly, reaching goals that you set in this job can be very satisfying. They might be goals to do with budgets or other objectives.
There are also responsibilities. I’m responsible for the health and safety of everyone in this building and there might be 100+ people staying on any given night. I’m also responsible for a team of thirty or forty employees: their livelihood, their jobs, everything. You have to have a good team around you and I have that.
5pm: Why do you think 5pm customers love your hotel?
NG: Judging from the bookings, a lot of our 5pm customers are from cities, towns and urban areas. We don’t get many bookings from, say, people living around Loch Lomond. I think they are people who want to get out into the country, into the Highlands and Islands. I am amazed at the number of people who live in Glasgow or on that side of Scotland who have never ventured into the Highlands and the Islands. I think it becomes an adventure.
5pm: Does the island location make a difference?****
NG: Yes, I think that the ferry ride differentiates us from hotels on the mainland. It becomes part of the holiday. When you get on the ferry, you are leaving all your troubles behind. As soon as the ship pulls out, you see Oban and then you pass Kerrera. Then, as you are coming up the Sound of Mull, you see Lismore lighthouse and Duart Castle, you think it’s a different world.
5pm: What would you say are the three best things about the hotel?
NG: If I could only have three, they would be food, location and team but there aren’t just three, there are hundreds of great things from the views to the food to leisure facilities to my team. That variety is part of the attraction.
5pm: Tell us about the local produce used at the hotel?
NG: We buy locally as much as we can. The only thing we can’t buy locally is vegetables and that is purely because the ground is so wet. It is important that we use local produce. It’s important for the island economy. Plus visitors to Mull want to experience everything from Mull and local produce is part of that.
We like to buy local produce and tell people about this on our menus. Customers like to come here, have a Lochbuie steak burger and then know they can go and buy a Lochbuie steak burger from a local shop to take home.
When I first got here I looked at what the Taste of Arran scheme was doing on that island. I thought we could do it better so I went out in the car with the Head Chef and visited lots of local suppliers and producers.
We went to Tobermory Fish company; Inverlussa mussels and langoustines; Glengorm Castle – which is where the beef is done; Isle of Mull Cheese and so on and so forth. Our scallops are Isle of Mull Scallops. This year, I found an oyster supplier on the other side of the island.
A lot of the langoustines caught here go straight off to Spain. What we do is go down to the boat at 5am, hand-pick the ones we want and put them on ice. You can’t get fresher.
5pm: Do you have a personal favourite?
NG: Mussels. I can sit and eat mussels all night. It’s simple and I like simple food. There are lots of things on the menu that are lovely – the lamb is lovely as is the venison. It’s difficult as all the dishes are nice but, if you asked for my favourite, it’s mussels or lobster.
5pm: If I was a 5pm customer coming for the first time, what would you suggest I do and see?
NG: Mull is famous for its wildlife. We have lots of eagles and buzzards. You can go looking at seals, puffins. There are otters all round the island. You see dolphins. Last year, we had two whales come over.
There are lots of different walks which take you uphill, downhill, across glens. There are flat walks for people who don’t do walking. There are hard walks, like Ben Mor, for people who are avid walkers.
With regard to attractions, you have Duart Castle, the family seat of Clan Maclean. Sir Lachlan Maclean is a great guy. If you are walking and this banged up old Volvo pulls up next to you and someone says, ‘Are you going to the castle? Hop in.’ Then that’s him.
We have Tobermory, famous for the Balamory children’s show. People also recognise the town because of the VisitScotland advert with the plane flying over it. There are tours go out on boats to all sorts of different places from Tobermory harbour.
Calgary is a massive sandy bay and a very beautiful place. Then you have the isles of Ulva and Gometra. You can go over to Ulva and spend the day over there. Of course, there is Iona, which I believe is one of the top five visited attractions in Scotland.
At the bottom of Mull, you have an island at the bottom called Erraid. Part of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped is set on Erraid and Michael Caine filmed part of a film there in the 1970s.
There is plenty to do whether you are an older couple and want to come bird watching or just go for a stroll. If you are a young family, there is walking, castles and trails. If you are a couple and looking for a romantic break then there are plenty of places where you can watch the sun go down.
5pm: Do most leisure travellers come for two nights?
If you want to look at the other side of the island, there is a bus service, but it is designed for people living out there, so you would need to bring your car.
Mull is a beautiful place and there is an awful lot to do here. If you don’t bring a car over on the ferry but want to see all of the island then it pays to do some research into bus timetables.