WITH its colourful backdrop and stunning natural harbour, arriving in Tobermory always makes your heart swell.

In the summer, Mull’s capital buzzes with visitors from all over the world keen to soak up the scenery, history, culture and wildlife of this magical Hebridean island and its 300 miles of coastline.

Even in winter, however, there is much to see, do and eat in this charming town, which has earned a special place in popular culture. What’s the story? Read on.

Historical highlights

Though the surrounding area has been farmed for at least 3,000 years, Tobermory itself – which means Tobar Mhoire or “Mary’s well” in Gaelic - was established in 1788 by the British Fisheries Society as a herring port.

Kelp was an early boom industry (for processing into soap and glass), but tourism took over in the 19th century following visits by the German composer Felix Mendelssohn in 1829 on his way to Staffa, and Queen Victoria in 1847.

During World War Two, the town was home to the Royal Navy training base HMS Western Isles.

Tobermory is a place that fires the imagination. Alistair MacLean’s novel When Eight Bells Toll was based in the town, while much of the 1971 movie was filmed here and in the surrounding area, as was the 1945 Powell and Pressburger film I Know Where I’m Going!

Tobermory even has a Womble named after it, and in the early 2000s it gained a new legion of young fans – and visitors - when it stood in for fictional Balamory in the much-loved BBC children’s programme.

What to do

It may be small, but the Mull Museum (mullmuseum.org.uk) on Main Street offers a comprehensive and insightful history of the island and its people through a wealth of objects, photographs and written accounts.

At the far end of the bay sits the Aquarium (mullaquarium.co.uk), whose unique “catch and release” policy means the sea creatures here are only on display for a few weeks before being released back into the wild. Currently closed for the season, due to re-open at Easter.

Just along the road is the excellent Tobermory Distillery (tobermorydistillery.com), one of the oldest in Scotland established 1798), which produces two distinct single malt whiskies. The tour is informative, fun and excellent value – and yes, you get to enjoy a generous dram at the end.

While strolling along the waterfront, pop into the Hebridean Whale and Dolphin Trust (hwdt.org, open Tuesdays and Thursdays during winter, every day in summer), where you’ll find an incomparable mine of information about the sea mammals that live in waters around the island. The charity has been researching, conserving and monitoring whales, dolphins and porpoises up and down the west coast for 25 years, and offers a range of opportunities for visitors to get involved, from boat trips, educational visits and scientific placements to the mobile app.

If sailing is your thing, you’ll want to come back in the last week of July for the West Highland Yachting week (whyw.co.uk).

There’s a thriving and diverse cultural scene in the town, too, much of it based around An Tobar, Tobermory’s creative hub, a five minute walk up the hill from Main Street, run by community arts collective Comar (comar.co.uk). With its array of workshops, studios, performance spaces and galleries, there’s always something to see, from theatre and comedy, music to visual art. The current exhibition features works by artists who found their materials. There’s also a great café.

Music fans won’t want to miss Mull Music Festival (mull.co), the annual weekend shindig that starts on 25 April next year and features a maelstrom of folk, fiddle, accordion, dance and ceilidh bands playing in hotels and bars around the town. The events aren’t ticketed but they are massively popular, so be sure to plan ahead. If you prefer classical music, the intimate Mendlessohn on Mull festival takes place in early July.

Tobermory has some of the loveliest and most accessible island walks in Scotland. My own favourite is the 5.5km circuit through woods to the picturesque Rubha nan Gall – “Stanger’s Point” - lighthouse, built in 1857 by David Stevenson.

Those looking for a whole day of sightseeing, nature-spotting adventures, meanwhile, will want to opt for one of the many bus, boat or bike tours that operate all year round. Go to visitmullandiona.co.uk for more information.

Where to Eat

With its stunning views across the harbour and excellent seafood, it’s no wonder the prince of Wales gave his personal seal of approval to the Fisherman’s Pier Van on Main Street. Alan Simpson is also a big fan. “Think fish vans and greasy fayre normally springs to mind," he says. "But this one, situated on the waterfront, bucks the trend due to its locally-caught produce landed at the harbour directly behind, including cooked-to-order fresh scallops."

If the weather means you’d rather be inside, the Hebridean Lodge restaurant, gallery and shop (hebrideanlodge.co.uk) also serves up beautiful local produce, complete with open fire to sit around and a welcome that's just as warm. The local Inverlussa mussels, cooked in cider, cream and bacon, are simply sublime.

The Mishnish Seafood Restaurant and Oyster Bar (themishnish.co.uk), meanwhile, has an unbeatable offering of fish and shellfish, from crab claws to scallops, lobster to langoustine. The delicious Cullen skink is a hearty meal in itself.

Pink-painted Tobermory Bakery, meanwhile, on Main Street, has a dazzling array of breads, cakes and sweet treats, and runs a schedule of fun events, including waffle nights and gingerbread house decorating.

Where to Shop

The Picture Gallery, also on Main Street, has a lovely selection of landscape paintings by the Mull-based artist Ronnie Leckie, as well as smaller gifts.

Indeed, Tobermory has a quite exceptional array of gift shops - Island Blue, Isle of Mill Leather and the Isle of Mull Soap Co among them - stocking quirky, locally-made crafts and products.

For last minute Christmas shopping, the Tobermory Producer’s Market is having a Christmas fayre on 22 December at Aros Hall from 12 -2pm.

And if you’re looking to take tasty treats home with you, Tobermory Fish Company (tobermoryfish.co.uk) smokes its own salmon and trout, while cheese aficionados will want to make the trip to Sgriob-ruadh Farm to stock up on artisan Isle of Mull cheese.

Where to Stay

Sea view: With its cute boutique stylings and waterfront location, the Tobermory Hotel (an inn since 1869) makes for the perfect base to explore the town. Rooms from £80 a night.

Cheap and cheerful: Those with Scottish Youth Hostel membership will want to take advantage of this excellent 3-star hostel overlooking the harbour. Private, shared and family rooms available. Go to hostellingscotland.org.uk to book.

Quirky: The lighthouse keeper’s cottage at the aforementioned Rubha nan Gall has a beautiful and dramatic location. The self-catering accommodation itself is luxurious and cosy, and sleeps six. From £158 per night. See Airbnb.co.uk

What to do nearby

Arguably one of the best beaches in Scotland, Calgary Bay’s stunning white sands and aquamarine waters never fail to impress. The views over to Coll and Tiree aren’t bad either.

The ancient stone circle at Lochbuie an hour and 15 minutes south of Tobermory, takes centre stage in a natural amphitheatre created by the hills all around.

MacKinnon’s Cave is the deepest sea cave in the Hebrides and the folklore which surrounds it runs just mysterious – and spooky. Around 50 minutes’ drive from the town.

There’s no better Munro to bag anywhere in Scotland than mighty Ben More, which lies at the centre of Mull, with an elevation of 3,169 ft.

Get the short ferry from Fionnphort, in the south of Mull, to beautiful, sacred, spiritual Iona, centre of Gaelic monasticism for three hundred years.

In the coming weeks I'll be visiting Aberfeldy and rounding up the best Christmas Day walks. Got any recommendations? Email them to me at marianne.taylor@heraldandtimes.co.uk