An Tobar is an arts centre, a gallery and a café serving the islands of Mull and Iona. It is prominently located in the upper part of Tobermory in a Victorian school building. The name means "The Well" and the centre offers a programme of cultural events throughout the year.
As well as its range of live music events, gallery exhibitions, ceilidh evenings, music and dance classes, An Tobar also provides a café offering a daily-changing menu of fresh soups, light lunches and home baking, plus a range of speciality teas and coffees. Here, too, you will find a shop stocking arts and crafts by local artists, music and craft gifts, handmade jewellery and textiles, and a wide range of Scottish music CDs. Meanwhile the location ensures that visitors benefit from stunning views over Tobermory Bay.
You can find roadsigns in Tobermory pointing the way to An Tobar, but when we visited they were discontinuous, so trying to follow them may not be the best way of finding the centre. Instead it is simply enough to know that it stands in the upper part of the village close to the most prominent church. The best way to reach it is on foot from the harbourside up Post Office Brae, the path that leads between the old post office and the Co-op supermarket on Main Street.
This is a steep walk, so an alternative is by car up Back Brae which starts near the south-east end of Tobermory's Main Street, and goes diagonally up the hillside above.
The school whose buildings are now occupied by An Tobar was vacated by its pupils in 1976. The idea of bringing it back into community use was first discussed in 1993, and, after An Tobar became the first arts project in Scotland to receive funding from the National Lottery, restoration and conversion work began in 1995.
More than a decade on, the quality of the conversion is obvious to anyone who visits An Tobar today. Work was overseen by architect John Renshaw and carried out by local contractors Norman MacDonald Ltd. As an interesting twist, many of those who worked on the conversion had once been pupils at the school.
The space that greets visitors on entering An Tobar is the very welcoming, multi-purpose café, gallery, shop and lounge. Additional areas include two galleries showing a changing programme of contemporary visual arts and crafts, plus a performance room, in which live music and theatre events take place.