After a night in Fort William, a ride on The Jacobite and a wonderful couple of nights in Corrour, we were back on the West Highland line (WHL) and a ScotRail service, initially heading south to Crianlarich before changing trains and heading down the WHL’s western branch to Oban.
Known as the ‘Gateway to the Isles’ due to the large number of ferry links from its port, Oban is also the ‘Seafood capital of Scotland’ as so we decided it was well worth a visit whilst we were in Scotland as also chose this as our ‘sea faring’ destination with a boat trip planned.
Our train arrived into Oban’s harbourside railway station, which has great connections for those catching ferries, and was just a five-minute walk from our B&B for the night. Maridon House was a reasonable 3* B&B, just above the railway line with views from the front out over the town and harbour. Unfortunately, our room was at the back, and so we didn’t get those views, but it was fine for our short stay, nonetheless.
After a short break in our room, we decided to go out and have a wander around the harbour on our way to one of Oban’s top sights, McCaig’s Tower. This folly, which sits on Battery Hill overlooking the town, was commissioned by local philanthropist John Stuart McCaig as a lasting monument to his family and work for local stonemasons and was constructed from 1897 until his death in 1902.
Originally McCaig had planned for an elaborate structure based on the Colosseum in Rome and also for a museum, art gallery and central tower containing statues of himself. His death brought an end to construction, with just the outer walls completed and it are these that tower over the town today. From its position on top of Battery Hill there are brilliant views out over the town and harbour towards Kerrera and when we return to Oban we intend to watch the sunset on a summer’s evening from here.
Our initial plans to spend a while watching the dusk from McCaig’s tower were derailed by our last-minute dinner reservation, and so we headed back down the hill to the North Pier and the wonderful restaurant of EE-USK. Whilst the name is pretty unpronounceable to us, it turns out it is Gaelic for fish, which is what the restaurant is famous for.
Given our holiday in May had been cancelled (like many others), we decided to treat this meal as our anniversary meal and so went a bit all out. Starting with a ‘Taster Platter’ which included Salmon & Prawn parcels, Thai Fishcakes and Mussels, we then opted for the Sea Bass and the Seafood Penne which were both cooked to perfection. Finishing with some Bailey’s Bread and Butter Pudding, and possibly one of the densest Chocolate Mousses I had ever tasted, we were extremely content by the time we left the restaurant for the walk back to our hotel.
Our walk around the harbour took a lot longer than on the way to McCaig’s tower earlier as we kept stopping to take photos of both the illuminated tower and the lights around the harbour reflecting in the water. Oban looked beautiful at night and I can only imagine how much more beautiful it would be on a clear summer’s evening without the cloud base.
After a food fuelled good nights sleep, we were up and out of the B&B by 0915, once again with our bags in tow. Whilst our holiday was great for seeing and experiencing so many places, only spending 1 night in most was a bit wearing, especially when carrying a massive hiking rucksack. Fortunately our first destination of the day had agreed to look after our bags for us, and so it was off to a jetty near the North Pier for a boat trip with Argyll Sea Tours.
Despite plenty of planning and checking going into our trip, we were slightly caught out when we arrived at the jetty early to find a sign stating, ‘Cash Only’. Luckily, we had time and so I had a whistle stop tour of some of the town centre sights (War & Peace Museum, Oban Distillery & The Oban Inn) as I searched for a cash machine. Cash in hand, it was back to the jetty where we boarded the Creagallin.
Our boat trip took us out of the harbour and bay to the north, around the Isle of Kerrera and into the Firth of Lorn. At the north end of Kerrera is Hutcheson’s Monument, a landmark for navigators that was erected in 1883 in memory of entrepreneurial ship-owner David Hutcheson who operated ferry services to the islands as D & A Hutcheson, the company which later became current operator Caledonian MacBrayne.
After passing around the tip of Kerrera, we followed the north coast of the island before passing one of the local Salmon sea-farms which produce sustainable Scottish Salmon for consumption across the UK, Europe and the globe. After circuiting the sea-farm we could see the Isles of Mull and Lismore in the distance, marked by Duart Castle and Lismore Lighthouse on either sides of the entrance to Loch Linnie from the Sound of Mull.
Duart Castle is the seat of Clan MacLean, however was probably built by Clan MacDougall in the 13th century before falling into the hands of Clan MacLean the following century. The castle, as with many in the region, has had an eventful history, especially during the turbulent 17th century. To the north of the castle is a Historic Marine Protected Area within which lie the remains of a ship, believed to be HMS Swan, which was lost to a storm in September 1653 whilst laying siege to the castle.
Shortly after seeing the twin landmarks of Duart Castle and Lismore Lighthouse, we approached and circled what is known as Seal Island. From our position on the boat, we were lucky to see a couple of seals diving into the sea as we approached, however seemingly they were shy as we didn’t see them or any other seals whilst around the island.
Heading back towards Oban, we were able to see Dunoille Castle which sits on the mainland opposite the northern tip of Kerrera. Just beyond this castle, in the middle of the mouth of Oban Bay is Maiden Island, supposedly named due to the death of Mhairi, the daughter of a local man, who drowned whilst tied to the island by her hair. This was an attempt by the parents of a Celtic Warrior to prove her purity and suitability for their son. Unfortunately to prove her purity, her hair would have had to hold strong and she’d therefore drown. The Celtic Warrior attempted to swim to the island to save his love, however currents swept him away and both drowned.
The more likely, however less romantic, reasoning behind the name of Maiden Island is that it was used as a refuge for women during time of war. Leaving Maiden Island behind, we approached Oban Harbour and were able to see McCaig’s Tower sitting above the town as we docked back at the jetty. If you’re in Oban, there are plenty of options in terms of boat trips, however we were certainly happy with our 1-hour tour by Argyll Sea Tours and I’d recommend giving them a go. They are based off the jetty opposite the Regent Hotel, so head there during the day to check them out or head to their website.
After the boat tour we had just over an hour to kill before our train back south to Glasgow and, with our bags, decided just to grab a coffee. Trying Turtle Bay Café first we were disappointed that, despite being almost empty, we weren’t allowed a table unless we were purchasing food as well. After walking along the harbour and not seeing anywhere suitable, we opted for the safe bet of Costa to wait for the train.
Although our time in Oban was short (about 21 hours), we thoroughly enjoyed the beautiful town and definitely want to return. At the south end of the Sound of Kerrera there is the Firth of Lorn Special Area of Conservation, which is only beaten by remote St. Kilda for the variety of marine species and so a longer boat trip out to here is a definite must in the future. We’d also like to head across to Mull and so Oban seems the perfect stopping point on this journey. Oban, we’ll see you soon!