Oban Points of Interest
Following on from my Best of Argyll Part 1 blog, here’s me at it again in this fabulous region that keeps on giving. Having covered eastern and central Argyll, it’s time to head to the west coast and pop over to a couple of the closest islands as I take a look at the top Oban points of interest to be found in and around the energetic port town.
There is a bustling charm to Oban that is unmatched in my experience in this country. Catch it on a sunny day and there’s a fabulous atmosphere that’ll appear more continental than Scottish west coast. Immaculate little houses layering their way upwards from the shoreline, the smell of seafood in the air and the sipping of pre-holiday beverages….
Aside from stuffing your face in the numerous eateries (Ee-usk gets my vote more often than not) there is also the excellent and picturesque Oban Distillery and the short walk to Dunollie Castle and Museum. The former is a great and friendly tour of one of our smaller distilleries that the town was built around. Hugely popular and with a dram that sneaks in sweetness, saltiness and a hint of peat, it’s well worth a taster. The latter, meanwhile, is a nice place to peacefully pass the time and the castle ruin is particularly romantic. With commanding views over Oban Bay, it’s more of a lookout tower than fortress but can be seen for miles, standing guard over the town. The neighbouring museum – seat of the Clan MacDougall – is a lasting education in the ancient Kingdom of Dalriada and is a good wet-weather activity.
Speaking of great views, it’s hard to top those from the distinctive structure of McCaig’s Tower. Overlooking the town centre, the surprisingly complex (think zig zags) and steep walk up is rewarded by a Roman-esque Colosseum that will have you scratching your head – but it’s got folk talking since 1890 so we’ll not complain shall we.
For those with no experience of the Scottish isles, Kerrera is a superb starting point. Less than a 5 minute ferry crossing from the mainland just south of Oban, there’s no excuse for missing this wee beauty that shows off the raw, natural appeal of our west coast.
There are two principal walking routes on Kerrera – the north and south – and, with a castle ruin in the south it’ll surprise no-one that my vote is for the latter. Gylen Castle is that classic coastal collection of rocks that gets historians and hopeless romantics into a frenzy. Reminding me of Dunskey Castle in Dumfries and Galloway, there’s very little to it despite its powerful presence. Opportunistically sited overlooking the Firth of Lorne and with ridiculous views back to the mainland and other outlying islands and islets, it’s no wonder that it generates such interest for history hunters. Traditionally a MacDougall stronghold, it was besieged and left in ruin by the Covenanters in the 17th Century. Near-impregnable (it was water shortage rather than military defeat that caused the 1647 MacDougall surrender), the dramatic cliffs on either side make for the perfect image.
You catch the ferry from Gallanach – it costs £4.50 for a return foot passenger ticket and you can see the rough ferry times here. On landing in Kerrera, swing left and follow the coast to get to the castle. There is next to nothing man-made on Kerrera (with a population in the dozens) but a welcome stop at the Kerrera Tea Garden and Bunkhouse is a great idea. Follow the signs (and teapots) along the way and replenish. It’s surprisingly easy to mess up lentil soup but these guys have it down to a tee.
When you have finished up at the castle you can return the same way or swing into a circular route by heading north-west and joining up with the west-facing coastline. I very much encourage the latter if time permits where you’ll enjoy fabulous views over to Mull and Lismore. A beautiful and fairly easy-going walk, it eventually snakes inland before ending up back at the ferry. Allow at least 3 hours if you fancy the whole circular route as you’ll want to spend some time stopping along the way.
Isle of Seil
Heading further south still from Oban, the Isle of Seil is one of the islands visible from Kerrera and another interesting little stopping point. Connected to the mainland by the picturesque ‘Bridge over the Atlantic’, it is considerably more populated than Kerrera making it a different kind of island experience. Its accessibility makes it understandably popular with travellers looking to explore the top Oban points of interest in the wider area.
Once over the bridge, the obvious place to head is pretty Ellenabeich on the western side of the island. Well-known for its dainty whitewashed houses, it is surrounded by sheer cliffs and with immediate access to the water. Which, you guessed it, means seafood again. Drop by the Oyster Bar and get in about the fresh langoustine. If island-bagging is your thing, you can continue to Easdale Island and Isle of Luing, with short ferry trips from Ellenabeich.
Going way off in the opposite direction, the drive north of Oban is a beauty – dramatic coastline views will have you yearning to stop repeatedly. Pick of the stops is the picture-perfect Castle Stalker, another high ranker in the looks department. While boat tours do run occasionally, it’s the views from the shoreline that have put it on the map and you’ll be wanting your camera to hand. But, despite its notoriety in the photography world, you’ll very likely have the place to yourself. Whether facing radiant sunshine or the classic moody backdrop, I can all but guarantee a workout for your sense of imagination. Even if it’s just an amused reflection on its role in Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
You’ll find the 15th Century castle on a little islet to the north of Port Appin and, although not signed, you can get down to the waterline for the best views. Chances are your first sighting of the castle will be from the road when it suddenly screams into view and has you hooked from the start.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my latest installment of Argyll’s best. You can pick out these picks from around Oban as well as my other nearby favourites in the map below. Later in the summer I’ll also be adding my top picks from the Kintyre Peninsula so stay tuned.
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