Let’s go to Oban

The Herald on Sunday - Sunday Herald Life - - Front Page -

THOUGH its name means “lit­tle bay” in Gaelic, Oban’s glo­ri­ous, cres­cent-shaped shore­line is ex­pan­sive. The West High­land town has long been a place to pass through, ei­ther by ferry or train, on the way to some­where else. But those who take the time to stop and ex­plore the “gate­way to the isles” are re­warded with a raft of cul­tural, culi­nary and scenic de­lights.

In­deed, just about ev­ery cor­ner you turn seems to re­veal yet an­other stun­ning vista, whether across to the is­lands of Ker­rera and Mull, or the brood­ing Mor­ven Hills be­yond. En­joyed with the ex­cep­tional lo­cal seafood, these views be­come all the love­lier.

It’s hard to ap­pre­ci­ate just how fresh the seafood here is un­til you’ve taken a walk down to the har­bour and watched the catch be­ing de­liv­ered some of it still alive – to the stalls and restau­rants that pop­u­late the area

His­toric high­lights

Ar­chae­ol­o­gists be­lieve peo­ple have been liv­ing in the Oban area since at least 4000BC.

Al­ways a fish­ing port, the mod­ern town grew up around the dis­tillery, which was founded in 1794. Sir Wal­ter Scott vis­ited in 1814, the year he pub­lished his pop­u­lar Lord of the Isles poem, which raised the pro­file of the town and at­tracted the first tourists. The rail­way was opened in 1880, bring­ing pros­per­ity and more visi­tors.

Dur­ing the Sec­ond World War, Oban was a ma­jor base for naval and mer­chant ships in the Bat­tle of the At­lantic. The town, which has a pop­u­la­tion of 8,500, is a home to the Mod, the an­nual cel­e­bra­tion of Gaelic cul­ture and tra­di­tion first held in 1891.

More re­cently it has been the back­drop to movies in­clud­ing Eye of the Nee­dle and Morvern Cal­lar.

What to do

It takes a full day – at least – to get around Oban on foot, even more if you stop to fully ex­plore the his­toric sites and in­ter­est­ing architecture that abound. The War and Peace Mu­seum in the old Oban Times build­ing on the Cor­ran Es­planade is a must. Though small and run by vol­un­teers, it of­fers an ex­cel­lent in­sight into the life and his­tory of the town – the sec­tion on 1939-45 is par­tic­u­larly fas­ci­nat­ing – and is packed with ex­hibits and pho­to­graphs. Open un­til 24 Novem­ber, ad­mis­sion free.

Valen­tine Boyling rec­om­mends stop­ping by the afore­men­tioned Oban Dis­tillery, one of Scot­land’s old­est, just min­utes from the North Pier ferry ter­mi­nal.

“The rave re­views are spot on,” he says. “A cou­ple of drams and a glass to take away are in­cluded in the ad­mis­sion price.”

An­other must is McCaig’s Tower – known lo­cally as The Folly – the dra­matic cir­cu­lar gran­ite struc­ture that dom­i­nates Bat­tery Hill above the town. Built by banker and phi­lan­thropist John Stu­art McCaig to com­mem­o­rate his fam­ily and pro­vide work for lo­cal stone­ma­sons, it has a cir­cum­fer­ence of 200m and is com­prised of 94 arches. The walk up is pretty steep but the views are well worth the ef­fort.

The es­planade be­low has some in­ter­est­ing 20th cen­tury architecture, mean­while, not least St Columba’s Cathe­dral, de­signed in the 1950s by Giles Gil­bert Scott, and the art deco Re­gent Ho­tel.

If the weather per­mits, a trip out on to the wa­ter al­lows you to see things from a dif­fer­ent point of view. Etive boat trips (etive­boat­ of­fers a range of dif­fer­ent ex­cur­sions around Ker­rera, Lis­more and Loch Etive. There’s ev­ery chance you’ll spot seals, though keep your fin­gers crossed and red deer, ot­ters and golden eagles might also put in an ap­pear­ance. Oban has a busy sched­ule of fes­ti­vals and cul­tural events run­ning through the year. The 10-day Win­ter Fes­ti­val, which starts on 16 Novem­ber, fea­tures pa­rades, live mu­sic, ex­hi­bi­tions and mar­kets. And if you’re af­ter a good ceilidh, Hog­manay could be the per­fect time to visit.

In spring­time, the High­lands and Is­lands Mu­sic and Dance Fes­ti­val draws more than a thou­sand mu­si­cians and dancers from across Scot­land to com­pete in an ar­ray of tra­di­tional dis­ci­plines.

Where to eat

It’s hard to ap­pre­ci­ate just how fresh the seafood here is un­til you’ve taken a walk down to the har­bour and watched the catch be­ing de­liv­ered - some of it still alive – to the stalls and restau­rants that pop­u­late the area.

Though known as the Seafood Cap­i­tal of Scot­land, there are surely few places in the UK – or in­deed Europe - where you can eat lob­ster, lan­gous­tine, crab, mus­sels and scal­lops this fresh.

The Seafood Hut at the Calmac Pier – also known as the Green Shack – is an in­sti­tu­tion that at­tracts shell­fish afi­ciona­dos from all over the world. Be pre­pared to stand and eat with a pa­per plate but few mind when the food is this good. If you pre­fer to sit down, try Ee-usk ( di­rectly across the way. The dressed crab is sen­sa­tional, the hal­ibut served with creamed leaks sim­ple, el­e­gant and de­li­cious. There’s also a great lunch/early evening menu deal that serves three cour­ses for £16.

The nearby Water­front Fishouse (wa­ter­front­ Restau­rant also has an ex­cel­lent menu, with high­lights in­clud­ing the seafood chow­der and scal­lops seared in le­mon but­ter. Those who don’t like seafood – and that’s a hard con­cept to mas­ter in this town – will be tempted by the ex­cel­lent veni­son burg­ers or steaks.

If it’s a good fish sup­per you’re af­ter, Ge­orge Street is def­i­nitely the place to be. Gor­don Ram­say is a cus­tomer at Nories, while neigh­bour­ing Ge­orge Street Fish Restau­rant and Chip Shop also has a le­gion of loyal fans. Valen­tine Boyling rec­om­mends the Oban

Fish and Chip Shop and Restau­rant

(oban­fis­hand­chip­ on the same street. “It’s a well-es­tab­lished/ fam­ily-owned place with great daily spe­cials,” he says. “Rick Stein has vis­ited and granted his seal of ap­proval. And there’s no cork­age charge if you take in your own beer or wine. A true gem of a place.”

If you’re look­ing for some­thing sweet, Oban Cho­co­late Com­pany (oban­choco­, on Cor­ran Es­planade serves the best waf­fles in town, ac­com­pa­nied by views across the bay and the most won­der­ful aroma as the choco­latiers work away in the back­ground.

Where to shop

The Jetty Gallery on Ge­orge Street (the­jet­ty­ has a fine se­lec­tion of paint­ing and sculp­ture from es­tab­lished and emerg­ing artists.

Nearby Mai­son Chic (maisonchicoban), of­fers cloth­ing, gifts, and quirky home­ware. Oban Whisky and Fine Wines (whisky­fix. com), on Stafford Street, not only boasts knowl­edge­able, friendly staff and a wide ar­ray of sin­gle malts, but the open fire is a real treat on chilly days. Speak­ing of which, Out­side Edge (out­sideed­geoban. com), at MacGre­gor Court, may come in use­ful if you find your­self in need of some good out­door and wa­ter­proof cloth­ing.

Made in Ar­gyll (madeinar­, mean­while, on the water­front next to the rail­way sta­tion, is run by lo­cal crafts­peo­ple and stocks work by 32 lo­cal artists. And for one-off, hand­made jew­ellery, try The Smiddy on Ge­orge Street, where you can watch as artist Fiona Fraser make what’s on sale.

Where to stay

Stylish: The Perle Oban (per­leoban. com), on Sta­tion Square, sits in a hand­some sand­stone build­ing over­look­ing the bay. The rooms are com­fort­able and con­tem­po­rary, each com­ing with a Ne­spresso cof­fee ma­chine and L’Oc­c­i­tane toi­letries. Rooms from £79.

Sea view: Grey­stones B&B, on Dal­ri­ach Road, of­fers five spa­cious and beau­ti­fully-ap­pointed bed­rooms and stun­ning views across the bay. Rooms from £110

Cute: Just two min­utes from the ferry ter­mi­nal, Portlea Quirky sum­mer­house, part of a large Ed­war­dian house has its own lit­tle kitchen, ac­cess to a gar­den and gor­geous views. Sleeps two. From £48 per night. See

Fa­mous faces

Suc­cess­ful con­tem­po­rary artist Charles Avery was born in Oban, as was rac­ing driver Susie Wolff, who at­tended the lo­cal sec­ondary school. In 2014 at Sil­ver­stone she be­came the first woman to rake part in a For­mula One race for 22 years.

Oban woman Su­san Newell the last woman in Scot­land to be hanged.

What to do nearby

Built in the 13th cen­tury, Dun­staffnage Cas­tle, just three miles out­side the town, is where Ja­co­bite hero­ine Flora MacDon­ald was held pris­oner. Amaz­ing views from the top of the ram­parts.

You’re spoiled for choice when it comes is­land hop­ping from Oban, as CalMac sails to 11 des­ti­na­tions. Ker­rera is just a stone’s throw across the sound, while Mull is only 50 min­utes away.

Main im­age: Shops and McCaig’s Tower on Bat­tery Hill over­look­ing Oban Above: The ru­ins of Dunol­lie Cas­tle and be­low, Oban Dis­tillery

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