Although the undisputed capital of the western highlands and a ‘gateway to the isles’, Oban wears neither airs nor graces. It is quietly confident and deservedly so.
The friendly seaside town sits in a picture-postcard setting, and is best appreciated on a drive down from the north. This passes by Loch Etive, which funnels dramatically into the Atlantic at the Falls of Lora. From there, the road drops with a certain sense of giddy glee down to Oban, which is curved lovingly along by the seashore. Beyond lies a pleasing jumble of land and island that is impossible to fully take in at one glance.
But there’s no need to rush. Life ticks along at a very agreeable pace here; you’ll see plenty of weather-beaten locals stopping for a chat and enjoying the sun.
This month is perhaps the best time to visit Oban. The west coast of Scotland, blessed as it is with dramatic scenery, is no stranger to prolonged rain. In May, though, chances are you will be greeted with incomparably blue skies and a crisp invigorating air that is ideal for seeing the sights – and there are fewer crowds too.
Laid out in a crescent, the town rises from its long promenade to the steep hills that cradle it. You can’t miss McCaig’s Tower from most points in Oban with its Colosseum-inspired multi-arched outer wall.
It’s reached after a steep 10-minute walk. The ambitious John Stuart McCaig, a local banker, had plans for additions including a tower and statues to his family, but died before these could be realised. Today it is something of a bizarre, but welcome, haven. The views out over Oban Bay are magic.
If peckish after your exertions, then you’ll be spoilt for choice down by the harbour. Treat yourself to simple fish and chips while the world passes you by. Or pop into one of several excellent seafood restaurants that serve fresh produce hauled daily into the bustling port.
Oban also boasts its own malt whisky distillery, several local micro breweries and many fine traditional pubs. But these are perhaps best left to the evening when it is time to unwind.
After a browse around the relatively compact shopping centre, you might feel like exploring a little further. The easiest way to see more of the local coastline and enjoy its dramatic views is to stroll along to the beach at Ganavan, which is just a couple of miles from the town. Simply follow the promenade north – after passing a ruined castle you will reach the sandy bay. Once home to Second World War seaplanes it is now a safe and popular, if chilly this early in the season, place to swim.
Many visitors to Oban opt for a short boat trip around the bay’s islands. Small operators based by the town promenade will take you on a memorable, low-key, but fascinating excursion.
Enjoy sailing past the island of Kerrera to a seal colony in the Firth of Lorne where from late May porpoises, dolphins and minke whales can also be seen.
After all that sea air, treat yourself to some local delicacies, such as scallops in garlic butter. They’re divine and satisfying, rather like Oban itself.
HOW TO GET THERE
By car from Glasgow take the A82 to Crianlarich and then the A85. By train, board at Glasgow Queen Street.
08457 550 033
FIND OUT MORE
3 North Pier, Oban,
Argyll PA34 5QD
North Pier, Oban PA34 5QD
Superbly located, stylish, modern fish restaurant.
Oban PA34 5AQ
You won’t want to close the curtains on your romantic island view from this thoughtfully run guesthouse.
Kilmartin House Museum
Kilmartin, Argyll PA31 8RQ
01546 510 278
Gain a valuable insight into the hundreds of ancient monuments found around the village of Kilmartin at this museum centre.