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Scottish island odysseys begin in delightful Oban
Hugging a sheltered bay on Scotland’s spectacular west coast, the pretty harbour town of Oban in Argyll is the main gateway for ferries to Hebridean islands like majestic Mull. Connected to the rest of Scotland by road and rail, Oban abounds with hotels, guest houses and attractions of its own. Hinterland highlights comprise historic castles, lonely lochs, rugged mountains, the ancient seat of a lost kingdom and even a raging whirlpool. Nearby, animal lovers can see rare wildlife like seals and red squirrels.
Enjoy attractions in Oban
Although some travellers simply use Oban’s hotels and guest houses for overnight stays before journeying to the Hebrides, this resort town has ample attractions to merit a standalone visit. Get your bearings and go for a bracing waterside stroll along the town centre esplanade lining scenic Oban Bay. Follow it north for about one mile to see the 15th century ruins of Dunollie Castle, built by the Clan MacDougall. At the esplanade’s southern end, history buffs can call in at the War & Peace Museum, detailing Oban’s military functions during WWII. Visitors who make the short climb to the iconic McCaig’s Tower dominating Oban’s skyline are frequently rewarded with lovely island views. As Oban’s answer to Rome’s Coliseum, this much-loved granite-built Victorian folly boasts pretty gardens and 94 arches. Elsewhere, beautiful Kerrera island is great for walking thanks to its gentle, car-free terrain. Situated across Oban Bay and accessed by a short passenger ferry hop from Gallanach Road, it also features the ruined 16th century Gylen Castle.
Feeling hungry after all that exploring? Oban’s distinguished seafood restaurants make it easy to refuel on locally-caught salmon, oysters and langoustines. Oban also has pubs plus Indian and Scottish restaurants. Complete your regional food and drink experience by visiting the famous Oban Distillery, which has been making whisky since 1794. Guided tours and tastings are a must for whisky aficionados, who can round off their visit with a wee dram.
Get back to nature or go adventuring
The spellbinding mountains, islands and lochs surrounding Oban aren’t just a natural habitat for some amazing British wildlife, but also, they make a wonderful backdrop for outdoor pursuits. Within 30 minutes’ drive of your Oban hotel you can go trout fishing on freshwater Loch Awe or spot native red squirrels around its forested perimeter. Photographers won’t want to miss the stunning setting of 15th century Kilchurn Castle on a small peninsula at the lake’s northern end. Overlooked by imposing 13th century Dunstaffnage Castle, saltwater Loch Etive is even closer to Oban and it’s an occasional home for seals. Boat trips operate seasonally, offering a closer look. Adventurers can enjoy kayaking on the water or use the head of the loch to reach challenging mountain terrain for walking and climbing around Glen Coe in the Highlands. Oban’s hinterland also boasts opportunities for mountain-biking, open water swimming and scuba-diving.
Animal lovers will appreciate the Scottish Sea Life Sanctuary beside Loch Creran, about 11 miles north of Oban. This family-friendly attraction shelters orphaned seal pups and educates visitors about local marine life like porpoises, whales and dolphins, which those sailing on to the Hebrides might be lucky enough to see in the wild. Moreover, visitors to Mull might encounter awe-inspiring sea eagles, reintroduced to the archipelago by conservationists.
Your gateway to Mull and the islands
With a ferry terminal and quayside railway station offering services to Glasgow, Oban is a major springboard to the Inner and Outer Hebrides. It means local hotels and guest houses experience strong demand during the peak summer season, when Oban buzzes with holidaymakers funnelling through. Islands usually accessible by ferry from Oban include thinly-populated Colonsay, low-lying Lismore, whisky-producing Islay, the beach paradise of Coll, sun-kissed Tiree and the Gaelic language stronghold of South Uist. Ferries to larger islands usually carry passengers and vehicles.
Only 45 minutes’ ferry ride from Oban is Mull, the second-largest island in the Inner Hebrides. Its magnificent blend of mountain and coastal scenery lends it an enduring appeal. Tobermory, Mull’s biggest town, is characterized by brightly-painted quayside houses and a famous single malt whisky distillery. Mull’s highest peak, the 966-metre Ben More, attracts outdoor enthusiasts because it’s the island’s sole Munro; the name given to Scottish mountains above 3,000 feet. Further Mull highlights include the Clan MacLean’s 13th century Duart Castle and west-facing Calgary Beach with its silvery white sand. From Mull, it’s also possible to take boats to the holy island of Iona and uninhabited Staffa, which inspired the composer Mendelssohn with its striking basalt columns and sea-battered caves.
Discover a whirlpool and a lost kingdom
Thrill-seekers can leave their cosy hotels behind to experience nature’s own white-knuckle ride near Oban. The Corryvreckan whirlpool babbles away in a narrow strait between the islands of Scarba and Jura. Unusual sea-floor features like a submerged pinnacle and the sheer force of water rushing through changing tides combine to create the maelstrom. Boat trips run from Oban or Seil island, known for its slate-quarrying heritage and linked to the mainland by a 1792-built bridge spanning a narrow Atlantic channel.
In Kilmartin, about 30 miles south of Oban, visitors can explore fascinating relics of the lost Gaelic kingdom of Dál Riata, which reached the peak of its powers around the year 600. The Dunadd Fort hilltop citadel is where its kings were once crowned while the Kilmartin House Museum interprets and displays intriguing artefacts retrieved from ancient sites nearby.