Oban is a bustling holiday centre in a fine coastal setting – popular with visitors and with a great selection of shops and accommodation too. It’s also a vital transport hub and gateway to the Hebridean islands.
Oban ‘The Charing Cross of the Highlands’
From the Gaelic meaning ‘little bay’, Oban grew round the natural harbour sheltered by hills on the landward side and the northern arm of the island of Kerrera close inshore. Unlike Fort William, the Oban townsfolk did not allow the arrival of the railway (in 1880) to disrupt their access to the seafront. The Victorian railway engineers rose to the challenge by way of steep gradients, curves and a deep cutting on the town approaches – and the waterfront so preserved adds charm and character to Oban to this day. Early railway publicity material first used the ‘Charing Cross of the Highlands’ description.
Today, the ambience of the busy Esplanade confirms the role of the town as an important gateway to the islands and a commercial and touring centre for Argyll. The appeal of Oban to its many visitors has several aspects: the busy shops, pubs and eating places in town, the seaside setting, the choice of cruises and boat trips – plus the sense of being in the heart of Argyll.
Accommodation in Oban:
As a popular touring centre as well as a ferry port, there is a lot of accommodation in Oban of all kinds, from the popular hotels along the waterfront to secluded cottages in rural locations in Lorn, as the area around Oban is called. There are guest houses and bed & breakfasts overlooking Oban Bay and also budget hostel accommodation with easy access to the ferry terminal. Other places nearby, such as Connel and Kilmelford further widen the Oban area accommodation choice.
Many visitors make the short uphill walk for the panorama from McCaigs Tower. Oban Distillery is easily accessible right in the centre of town. The Oban War and Peace Museum is likewise in the centre. Further afield, Dunstaffnage Castle to the north-east and Easdale Island to the south head a good list of touring options, which includes some fine Argyll gardens – such as Ardmaddy Castle, An Cala and Arduaine.
Oban’s important role as a sea-link with the Hebridean islands also means there is a wide choice of cruising options, both via the regular ferry services, as well as by a range of operators. Some of these advertise on boards along the Esplanade. Seal and whale-spotting trips, excursions to the famous Corryvreckan whirlpool, as well as yacht charters and sea kayak excursions and tuition are all available.
The mild airs from the Gulf Stream, reliable rainfall and peaty soils of Argyll give gardens hereabouts an especially lush look. Some are open to the public and the best of these are promoted as ‘Glorious Gardens of Argyll’. The gardens include Ardchattan Priory on the north shore of Loch Etive, where a garden has existed since the 13th century.
Only a few minutes’ drive from Oban, Dunstaffnage Castle is one of the most important historic sites in Argyll. It may have been fortified for 1500 years and the oldest parts to be seen today are probably 13th century. A MacDougall stronghold, it formerly stood guard over the converging sea-lanes that were important communications links for the clans of old. There are magnificent views from the ramparts, notably eastwards towards Ben Cruachan.
In such a popular visitor centre, there is a wealth of entertaining events especially in the main season. Oban’s sea-going connections are celebrated with the Oban Marine Science Festival (18-28 May 2012) and the West Highland Yachting Week (28 July–3 Aug).The traditional Highland event of the Kilmore & Kilbride Highland Games take place at Kilmore, south of Oban. More on www.oban.org.uk