Visit Oban and the surrounding villages and stay in bed & breakfast accommodation:
Oban, Argyll and Bute. This popular holiday resort and harbour at the centre of Scotland's western seaboard is one of the better examples of l9th century expansion. Oban 200 years ago was of little account. Now she reverberates with life, and in the summer season offers a quite exhilarating prospect.
Indeed, few Scottish holiday towns provoke the kind of romantic sentiment with which Oban is generally regarded. All things conspire to give it a special place in Scottish affections. Perhaps these affections are primarily aroused in many of us by the fact that Oban has long been regarded as the gateway to the Western Isles, both inner and outer. Visitors who have been there do not forget too that Oban is the centre for exploration of many of the attractions in the Western Highlands of the mainland.
But Oban is more than a gateway to islands and a centre of West Highland mainland touring. It is in itself finely set in surroundings of considerable beauty, with seascape and landscape contending for attention. To stand, as one of its citizens has said, “upon Pulpit Hill overlooking the great sweep of the bay with its ornate wedding-cake hotels fringing it, to enjoy the wide prospects of the Firth of Lorne and the Sound of Mull, is an experience not easily forgotten”.
Oban indeed has its own claims to hold the eye. Its position too upon the edge of a still living Gaelic island culture gives it, despite its strong holiday-town appearance, a more leisurely atmosphere than is usual in a holiday resort. There is for the English or Lowland Scots visitor to Oban a different rhythm of life here.
The town of Oban (deriving its name from a Gaelic word meaning bay or creek) stands on the coast of Lorne opposite the northern end of the Island of Kerrera, which guards the bay, and which makes of it a spacious harbour. Oban is approachable by sea and land. It is 24 miles North of the Crinan Canal, just under 50 miles South of Fort William, and just over 90 miles North of Glasgow.
Though it is true that, in many cases, there are traces of ancient men who settled in the district, which supported a considerable community living off hunting and fishing; and though the town is the focal point of a neighbourhood rich in historical incident; the town itself is of no great antiquity — it is little more than 200 years old.
To develop fisheries in the Firth of Lorne, Oban was erected into a fishing station by the Government Fishery Board in 1786. As an encouragement to the fishermen, premiums were paid upon the fish caught. The venture, however, was not a success, probably through the lack of proper boats and fishing gear and the difficulty of sending the catch to market. The experiment was abandoned after a few years, but by this time commerce had begun to extend its influence.
In 1811 Oban was raised to the dignity of a burgh of barony by royal charter granted in favour of George William, Duke of Argyll. It was not until 1817, however, that the privileges conferred by the charter were assumed and a town council and magistrates elected. The Scottish Burgh Reform Act of 1832 created a parliamentary burgh with a provost, magistrates, and councillors. In 1840, the town had sixty-four electors, and in 1855 the number had risen only by 10 per cent. The population some four years earlier was recorded as 1,742. The town was growing fast, however, and by 1881 the number of inhabitants had reached 3,986. Oban was becoming the hub of communications in the West Highlands for commerce and tourism.
In the neighbourhood there is considerable local mainland country open to tourists, to those who go by train, to cyclists and walkers. It is not without reason, therefore, that Oban has been called the Charing Cross of the Highlands.
The bay being a safe one for boating and sailing through the protection afforded by the Island of Kerrera, Oban is therefore a favourite yachting station, and the town is the headquarters of the Royal Highland Club instituted in 1881. Oban Sailing Club is also active throughout the summer months.
During the Highland Games week Argyllshire Highland Gathering is held, to which thousands flock. Throughout the season Oban is never dull, and between excursions delightful hours can be reposefully spent in admiring the polychromatic sunsets, in feeding swooping gulls on the Esplanade, or in visiting a seal island by motorboat; or in listening to the Oban Pipe Band, attending a fish auction on the railway pier or a strenuous game of shinty at Mossfield Park, enjoying a snack or a cup of tea in one of the many restaurants, or studying the souvenirs in the shop windows or the flow of one's fellow tourists, so varied in garb and tongue.
The chief thoroughfare is George Street, which runs almost due North and South; and this, with Argyll Square towards its southern extremity hard by the Railway Station, forms the business part of the town. At the North end of George Street, the reredos in the Scottish Episcopal Church of St John the Divine, now the Episcopal Cathedral, is a memorial of Bishop Chinnery-Haldane of Argyll and the Isles. The Free Church in Rockfield Road behind Argyll Square was designed by Augustus Pugin.
Dominating the northern approach to the harbour at the end of the Esplanade is Dunollie Castle, all that now remains of the glories of the lords of Lorne, who once owned a third of Scotland. The ruins are erected upon a bold promontory overlooking the Firth of Lorne.
If you take a boat trip to Kerrera, or go by the road next to the Sound of Kerrera, you will see the MacDougalls' other castle, Gylen, which guarded the southern approach to the harbour. A farming island today, Kerrera can be reached by ferry from the Gallanach Road. It was here that Alexander II of Scotland died in 1249, when he developed a fever after fighting the lords of Lorne. It was on Horseshoe Bay on the Kerrera side of the ferry that King Haakon of Norway collected his fleet of Viking ships before sailing south to the Battle of Largs in 1263.
About 2 miles beyond Dunollie to the North of the town are Ganavan Sands, a popular bathing spot with an extensive caravan site. There is a sizeable car park, and during the summer months the sands are linked to the town by a frequent bus service.
Immediately behind the business portion of the town, dotted on their seaward sides by private residences, are Oban Hill and Battery Hill. Each is crowned by a structure that at once attracts attention. On Oban Hill is the skeleton of a huge hydropathic building (1880— 1), which had to be abandoned for want of funds. On the neighbouring height is a vast and even more conspicuous edifice known as MacCaig's Tower. It surmounts the Bay of Oban as one of the most distinctive landmarks in the Western Highlands. There were some who thought John Stewart MacCaig, a local banker and philanthropist, a trifle foolish when he embarked on the project in 1897. His idea was to provide work for the relief of the unemployed, and he planned that the building should take the form of a museum with a lookout tower rising about 100 ft higher than the granite walls. He also proposed that a series of statues should be placed in the windows of the building to commemorate his family. Some £5,000 had been spent when MacCaig died, and the work was never completed. Today MacCaig's Tower has gained the smiling affection of the people of Oban in the same way as Edinburgh's Folly on Calton Hill has gained the affection of Edinburgh.
Because of its reliance on traditional tourism, the town has sometimes been accused of falling behind the times, but Oban stolidly refuses to provide entertainments of the amusement-arcade variety. Paradoxically, it is this sturdy Highland independence, this refusal to dilute the town's character, which is one of the elements of Oban's popularity. People holidaying in Oban like to feel they are in the Highlands. And it is worth remembering that Oban gave birth to the National Mod — the yearly gathering of Scottish Gaels for competitions in verse and song — and that the Highland Sabbath is still a reality, though perhaps a precarious one. In various ways the tourist industry in Oban deliberately keeps the fact of the Highland attraction to the fore. It is a modern town, but unquestionably in the Highlands. That is what it has to offer.
Nearby islands: Isle of Barra, Isle of Coll, Isle of Colonsay, Isle of Mull, Isle of South Uist, Isle of Tiree
Nearby towns: Castlebay, Fort William, Inveraray, Lochgilphead
Nearby villages: Achnaba, Achnacloich, Appin, Auchnacraig, Ballachulish, Barrnacarry, Benderloch, Bonawe, Clachan-Seil, Connel, Craignure, Creagan, Croggan, Dalmally, Dunollie, Ellenabeich, Fearnoch, Inverinan, Kenmore, Kilbride, Kilcheran, Kilmartin, Kilmore, Kilninver, Lerags, Lochdon, Port Appin, Salen, Tarbert, Tarbet, Taynuilt, Tobermory
Have you decided to visit Oban or the surrounding villages? Please look above for somewhere to stay in:
- a Oban bed and breakfast (a Oban B&B or Oban b and b)
- a Oban guesthouse
- a Oban hotel (or motel)
- a Oban self-catering establishment, or
- other Oban accommodation