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Scotland's seafood capital
Oban, Scotland's capital of the western seaboard
Visit the west coast of Scotland and there is every chance you will spend some time in the delightful coastal town of Oban.
This is a brief guide, a short history and a few of the many attractions on offer in the undisputed capital of Scotland's western seaboard.
Scotland's western seaboard
A Scottish town is forged
Oban lies in a crescent shaped bay in the lea of the surrounding hills and the nearby island of Kerrara which provides protection from the strong westerly winds and is dominated by McCaig's Tower, a mock Roman colosseum built by a philanthropic banker in 1897 to provide work for local unemployed stone masons.
From the Norseman who used its safe and sheltered harbour; to the Victorians who brought the railway and steamships and opened the way for Oban to become a gateway to the Western isles to the Inner and Outer Hebrides: Mull, Iona, Coll, Tiree, Barra, South Uist, Colonsay and Lismore; Oban has developed from a small fishing village into a modern and major centre for Scottish tourism.
Oban, a view of the townClick thumbnail to view full-size
"... McCaig's Tower, a mock Roman colosseum built by a philanthropic banker in 1897 to provide work for local unemployed stone masons ... "
McCaig's Tower - a Banker's Folly
Visit Oban and you cannot fail to notice the Colosseum on Battery Hill which dominates the skyline and overlooks the town. However, the facades and two tiers of arches staring out from this Scottish hillside owe their existence not to the Romans but to the turn of the twentieth century and a philanthropic Scottish banker, John Stuart McCaig .
McCaig's dream and ultimate plan was to build a museum and art gallery in a Romanesque architectural style with a central tower housing family statues to serve as a lasting monument and memorial to him and his descendents. The philanthropic element of his project was to use local stonemasons and keep them employed during the winter months. Construction to plans drawn up by McCaig himself began in 1897 using locally quarried Bonawe granite. Unfortunately McCaig died five years later before work was finished with only the outer walls erected and although he made provision for funds in his will to complete the project it was never carried out.
Today McCaig's Tower dominates the town of Oban giving visitors who climb Battery Hill are rewarded with stunning panoramic views from a viewing platform and through the arched windows out across the town and over the bay to the sea and islands beyond. The walls of the tower rise to a height of 45 feet with a circumference of 600 feet with the structure standing over 200 feet above sea level. The interior of the tower is planted with trees and grass making a tranquil place to sit and rest from the demands of modern life.
What to see where to go
There is much to see and do in Oban and the immediate area.
There are many fine shops selling a variety of goods, both local and international, and an excellent choice of places to eat and drink and stay. It comes as no surprise that Oban now promotes itself as the 'seafood capital of Scotland' with an array of good seafood restaurants to substantiate this claim!.
There is Oban distillery, easily identifiable by its tall chimney, which has been producing whisky since 1794 . A tour makes an interesting and informative stop and with an opportunity to sample this golden elixir. For more information see 'Whisky' below.
On North Pier there is a small museum, Oban War and peace Museum, which houses a display of photographs, models and memorabilia; whilst on a prominent crag at the end of the promenade is a reminder of an older time and the ruined remains of Dunollie Castle, a MacDougall family stronghold.
For visitors preferring the great outdoors there is an 18 hole golf course nestling among the hills at Glencruitten, and of course there are many scenic walk .
There is a leisure centre, swimming pool and ten pin bowling for days when the weather is not too good.
Boats in the harbour offer fishing trips, and the many local roads make cycling pleasant. Horse riding and pony trekking is available at Achnalaraig Riding Centre.
Venture further afield a few miles northwards to visit Dunstaffnage Castle, an impressive fortification standing on a rocky outcrop at the entrance to Loch Etive built by the MacDougalls and later held by the Clan Campbell.
Also Bonawe historic iron works and furnace, founded in 1753, the site of a charcoal fuelled ironworks which produced cannonballs for the Napoleonic wars.
Cruachan Power Station built underground beneath the mountains of Ben Cruachan also makes for a unique tour.
Places to eat
Oban has a fishing tradition and an affinity with the seagoing back over the centuries and it therefore comes as no surprise that today it is regarded as the 'Seafood Capital of Scotland'.
The waters around Oban are renowned for their oysters, mussels and langoustine and whilst the quantity and variety of the 'catch' landed from the boats in the harbour may not be what it was a century ago the quality almost certainly is. There are also salmon and trout farms in the local waters too.
Visitors to Oban are spoilt for choice when it comes to eating out with restaurants and bars to suit all tastes and budgets. Below are the links to just a few:
A few Oban 'fish eateries'
- Coast Restaurant
Coast is a contemporary restaurant on Oban's main street. Located next to the Oban Art Gallery, Coast is within easy walking distance from the railway station, main esplanade and waterfront.
- Oban Seafood Restaurant, Lobster, Crab, Langoustine, Mussels, Argyll Scotland - Ee-Usk
Award winning Scottish seafood restaurant, Oban, Argyll, Scotland - Ee-Usk
- Waterfront Fishouse Seafood Fish Restaurant and Bar, Oban
Waterfront Fishouse Seafood Restaurant and Bar is located in Oban, Argyll, Scotland serving delicious fresh fish.
The Oban distillery was founded in1794 and carries the distinction of being one of the oldest whisky distilleries in Scotland. In fact the town of Oban grew up around the distillery built by brothers John and Hugh Stevenson and remained in family hands until 1869. Bought a few years later by J Walter Higgin it was later dismantled, rebuilt and refurbished between 1890 and 1894 to become the building and Oban landmark seen today.
Operating with only two pot stills which in character have remained unchanged over the years to preserve the unique qualities and taste it is one of the smallest whisky distilleries in Scotland. Connoisseurs of the 'amber nectar' describe the whisky as having a West Highland flavour; somewhere between the dry, smoky flavour of the Scottish Island malt whiskies and the lighter, sweeter malts of the Highlands. It is particularly famous for its 14 year old malt.
The distillery is open to visitors who can enjoy a guided tour, see the production process and finally taste this unique malt whisky. There is an admission charge and visitors should check beforehand for opening times.
Island hopping and a trip to the Isles
You can take the CalMac ferry from Oban harbour to the nearby Isle of Mull or journey further afield to the Western Isles and a spot of island hopping.
Or try a local boat trip and visit the seal colonies and possibly glimpse a passing whale.
Travel south by road from Oban and you can cross the 'bridge over the Atlantic' to visit the Isle of Seil, an island whose slate quarries lay claim to having roofed the world.
About the author
Antony was born in the small coastal town of Saltburn-by-the-sea, and lived in Cambridgeshire and Lincolnshire before returning to his native Yorkshire. He has spent his adult life in the north of England working for a UK Bank and two Government Agencies.
Now living in Yorkshire between the Dales and the Moors Antony enjoys writing and taking photographs. He has written and published two ebooks bringing together some of his short stories and humorous anecdotes, and been published in The Yorkshire Dalesman.
His interests include walking, photography, history, travel, reading and watching cricket.