Oban, the unofficial capital of the West Highlands and “Gateway to the Isles”, has a spectacular natural setting… and a very distinctive man-made feature dominating its skyline.
The town is the administrative centre and cultural focal point for the surrounding area, with a wide range of leisure and entertainment opportunities.
Its beautiful bay looks out over the islands of Kerrera and Mull, while high above the town is McCaig’s Tower – a granite folly reminiscent of Rome’s Coliseum in its circular shape.
The tower was commissioned by wealthy banker John Stewart McCaig and was intended to become a museum containing statues of his family. Work began in 1897 but McCaig died before it could be completed.
It’s well worth taking a walk up to the tower site to enjoy superb views of the town and bay. If you’re lucky you’ll catch a glorious sunset.
Oban has a long-established reputation as a holiday resort and there are excellent transport connections by road, rail, air and sea. From the busy ferry terminal you can set sail for Mull, Iona, Islay, Barra, Coll, Colonsay, Tiree and the Western Isles.
The stunning landscape around Oban offers plenty of scope for exploration, whether touring some of the many historic castles or taking a leisurely walk and catching a glimpse of the diverse wildlife. Sea eagles, otters, dolphins and seals can be spotted in the area, and you can find out more about the area’s marine creatures at the Scottish Sealife Sanctuary at Barcaldine.
At Ganavan Sands you can relax on a lovely stretch of sandy beach with views out to Mull, Lismore and Morven. More active pursuits available around Oban include cycling, riding, diving, canoeing and sailing.
The town itself is an ideal touring base with accommodation to suit all budgets. There’s a cinema, a theatre, a choice of galleries, a leisure centre with a full-sized swimming pool and flume, and a range of indoor and outdoor sporting facilities.
Its well-stocked shops are full of character, while dining options range from cafés, bars and fast-food outlets to award-winning restaurants and hotels specialising in top-quality seafood. Tours of Oban Distillery give an insight into the highly-rated malt whisky produced locally.
Castles and abbeys abound. Dunstaffnage Castle, three miles north of Oban, is a 13th-century fortress built by the MacDougalls of Lorn. Robert the Bruce took the castle from the MacDougalls in the 14th century and Historic Scotland cares for the site today.
Oban is overlooked by the seventh-century Dunollie Castle, seat of the Clan MacDougall for 900 years, while opposite on Kerrera is the similarly atmospheric Gylen Castle which was another MacDougall stronghold.
There are wonderful gardens to visit at Ardchattan Priory, founded in the 13th century for monks of the Valliscaulian order. The monastic life of the priory came to an end in the 16th century and the present layout began to take shape in Victorian times.
Oban is the setting for the ever-popular Argyllshire Gathering and Oban Games (being held on August 26, 2010) while another annual cultural highlight is the Highlands and Islands Music and Dance Festival (April 29 to May 2 this year).
In 2009 Oban was a hugely successful host town for the Royal National Mod, Gaeldom’s prestigious annual festival.