And so to Oban, one of the busiest ports on the west coast of Scotland. It is many years since I went there, but my over-riding memory of it is of a harbour bustling with the comings and goings of ferries linking the mainland to the islands, a feature of the town that has earned it the slogan "Gateway to the Isles". The town's skyline is dominated by McCaig's Tower, a folly built in the late 19th century by John Stuart McCaig, a "philanthropic banker" (something of an oxymoron nowadays). The tower was an imitation of Rome's Colosseum and was meant to house a museum and art gallery, but sadly McCaig died before this vision could be realised, and construction was stopped leaving an empty, though picturesque, shell surrounded by gardens with a viewing platform for gazing out over the harbour.
Oban and its surroundings played a vital role during World War II, when it was used by both the Merchant and Royal Navies. The Royal Navy had a signal station near Ganavan to the north of Oban, and there was also an RAF flying boat base there. The base operated in conjunction with RAF Oban at Ardantrive Bay on the island of Kerrera, which lies just offshore. The base on Kerrera started off as a refuelling point, but World War II saw it elevated to full operational status. The pier and some of the buildings remain as a reminder of that time. Another important site near Ganavan was an anti-submarine indicator loop station designed to detect the passage of enemy submarines passing between Oban, Mull and Lismore by means of a submerged cable placed on the sea bed. There is a surviving World War II air raid shelter in the centre of Oban. Later on, during the Cold War, the Translatlantic Telephone Cable which carried the hotline between the US and USSR presidents passed near Oban.
Nowadays the town is a thriving tourist centre with a range of attractions for visitors. The War and Peace Museum tells the fascinating story of the town's past in and out of wartime as the name suggests. The Oban Chocolate Company offers visitors the chance to look in on its chocolate factory, while for those whose indulgences are more of a liquid nature the Oban Distillery runs guided tours as well as a shop and an exhibition. The Cathedral Church of St Columba is in the Neo Gothic style but is less than a hundred years old. Dunollie Castle is a ruin to the north of the town, and Dunollie House or the "1745 House" is a museum and cultural centre housing the Hope MacDougall Collection, a social history collection drawn from throughout the highlands and islands. As well as the ferries making use of the town's harbour there are boat trips available to some of the nearby islands such as Mull, Staffa and Iona and wildlife boat trips. Each August the Argyllshire Gathering is held in Oban, offering delights such as Highland Games and a Solo Piping Competition. Those wanting to escape to somewhere quieter for some excellent walking can take the passenger ferry to Kerrera where the walks are rewarded with wonderful views of Mull, Oban and Lismore.
For a list of events in Oban see here.
Map of the area.
© 1994 Hartmut Josi Bennöhr, via Wikimedia Commons
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