I still can’t fully explain why visiting Scotland feels like I’m mainlining some missing part of my soul, but my trip to Oban last fall was no exception.
Located on the west coast of Scotland (the Firth of Lorn, to be exact – isn’t that a lovely name?), Oban’s an easy, scenic train ride from Glasgow through Trossachs National Park. Green slopes and gray lakes– and the odd castle– loom from the mist on both sides of the train, whose ancient clattering sound only reinforces the feeling that you’ve been transported to some forgotten and mystical land.
The train pulls in to the quaintest little port– to exit the station is to appear, as if by magic, in the center of town.
The Perle Hotel is one of the first, and most striking buildings perched along the water– this is where I stayed, and I highly recommend its cozy, fresh rooms, especially at an off-season rate.
But aside from relaxing in a pretty hotel, what is there to do in dinky Oban?
- Hop on a ferry to the Isle of Mull. The little boat pulls out into the firth, the cold surf and ocean breeze hits your face, bright seagulls glide against the dark waves, and you coast past a gleaming white lighthouse and a couple of stone castles, all set against a backdrop of mountains in various shades of green, gray, and blue. The heart soars with the beauty of it.
- Oban has been called the “seafood capital of Scotland”– so… eat all the seafood. I can whole-heartedly vouch for the quality of both Ee-usk and The Waterfront Fishouse, though there are plenty of other great-looking options in town. Eat well in Oban while you gaze at the sea your food came from.
- Since you’re already splurging on food, you might as well splurge on drink, too. It just so happens that Oban has its own tiny distillery, the tours of which are a great excuse to sample some whisky and maybe even grab a bottle of your own to take home…
- You know what, you’ve stuffed your face, maybe you’re a little drunk… now’s the perfect time for dessert! Walk along the water to the Oban Chocolate Company, where they’ve got a cafe full of comfy sofas and tasty treats…
- With the best worst decisions headed for your hips and your wallet empty, work up a light sweat climbing to McCaig’s Tower, a partially completed monument commissioned by some not-at-all-high-on-himself 20th-century banker named John Stuart McCaig. More harbor views await– the whole town of Oban is a harbor view.
- Rescue a hermit crab from a seagull-related demise. Toss it off the pier thinking you’re doing it a favor and then worry for twenty minutes about whether hermit crabs can actually survive underwater.
Late September was a great time to visit Oban – prices were reasonable and crowds were small but the weather was comfortable. The rhythm felt quotidian and local, the remarkable setting undiluted by peak tourism. Oban is a tiny hinge joining sea and country, a place of food and comfort in-between. You’ll leave refreshed… but maybe ten pounds heavier.