Oban is a bustling harbour town on Scotland’s west coast. It’s famous for seafood and being the gateway to the isles, but it’s so much more than that.
We’d be spending the night in Oban, before sailing to Tiree on holiday the next morning. There’d be plenty of time for us to fit in hiking, history and food, without having to charge around like marauding Vikings. Experiencing Scotland at breakneck speed isn’t our idea of fun. Rambling in a quiet corner surrounded by stunning scenery is.
Oh, what a beautiful morning
We left Edinburgh before the morning rush hour for our drive north. We made good progress until we reached Loch Lubnaig in the Loch Lomond and Trossachs National Park. It was reflecting like a dream. When it comes to reflecting lochs we can never resist.
After waxing lyrical about atmospheric clouds and perfect reflections we hopped back in the car and were on our way once more.
A short detour led us to Loch Earn to ooh and aah at more reflections.
Hello Oban – now for coffee?
We resisted making further stops and arrived in Oban at 10:00 a.m.
It was time to explore, but first coffee. We popped into Roxy’s Coffee & Tea House for early elevenses. If you’re looking for a decent cup of coffee and fab cakes in Oban, then Roxy’s is the place for you.
Coffee and scones finished, we were ready to ramble.
A visit to Kerrera
The Isle of Kerrera sits at the mouth of Oban Bay. The island is around 4 miles long and a little over a mile wide. Although only 68 people live there, it has a restaurant, tearoom and farm shop.
Kerrera is reached from Oban via a tiny ferry, or from Gallenach 2.5 miles south of Oban on a larger ferry. Both crossings take five minutes. Visitors can’t take cars onto Kerrera, which is great for those who love to explore on foot.
We crossed on the ferry from Oban which costs £5 for a return ticket.
After arriving on Kerrera we turned right and followed a rough track. We soon reached the top of a small hill topped by an obelisk.
The Hutcheson Monument will be a familiar sight to anyone who’s sailed out of Oban on a CalMac ferry. The monument was erected in 1883 to commemorate David Hutcheson, a Scottish shipping clerk turned entrepreneur. Hutcheson founded D & A Hutcheson with his brother Alexander and their business partner David MacBrayne. The company was instrumental in providing a lifeline ferry link to the Hebrides. Victorian bucket listers, attracted by natural wonders such as Fingal’s Cave began flocking to the islands – and so the Hebrides became a tourist destination.
David Hutcheson may not be a household name in Scotland, but everyone’s heard of the ferry operator Caledonian MacBrayne (CalMac), which started life as D & A Hutcheson.
I think Hutcheson would approve of his monument, as it’s a good place to watch the ferries sailing in and out of Oban.
Rambling through the bracken
Our Walk didn’t take us more than a handful of steps past the monument before we stopped to admire the view again. We could see Oban, the mountains of Morvern and the Hebridean isles of Mull and Lismore.
Hiking wasn’t easy, as the trail we were following was hidden under knee high bracken. It was a corner of the island better suited to gazing out to sea than rambling.
The boy soldiered on, but it didn’t look fun for him, so we changed course and followed a tarmac track instead.
Soon he was trotting along happily. We were too, delighted to have escaped foliage that seemed hell bent on tripping us.
We met various animals on our walk and stopped to chat to pigs, sheep and a heilan’ coo. Everyone talks to animals, right?
The boy loves pigs and will stop and stare at them for ages given half a chance. On Kerrera he met a lovely piggy that took a shine to him too.
The best beastie of the day was a handsome ram we met grazing by the roadside. The boy and I greeted him and walked on, but Mr G wanted a photo – then another and another and another. The ram obliged at first, before getting fed up. Who could blame him. With a stamp of his foot he told Mr G in no uncertain terms to paparazzi off.
Mr G is a never ending source of amusement on our travels. If he’s not skidding on cow pats, or being attacked by gulls, he’s being threatened by sheep.
Dunollie Castle, Museum & Grounds, Oban
After leaving Kerrera we headed to Dunollie Castle, Museum and Grounds on the outskirts of Oban. Our visit would combine lunch, history and a potter.
The castle opens from 1st April to 31st October. Entry costs £6 for adults and £3 for children. It’s a modest fee, which funds conservation at the site that has been the seat of Clan MacDougall for 900 years. The 31st Clan Chief, Madam Morag MacDougall still stays at Dunollie regularly.
Lunch – The Kettle Garden Cafe
The Kettle Garden Cafe is housed in a cute little shed, bedecked with fairy lights. It serves tea/coffee/cold drinks, sweet treats, soup and sandwiches.
The seating is under tarpaulin, at long trestle tables decorated with vases of wild flowers picked in the castle grounds. It’s a fab little cafe and the food is tasty. We had ham and Arran mustard baguettes, homemade tomato soup with a nice spicy kick and Scottish raspberry lemonade.
The 1745 House museum
The museum in the 1745 House is the only part of the castle and grounds that dogs aren’t permitted inside, so after lunch we took it in turns to visit.
The 23rd Chief of Clan MacDougall built the 1745 House to replace Dunollie Castle as the seat of the clan. The MacDougalls had forfeited their lands after supporting the 1715 Jacobite rising. Thirty years later, the clan chief had no appetite to support another rising, so his ancestral lands were returned.
The house contains a wonderful collection of artefacts which give a fascinating insight into what life was like for the people who lived and worked there.
My favourite exhibits were a Jacobite targe (shield) and claymore from the 1715 rising. Weapons were banned after the rising, but those crafty Highlanders were creative when it came to finding ways to conceal them. The targe in the museum was discovered in Dunollie dairy, disguised as a butter churn lid.
Dunollie Castle and Grounds
After leaving the museum, we followed a steep path up to the ruins of Dunollie Castle. The castle has a long and rich history spanning more than a thousand years. It was an important stronghold of the ancient kingdom of Dal Riata, before it became the seat of Clan MacDougall.
The ruined tower house stands on top of a rocky outcrop at the water’s edge. We could see Kerrera and the Hutcheson Monument. Fittingly, a CalMac ferry sailed out of Oban Bay as we were enjoying a bird’s eye view of our earlier walking route.
The remains of Dunollie Castle date to the 15th century, but excavations have uncovered evidence of much earlier structures and human occupation on the site.
From outside the castle looks relatively intact, but inside it’s a shell, with the exception of a vaulted cellar on the ground floor and a staircase leading to the first floor.
After exploring the ancestral homes of Clan MacDougall, we went for a wander in the castle grounds. We discovered a faerie garden hidden in the trees, a willow garden and an area called raven knoll with incredible carvings depicting one of the messenger ravens belonging to Odin (Norse god of wisdom, poetry, death, divination and magic) and a traditional west coast longship known as a birlinn.
I love a formal garden, but I prefer a more natural one with faeries, woodland and magical nooks and crannies, like the garden at Dunollie.
Hostelling in Oban – Oban Youth Hostel
We’d had a fab day exploring – now it was time to check out our accommodation.
Oban Youth Hostel is a 5 star hostel in a prime waterfront location. Housed in a large Victorian villa, it boasts beautiful sea views. Accommodation ranges from dorms with shared shower and toilet facilities to private rooms with en suites.
Inside, the hostel had retained many original features, including corniced ceilings and a stunning tiled vestibule.
We were welcomed at check-in (the boy with treats) and given a rundown of the facilities. We’d be staying in a double room with en suite in an annexe at the rear of the hostel. The annexe had a guest lounge, kitchen and dining room, but we could use the facilities in the main building too.
We had the option to pay extra for breakfast. £5.95 for a Continental buffet, or £7.50 for a full Scottish breakfast (veggie or non-veggie). We love a Hostelling Scotland breakfast, but we’d be sailing out of Oban way too early the next morning to tuck into sausages and bacon first.
Our room was spacious with a large en suite wet room and a sea view. Good old Hostelling Scotland, you can always rely on them for a nice view.
The boy ate a couple of his treats before wolfing down dinner.
Dog-friendly dinner and drinks in Oban
There are several dog-friendly places to eat in Oban. I’d read good things about The Lorne Bar, so we decided to give it a try.
The Lorne Bar have a special doggy menu, but the boy had eaten dinner so we kept schtum. Mr G ordered sea bass and I chose a veggie risotto. The boy unaware of the doggy menu, snoozed under the table.
After our main courses we ordered desserts and pink frozen cocktails, which came served in pint glasses. We were on holiday, so drinking cocktails by the pint was perfectly acceptable.
Mr G’s dessert was a modest bowl of ice cream, but mine, a Tunnock’s Sundae was a gargantuan concoction made with cream, ice cream and Tunnock’s Biscuits. Tunnock’s are a Scottish biscuit maker who are famous for their legendary tea cakes. My sundae was diabetes in a dessert dish, but tasty. I ate the biscuits and some ice cream, before admitting defeat.
Leaving the Lorne Bar we wandered along the waterfront back to our accommodation. The town looked pretty as twilight fell and reflections shimmered on the bay.
We’d be up with the larks in the morning, but had time for a nightcap before bed. As luck would have it our favourite dog-friendly bar in Oban was next door to our accommodation. The Oban Bay Hotel has a cosy, conservatory with a sea view. It’s a nice place to unwind with a glass of wine after a busy day.
Later that evening, we fell asleep with our window open and slept soundly thanks to the fresh sea air.
An early departure
Having an en suite made life so much easier when we rose at red eye o’clock in the morning to catch the ferry to Tiree. Thankfully, the ferry terminal was a stone’s throw from the hostel, which made Oban Youth Hostel the perfect place to begin our Hebridean holiday.
Our visit to Oban had been fleeting, but it had also been relaxing and lots of fun.
Things to do when you go hostelling in Oban
There’s plenty to see and do in Oban besides what I’ve shared in this blog. You can:
- Go to the beach – Ganavan Sands is a lovely beach on the outskirts of town
- Learn about whisky making on a distillery tour at Oban Distillery
- Explore the ruins of Dunstaffnage Castle & Chapel
- Visit a seal colony on a wildlife watching boat trip – a number of sea tours operate from Oban
- Watch a sunset from Pulpit Hill or McCaig’s Tower
- Listen to live music – many of the local bars have regular live music nights
- Eat freshly caught seafood in Scotland’s seafood capital
Woof Hostelling – the verdict
We’ve thoroughly enjoyed our recent Woof Hostelling adventures. Hostelling Scotland have eleven dog-friendly hostels and we’ve stayed at (and loved) four of them. And while they’ve each been very different hostels, they’ve all had one thing in common – high standards.
Will we go Woof Hostelling again in the future? Absolutely – with seven dog-friendly hostels still to discover, It won’t be long before our next Hostelling Scotland adventure.
Our accommodation was provided on a complimentary basis, however all opinions are my own.
Until next time ……