Our 2022 travels got off to a flying start then Covid struck, confining me to the house for ten days. Miraculously Mr G dodged the contagious lurgy and a stint of house arrest. By the time my quarantine ended I was stir crazy. Luckily, freedom day coincided with a planned winter break in Oban, where we’d be staying at Hostelling Scotland’s Oban Youth Hostel. After a faltering start, our 2022 travels were back on track – yippee.
We love exploring Scotland in winter when the roads are quiet and fewer people are around. It feels like we have the whole country to ourselves – just us and miles of stunning landscape.
You may wonder how much there is to see and do on a winter break in Oban? The answer is lots. So read on and come discover an enchanting corner of Argyll with me.
Day one: A winter break in Oban
Our drive north was scenic, taking in lochs, mountains and glens – including one of our favourites Glen Lonan. The glen offers a peaceful alternative route into Oban and neighbouring Connel. Mr G can never resist the glen as he’s obsessed with Heilan’ coos and a free-roaming fold live in Glen Lonan.
Unfortunately, on this occasion the coos were conspicuous by their absence but we did meet a handsome Heilan’ bull so all was not lost.
After leaving Glen Lonan we crossed the Connel Bridge and turned left to follow a single track road along the shore of Loch Etive. Our intended destination was Ardchattan Priory, located five miles along the road. On our way there we spotted a red squirrel, seals and a pair of tattie bogles (Scots for scarecrow).
A visit to Ardchattan Priory
Ardchattan Priory was established in the 1230s and was home to an order of Valliscaulian monks until the Protestant Reformation in 1560.
Substantial chunks of the priory still stand, and better still a fab collection of carved medieval grave slabs (my favourites) and an ornate cross are housed there.
The finest of the grave slabs belongs to Dugall MacDougall who died in 1502. Dugall and his brother Duncan were priors at Ardchattan. They’re depicted on the stone dressed in habits, lying either side of a corpse, which symbolises mortality. The stone also features two knights and a noblewoman – Dugall’s parents and brother.
Behind the priory stands an ornate cross. It was commissioned by Eoghan MacDougall in 1500. Eoghan was a fellow clansman of Dugall’s and like him was also a prior at Ardchattan.
Lunch – The Glue Pot, Connel
After our history fix we were ready for lunch, so headed to Connel to a favourite local haunt of ours.
We always find good food and a warm welcome at The Oyster Inn, where dogs are allowed in the bar.
This corner of Argyll is a seafood lover’s dream. Mr G took full advantage of our location and ordered scallops, followed by a hearty bowl of soup. He thoroughly enjoyed both.
Being a spice fiend, I had a spicy stir-fry, which was lovely.
After lunch we stopped at the Connel Bridge to watch the Falls of Lora.
The falls appear when tides in the Firth of Lorn drop lower than the water level in Loch Etive. When that happens the water bubbles like a cauldron and kayakers appear like moths to a flame. We saw several adventure seekers in the water battling the rapids.
Now it was time for a walk. We had the perfect short ramble in mind. So, back over the Connel Bridge we went, heading in the direction of Appin for a short hike to an enchanting spot.
Walk – Fairy Bridge, Glen Creran
Deep in Glen Creran is a wooded hillside, strewn with moss covered rocks. It’s an otherworldly landscape and home to a strange fairy bridge. The bridge can be reached via a couple of routes. The main one is via a circular trail which starts and finishes at the end of the public road in the glen. The other route is short, but requires some navigation skills. We took the latter route as the main one is currently closed due to an unsafe footbridge.
It was a steep, muddy walk but otherwise easy. There was also the added bonus of a gorgeous waterfall on this route.
When we reached Fairy Bridge the scene stopped us in our tracks. We’ve visited before, but the wow factor of the place doesn’t lessen with familiarity.
Even in the dead of winter it’s a colourful spot that won’t fail to delight.
While the boy and I enjoyed a few moments of quiet contemplation, Mr G went off to do what he always does. Find a precarious vantage point to snap photos. As ever he nailed it, by combining a muddy embankment and slippery, wet rocks in the middle of a burn in spate.
Our accommodation – Oban Youth Hostel
Exploring done for the day, it was time to head to Oban to check in at Oban Youth Hostel. This would be our second stay at the hostel – here’s what we got up to on our first. The waterside hostel is perfectly located near Oban’s shops, restaurants and main attractions. It’s also a great base for exploring Argyll, or doing island hopping day trips to Kerrera, Lismore and Mull.
Accommodation at Oban Youth Hostel comprises of shared dormitories and private en suite rooms. The hostel is housed in two buildings. The main hostel building where the dorms are located has beautiful period features, guest lounges (quiet and TV), a dining room, kitchen and drying room. Private rooms are located in a two storey annexe behind the main building. The annexe also has a lounge/dining room/kitchen for guests to use.
Our room boasted a sea view, free Wi-fi, a double bed, seating area, plus a WC and separate shower room. Towels and bedding were provided. We loved the room, and the smile on the boy’s face told us he did too.
Dinner – Oban Bay Hotel
For dinner we decided to eat at the Oban Bay Hotel which is conveniently located next door to Oban Youth Hostel. Dogs are welcome in the hotel’s conservatory which serves food and drink to non-residents.
Inside, we found a table by the window and ordered some drinks.
After studying the menu we chose bread, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, olives and oysters (when in Oban and all that) to start.
It was so nice to sit with a glass of wine, grazing on nibbles and chatting, after being quarantined at home for what felt like a millennium.
For main course we both had pizza. Mr G’s was topped with pepperoni, chicken, beef, ham and venison, while mine was topped with tomatoes, basil and mozzarella.
The pizzas were every bit as good as the ones we buy from Edinburgh’s hip pizzerias.
After more wine, beer and blethering (talking) I finished with a yummy chocolate fondue, while saintly Mr G resisted a pudding course.
Back in our cosy room after a fun-packed day, it wasn’t long before we were all fast asleep.
Day two: A winter break in Oban
We slept well and were fresh and raring to go the next morning. Oban Youth Hostel offers guests the option of a cooked or Continental breakfast. We booked the cooked option – veggie for me and non-veggie for Mr G. The boy also got to partake and greedily devoured the sausage he was given like a wild beast.
Mr G and I watched boats sailing in and out of Oban harbour as we ate breakfast at a more leisurely pace.
Walk – Beinn Lora
Day two of our winter break in Oban saw us heading back over the Connel Bridge for a hill walk. There are a couple of trails on Beinn Lora – a 308 metre tall, craggy hill located near the village of Benderloch. What the hill lacks in height, it makes up for in wow factor.
From the car park at the foot of Beinn Lora we had two options – a flat start or steep start. We chose steep and gained height quickly, which soon gave us a wonderful view over Tralee Bay.
We continued uphill, stopping frequently to admire the view. When the incline levelled off we had a choice of trail – Beinn Lora summit or viewpoint. We chose the viewpoint (Eagle’s Eyrie) as the summit path is boggy and post Covid I didn’t fancy battling a bog.
The path led us through some pretty woodland to the Eagle’s Eyrie viewpoint. It was gorgeous and we stood there for ages taking it all in. When we were ready to leave we noticed the boy was transfixed by the view. We didn’t have the heart to disturb him, so let him gaze a bit longer, because life’s short and moments of unbridled joy are to be cherished.
Barcaldine Castle and a ghostly tale
With time to spare before lunch, we took a short drive to visit a haunted castle. Barcaldine Castle stands by the roadside near the village of Barcaldine. It was built by “Black” Duncan Campbell in the early 17th century. His brother Donald is said to haunt it. He was murdered at Barcaldine Castle by Stewart of Appin, who Duncan then allowed to shelter at his home in Inverawe. So scunnered (disgusted) was Donald, that he returned to haunt his disloyal brother and his stately pile.
Barcaldine Castle is a private home, so isn’t open for tours. It’s worth stopping by though if you’re in the area, especially if you like things that go bump in the night.
Lunch – Racer Cafe, Barcaldine
For lunch we stopped at a cute roadside cafe near Barcaldine. Racer Cafe is an American style diner that serves fab hot dogs and to die for milkshakes.
We each had a hot dog (mine with lashings of jalapeños) and banana milkshake.
It was just the comfort food we needed to fuel us on a winter day outdoors.
For our afternoon walk we planned to island hop. The Isle of Eriska is a small island (reached via a bridge). It sits in Loch Creran a stone’s throw away from Barcaldine. There are a number of walking trails to explore on the island.
En route there Mr G saw goats in a field and was daft enough to point them out to me. I ADORE goats, so our island hop was temporarily postponed while I made friends with the bearded ones. They were absolutely adorable and seemed to be quite smitten by the boy. The adoration was mutual.
Walk – Isle of Eriska
After giving Doctor Dolittle a run for his money, I said goodbye to our new friends and we hopped over to Eriska.
Once on the island we followed a coastal trail to a place called Otter Point. As the name suggests, it’s a good place to spot otters. We didn’t see any, but were happy to have a near deserted island to ourselves. We rambled round the coast, exploring rock pools by the shore.
After walking round half the island we headed inland, passing dozens of geese, then chickens – not otters, but lovely all the same.
Dinner – fish & chips by the sea
Rambling done for the day it was time to return to Oban for a favourite British treat – fish and chips by the sea. Although, when we arrived at the fish and chip shop we decided to have white pudding and red pudding with chips instead.
Mr G photographs EVERYTHING on our travels. While I sat in the car tucking into dinner, he was outside snapping photos of his supper by the sea. He quickly attracted the attention of a herring gull and had to make a hasty retreat or risk losing his food to a formidable scavenger.
The gull was persistent and landed on our car bonnet, where it stared menacingly at us through the window. A seagull seige is a first on our Scottish travels.
A relaxing night at Oban Youth Hostel
That evening we spent a relaxing night at the hostel. We listened to an eclectic mix of music, enjoyed a drink or two, then cooried in bed to watch a Netflix documentary about Everest. We’re both a tad obsessed by the mountain, which thrills and horrifies us in equal measure.
Day three: A winter break in Oban
After another great sleep, we woke up wishing we could linger at our fab accommodation longer. It’d been another brilliant stay at Oban Youth hostel, but sadly it was time to pack and check out. Not before we tucked into another great Hostelling Scotland breakfast with a view though.
We weren’t in a hurry to get home, so decided to spend the morning exploring more of the local area.
There’s a lovely beach (Ganavan Sands) in Oban near Oban Youth Hostel, so we went there after breakfast to let the boy have a run around. As soon as his feet touched the sand, he was off like a hare. He had a great time charging about like a wild thing.
Walk – Glencruitten Woods
After leaving the beach we drove to Glencruitten Woods just east of Oban. Like the woods in Glen Creran, these woods are also home to magical little people.
Numerous paths snake through the trees at Glencruitten, all crying out to be explored.
The one we followed led us to an enclosed garden known as the Cathedral of Trees. The cathedral was laid out by Glencruitten Estate owner Alexander MacKay in 1921. MacKay wanted to help regenerate the country’s depleted forests and create a living place of remembrance to honour the dead of the Great War.
Over the years the cathedral has fallen into disrepair. In 2016 it started being managed as a charity, supported by a team of volunteers with a vision to restore it to its former glory.
After leaving the cathedral of trees, we came across an adorable fairy village nestled amongst the trees.
Walk – Sutherland’s Grove
Leaving Glencruitten Woods we had time for one last walk before heading home.
Sutherland’s Grove is located near the village of Barcaldine. There are three short trails in the forest – the Giant Fir Trail, the Gorge Trail and the Troll Trail. Yip, you read that right – more fairytale creatures.
We set off along the Giant Fir Trail, which you’ve guessed it, was fringed by giant fir trees. It led us to the other two trails. After meandering uphill, we reached a deep, rocky gorge spanned by a wooden bridge. Clip, clop, clip, clop we went over the wooden bridge. Then we saw him.
A troll with long straggly locks and a wooded club, raised and ready to strike – yikes. Upon closer inspection, he appeared to be immobile – phew. Trolls are nocturnal and if they’re caught outdoors when the sun rises, they turn to stone. This guy had obviously spent too long waiting for billy goats to cross his bridge and paid the ultimate price for it.
We completed our loop of the forest trails without meeting another soul – mythical or otherwise.
And there ended a magical winter break in Oban. It had started with an enchanted fairy bridge and ended with a bridge guarded by a troll.
We stayed at Oban Youth Hostel on a complimentary bed and breakfast basis, however all opinions are my own.
Until next time …